Should Blue Jackets give Laine a big contract, or trade him?

Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins
Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

With Patrik Laine, things are rarely just run-of-the-mill. Where other prominent players tend to sign long-term contracts, Laine’s drifted though plenty of uncertainty. Even Laine’s sense of fashion tends to break the mold.

Could the Blue Jackets finally hash out a long-term contract with Laine this summer, or could the 24-year-old experience the turbulence of another trade? Things could swing in drastically different directions for the pending restricted free agent.

From the sound of things, we may not get clarity during the week of the 2022 NHL Draft.

Blue Jackets indicate that a Laine trade wouldn’t happen around 2022 NHL Draft

One key wrinkle for Laine, the Blue Jackets, and his contract/trade situation is the Finnish winger’s salary arbitration rights. If it got that far, a hearing could leave Laine with just a one-year deal, walking him to unrestricted free agency. That would basically be a worst-case scenario for Columbus.

To some, that would indicate that the clock is ticking. Publicly, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is playing it cool, though.

On Friday, Kekalainen indicated to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic that if a Laine trade happens, it’s more likely to take place later in the offseason, rather than around the 2022 NHL Draft.

“Like with anything, it takes its course,” Kekalainen said to Portzline (sub required). “If they want to agree, we can do it quickly. If they don’t, it can take time. I don’t think it’s going to affect anything we do (next weekend) at the draft.”

One way or another, this figures to be a busy week for the Blue Jackets. They currently own the sixth and 12th picks of the 2022 NHL Draft.

[Looking back at the 2021-22 Columbus Blue Jackets]

Clearly, it will hinge on finding the right contract for both Laine and the Blue Jackets. In another key quote to Portzline, Kekalainen backed up the notion that a Laine trade would happen if the only option is a one-year deal.

“There’s a lot of time before the season starts,” Kekalainen said. “If for some reason we can’t get anything more than a year, then … well, we gotta make some decisions again.”

“There have been a lot of moves made (in recent summers) after the draft. I think there’s going to be another wave of moves when people strike out on the free-agent market. They may have to turn to the trade market if they don’t get what they want through free agency.”


Much like Laine unveiling fashion worthy of Dan Flashes, there’s a lot to take in here. Let’s explore the most important considerations. What kind of contract might Patrik Laine demand, and what makes sense for the Blue Jackets? Crucially: are the Blue Jackets good enough to progress if Laine reaches his potential, or are they better off making a trade?

Laine: The good, the bad, and possible contract prices

From a production standpoint, Laine enjoyed a remarkable rebound with the Blue Jackets in 2021-22. There’s something so neat-and-tidy about Laine scoring exactly 56 points in as many games.

In particular, it’s promising that Laine didn’t just live off of power-play production. Just five of his 26 goals and 14 of his 56 points happened on the man advantage. An optimist might dream of Laine scoring in both situations, overwhelming any worries about defense.

Zoom in, though, and there are still warts in his game.

As you’ll see in the section focused on the Blue Jackets overall, their results vs. their process can be as misleading as Laine’s redemptive season.

Defensive issues linger

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Blue Jackets generated 117 high-danger chances with Laine on the ice at even-strength last season, while they gave up 187. It’s fair to argue that such numbers aren’t all Laine’s fault. That said, it’s been the theme of his career — especially as his shooting went from otherworldly to merely very good. For multiple seasons, when Laine’s on the ice at 5-on-5, his teams hover around controlling just (roughly) 40% of the high-danger chances.

All things considered, it’s remarkable that the Blue Jackets broke even (42 goals for, 42 against) with Laine on the ice at 5-on-5 last season. Some of that might be skill, but there’s an element of luck. With similar underlying numbers in 2020-21, the Blue Jackets allowed about twice as many five-on-five goals with Laine on the ice (45) than they generated (22).

To be clear: the point isn’t that Laine is a “bad player.” Instead, it’s a question of whether the pros outweigh the cons enough to justify a big contract.

This three-year Evolving Hockey Player Card tells some of the story. Laine is useful offensively, but struggles mightily on defense. (His 2021-22 player card follows these trends, so it’s not as if he turned it all around lately.)

Laine Evolving Hockey Player Card
via Evolving Hockey

If the asking price is reasonable, the Blue Jackets can reasonably talk themselves into a Laine contract. If the price skyrockets, then the risks are likely to outweigh the rewards.

Price and term need to be right

Back in May, Portzline opined that if the Blue Jackets sign Laine to a long-term contract, it could be “the largest contract in franchise history.”

Keep in mind that Zach Werenski‘s big six-year deal with a $9.58M cap hit is just set to kick in next season. If Laine’s contract is comparable — even larger — you’re talking dropping almost $20M on that combo. Both are talented, but that doesn’t seem like a promising value proposition.

There’s a lane for a worthy compromise, however.

Evolving Hockey’s contract projections spit out options that inspire less sticker-shock. Their model projected a five-year deal just under $7M per season. The average term for multiple projections was about four years (4.1) and $6.67M AAV.

