Search Patrik Laine‘s name and you’ll see a lot of pessimism lately, and that makes sense.
After all, the Finnish winger is ice-cold, to the point that you can slice and dice his numbers in a wide variety of unflattering ways, at least if you make sure to skate past the whole “18 goals in November” thing.
The takes really hit a boiling point after possibly Laine’s lowest point as an NHL player. While the Winnipeg Jets managed a 4-3 shootout win against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, Laine only logged 10:55 of ice time, and again — that’s in a game that included a full five-minute overtime of 3-on-3 action. (That “free hockey” accounted for 52 seconds of Laine’s ice time.)
That ice time marks the second-lowest of Laine’s career, but his worst was a game cut short by injuries, so this was the harshest “coach’s decision” the sniper’s faced yet.
The Winnipeg Sun’s Ted Wyman wonders if that tough game was a “wakeup call,” one that might even merit a healthy scratch, and he’s far from the only person cringing at Laine’s numbers.
No doubt about it, the Jets need to make sure that Laine is focused and confident with the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs not much more than two months away.
Is it possible, though, that Laine’s struggles distract from some issues for the Jets? Winnipeg isn’t necessarily in a crisis, but there are some things to consider.
While that trio is dominant, Laine isn’t exactly riding with high-end scorers. During the last month or so, he’s mostly been skating with Bryan Little (a decent but unspectacular center) and Jack Roslovic (an intriguing but unfinished talent). It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if the Jets would be wise to move Little or Roslovic off that combination in favor of Mathieu Perreault, a long-underrated play driver who has played at center in the past.
Either way, it’s clear that injured winger Nikolaj Ehlers is missed, whether Ehlers would line up with Wheeler and Scheifele (allowing Connor to boost Laine), or if Ehlers could join up with Laine.
- The Jets aren’t lighting opponents up possession-wise.
Perhaps Winnipeg is coasting through the season while saving that “extra gear” for the postseason, but they’re not necessarily dominant by certain measures.
Before that Bruins game, Money Puck tweeted that the Jets have been looking like an “average team” at times in 2018-19, and that they were stronger according to the same expected goals metrics last season. Looking at Natural Stat Trick, Winnipeg is middle-of-the-pack by a variety of standards, including Corsi and Fenwick. They can’t explain it away by “shot quality” alone, as they’re middling in high-danger scoring chances, too.
Again, this isn’t to say that the Jets are a “paper tiger.” There’s plenty of talent on hand, and this team’s also dealt with substantial injuries to the likes of Ehlers and Dustin Byfuglien.
That said …
- They might indeed want to spend at the trade deadline.
On Monday, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun postulated that there might be something of an arms race between the Jets and the Nashville Predators during the deadline (sub required).
Winnipeg was happy with the addition of Paul Stastny last season, and there have been murmurs about Derick Brassard, but this could be a time for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to gamble a bit.
For one thing, this team may very well need a bigger boost than you’d think, at least considering some of the struggles depicted in their underlying numbers.
Really, though, this might be the Jets’ best chance. Both Laine and Connor are due significant raises with their rookie contracts set to expire after this season, and Jacob Trouba needs a new deal as an RFA, too. Much like the Maple Leafs, things could really start to get tight for the Jets once they pay some of their brilliant young players — and they might lose some key ones in the process.
Cap Friendly projects the Jets’ deadline cap space at about $26.45 million. They should spend as much of it as ownership will allow.
Again, this situation is far from “doom and gloom,” as the Jets are set to be a competitive team for some time. Maybe some of their sneaky (possession stats) and headline-grabbing (Laine slump) issues could actually inspire this patient franchise to go bold, and possibly win big in the process?
Ultimately, Winnipeg’s challenges – and ambitions – could really spice things up during the trade deadline. Again.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.