Now, you could even quibble with Laine being worth that; The Athletic’s model put his market value at $5.2M. Yet, from a PR standpoint, the Blue Jackets could keep a big-name star with size, a dangerous shot, and hope for improvement at age 24.

They just really need to do some soul-searching. Because, frankly, there’s a big gulf between “not as bad as expected” and “actually good enough to compete.”

Blue Jackets might not have been as “good” as they seemed in 2021-22

Compared to basement-level expectations, the Blue Jackets were a pleasant surprise in 2021-22. They finished 10th in the East with a respectable 37-38-7 record.

Upon further scrutiny, there are clouds hanging over that sunny optimism.

You can bang that drum about the Blue Jackets being the second-best East team to miss the playoffs. You might be doing so to distract people from how large the gap was, though. The final wild card Capitals finished with 100 points, miles ahead of the Blue Jackets’ 81.

The Blue Jackets gave up 37 more goals than they scored, and that wasn’t all about bad bounces. Hockey Viz captures their season well. Their offense was meek, and their defense was terrible. Special teams didn’t help matters, either.

Blue Jackets offense defense Hockey Viz 2021-22
Via Hockey Viz

Annoyed by charts and stats? Just look at the Blue Jackets’ roster and ask yourself if you see a playoff team next season.

Considering how long Jarmo Kekalainen’s been around as Blue Jackets GM, he probably doesn’t want to overtly signal a rebuild. That approach might actually make the most sense for this franchise, though.

Whether you think their farm system is already very promising or more of a work in progress, young prospects present the most hope for actual contention. Particularly if Columbus can add real talent with its two high first-rounders in 2022.

With Laine at age 24, he could be part of a larger Blue Jackets’ solution. It just seems like that solution is going to take more time than some might expect.

So maybe it’s wisest just for the Blue Jackets to trade Laine? Here’s one idea.

Blue Jackets should target a desperate team like the Flyers if they trade Laine

Earlier on Tuesday, I argued that the Kraken shouldn’t go for broke in free agency. Instead, they should use their salary cap space to take advantage of other teams who are desperate to get better.

My favorite example there was to take James van Riemsdyk off of the Flyers’ hands for serious draft picks/prospects.

Such a scenario could be even juicier for the Blue Jackets.

Theoretically, the Blue Jackets could extract an even bigger price if they made Laine part of a JVR trade. You’d demand assets both for taking on JVR’s $7M cap hit, and also handing the Flyers Laine. (After all, Laine and the Flyers have been connected in trade rumors for ages.)

As mentioned in that previous article, JVR can still play, and he costs less than his $7M salary cap hit in real money. You wouldn’t even necessarily be burning everything down for the sake of a rebuild, either. Amusingly, look who ranked alongside Laine in Evolving Hockey’s Expected Goals Above Replacement percentiles:

Laine JVR xGAR percentiles Evolving Hockey 2021-22
via Evolving Hockey

If all prices were equal, you’d take your chances with the much-younger Laine. But the price could be huge for Laine, while JVR’s deal expires after the 2022-23 season. If JVR plays well but the Blue Jackets are as bad as their underlying numbers look, then Columbus could trade JVR down the line for even more assets.

Another trick up Kekalainen’s sleeves?

Naturally, that JVR – Laine trade idea is just one route the Blue Jackets could hypothetically take. A Laine – John Tortorella reunion might not be something either person invites.

But that trade idea is a jumping off point. Theoretically, Columbus could absorb that JVR contract for assets, and trade Laine somewhere else for picks/prospects.

The larger point is that, yes, the Blue Jackets are in a tricky situation with Patrik Laine. They just shouldn’t feel forced to hand out a bad contract.

At times, we’ve seen Jarmo Kekalainen go “outside the box” and enrich the Blue Jackets. Other times, big gambles haven’t always worked out. The Laine contract/trade situation is the latest franchise-altering situation for the Blue Jackets, and it could go in any number of ways.

Much like Laine deciding what to wear each day.

Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

“We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

“We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

“It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

The outcome was determined long before that.

After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

“That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

“I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

“If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

“It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.

Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

The break ended shortly thereafter.

Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

“I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

“I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

“Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”

Seattle Kraken sign GM Ron Francis to 3-year extension through 2026-27 season

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SEATTLE — Ron Francis was initially approached about extending his stay as the general manager of the Seattle Kraken back in the winter, but putting finality to the decision took longer than expected.

The Kraken kept winning and pushed what was mostly a formality to a secondary need until after Seattle’s unexpected playoff run finally ended.

“At that point it was kind of verbally done, just kind of a few little small details. And then we get into the playoffs and busy and it kind of got put on the back burner and I didn’t want it to be a distraction with the team and where they were at,” Francis said.

That finality came when the Kraken announced Francis had signed a three-year extension through the 2026-27 season. Francis originally signed a five-year deal when he became the first GM in franchise history back in 2019 and the new contract will kick in starting with the 2024-25 season.

“I’ll never forget the day that he said, ‘Yes, I’m ready to do this,’” Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said. “But today is another great day for our fans because not only did he come and build, he is going to stay here and continue to build this franchise.”

Seattle reached the second round of the NHL playoffs in its second year of existence, following a challenging first year where it underachieved and was among the worst teams in the league.

But Francis navigated through that difficult first season and helped land the pieces that turned Seattle into a playoff team in the second year without mortgaging future opportunities or putting the Kraken into challenging salary cap situations.

“He has been the leader that’s gotten us to where we are today. And he is the leader to take us to the next level,” Seattle co-owner Samantha Holloway said.

Seattle is the second stop for Francis as an executive after spending seven seasons in the front office of the Carolina Hurricanes. Francis started as director of hockey operations before becoming the general manager in 2014. Francis was let go by the Hurricanes after the 2018 season.

Seattle jumped at the chance to bring the Hall of Fame player in to lead the front office. Seattle’s expansion season was a major underachievement with the Kraken going 27-49-6 and finishing last in the Pacific Division with 60 points. But Francis was able to move veteran players to stockpile draft picks and left enough salary cap room to make some key moves entering the second season.

Seattle signed free agent forward Andre Burakovksy, traded for winger Oliver Bjorkstrand and inserted rookie Matty Beniers into the lineup on Seattle’s top line from the first day of the season. The results on the ice couldn’t be argued. Seattle went 46-28-8 and reached 100 points, knocked off defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Dallas in seven games in the conference semifinals.

“It’s been a real team effort. I’m sitting up here today and they’re saying good things about me, but it’s a much bigger picture than just me,” Francis said. “I’m excited to be here for a few more years and hopefully everybody’s opinion doesn’t change, but we’re going to stick to the plan and continue building it the right way so we can be a great franchise for multiple years.”

Francis also stuck with coach Dave Hakstol after that difficult first season. He may be the next in line for a contract extension from the team after a season where he was recognized as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for top coach in the league.

Maple Leafs hire Brad Treliving as team’s new general manager

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO — Brad Treliving has a new job.

And the Maple Leafs have a new plan.

Treliving was hired as Toronto’s general manager less than two weeks after firing Kyle Dubas.

The 53-year-old Treliving left the Calgary Flames in April following nine seasons that included five playoff appearances and two 100-point seasons.

“Brad brings a wealth of knowledge from his years of experience as a general manager and hockey executive in Calgary, Arizona and beyond,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “He has earned tremendous respect amongst his peers throughout his years in the NHL and has built excellent relationships at all levels within the game.”

Treliving joins the Leafs at a crucial juncture in the wake of Shanahan’s stunning dismissal of Dubas on May 19.

The Original Six franchise, whose Stanley Cup drought stands at 56 years, won a playoff series for the first time in nearly two decades with a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning this spring, but then lost to the Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers in five games.

Dubas, who had been Toronto’s GM since 2018 and didn’t have a contract beyond June 30, suggested at an end of season news conference May 15 he wasn’t sure he wanted to remain in the role – at least in part because of the stress on his young family.

A roller coaster five days followed, with Shanahan ultimately firing the 37-year-old Dubas despite previously wanting to keep his GM, and the now-unemployed executive eventually indicating to his boss he wished to stay.

Treliving is the third GM – joining Dubas and Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello – hired in Toronto by Shanahan, whose so-called “Shanaplan” aimed at getting the storied franchise back on its feet when he came on board in 2014 has seen unparalleled regular-season success, but just that one series victory in eight attempts.

“I’m thrilled to join an Original Six team and recognize how much the Maple Leafs mean to this community,” Treliving said. “This is a very exciting day for my family and I.”

Treliving has a lot to deal with as he settles into his new office at Scotiabank Arena.

Treliving, who served in the Phoenix Coyotes’ front office for seven seasons before arriving in Calgary, will have to decide the future of head coach Sheldon Keefe, while stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander can sign contract extensions as of July 1.

Matthews and Mitch Marner have full no-movement clauses ready to kick in the same day. Nylander will have a 10-team list.

The NHL draft is also set for the end of June in Nashville, Tennessee, while the Leafs have 12 roster players primed to hit free agency at noon EDT on July 1.

The Flames, who missed the playoffs this season, won the Pacific Division in 2021-22 under Treliving before falling to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round.

Johnny Gaudreau then stunned the organization by leaving Calgary for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency last summer. Fellow star forward Matthew Tkachuk added another wrinkle by informing the team he didn’t plan to re-sign.

Treliving subsequently dealt the winger to Florida as part of a package that included forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar heading to southern Alberta.

Huberdeau then signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension with the Flames that kicks in next season.

Tkachuk, a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate as playoff MVP, and the Panthers open the Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Despite the departures of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, the Flames looked like contenders ahead of the 2022-23 season.

The acquisition of Huberdeau and the signing of center Nazem Kadri was expected to fill the void left by Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but the mix wasn’t right for a group led by hard-nosed coach Darryl Sutter.

Huberdeau and Kadri finished well off their career-high points totals of the previous season – the former went from 115 with Florida to 55 in Calgary – while subpar goaltending was an issue much of the season.

Treliving now turns his attention to Toronto.

Just like last summer, he has lots of work to do.