Winnipeg Jets winger Patrick Laine may be made available this offseason, and as was reported last week, the Blue Jackets have shown interest in acquiring the 22-year old Finn.
Here are the pros and cons associated with bringing in a player of his ilk.
Power Play Savior
The Blue Jackets power play has been among the worst in the NHL for years. Laine has scored the third most power-play goals since coming into the league (2016-17) with 52 goals (David Pastrnak-60, Alex Ovechkin-65). In that sense, it's a match made in Heaven. Laine, like Ovechkin, sets up shop on the left-dot and utilizes his rocket of a shot to beat goaltenders clean. An acquiring team would need to commit to utilizing Laine's shot as its primary option. A team like the Blue Jackets would have little problem committing to this as it desperately lacked the threatening shot that makes elite power plays dangerous.
Stabilize The Lineup
Pierre-Luc Dubois took a step in the postseason, no doubt, and having an elite goal-scorer join his line would make his life unquestionably easier. Dubois has shown a propensity for having solid transition numbers, which were in question when Artemi Panarin, who previously led the way in terms of transporting the puck, left last offseason. Cam Atkinson had a difficult season, and it's not a given that he'll recapture his 30+ goal-scoring abilities. Even if he does, the Blue Jackets need to add scoring to their lineup. Adding Laine to the lineup would drop players into a more appropriate time allocation, which will help stabilize a lineup that was punching above their weight class in the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On Saturday, The Athletic's Eric Duhatschek reported that the price for the Blue Jackets would be, in a word, steep.
Columbus has been mentioned as a possible destination for Laine, but it’s hard to imagine the Blue Jackets would part with either Seth Jones or Zach Werenski, which is the level of player Winnipeg would be asking for in a Laine deal.
If trading Werenski or Jones is part of the equation, it's hard to imagine the Blue Jackets playing ball. Laine may be an elite talent, but he's not the type of play-driving, playmaking player that would fetch a top-pairing defenseman. And since the Jets don't covet a goaltender, a theoretical trade would need to be based around a high-end asset. For the Blue Jackets, that's Jones and Werenski. Are those non-starters?
Laine is a difficult player to value because so much of his value is tied up in the one thing that makes him valuable - his ability to put the puck in the net with ease. He's had an up-and-down career, and it's not fair to say that it's just because he's a goal scorer (adding in the necessary adage that all goal-scorers are streaky). When he's not scoring goals, he's not adding much value to a lineup. As JFresh wrote in his newsletter on the topic of Laine's future value:
Are we so desperate for goals that we are willing to commit over $8M per year long term to a guy who will probably be a major drag on possession and defensive liability? If the bidding war becomes a battle royale, the last team standing could be taking on a major risk.
Laine has one more year on his contract at $6.75M.
There's been speculation that Laine would butt heads with John Tortorella. I'm not so convinced; Tortorella has coached plenty of star players who are more-or-less one dimensional. It is fair to wonder, however, how Tortorella would handle Laine's (lack of) defense. A major part of the identity of this club is its ability to play stout defense. It's not exactly optional to buy into Tortorella's system, and it's a big reason why the club has managed to change its perception around the NHL. Would Laine add goals? Yes. Would he be a cultural/lineup fit? Fair question.
Is Dubois The Playmaker Laine Needs?
This isn't intended to be a shot at Dubois, who, as mentioned, took a major step this past season. He's a player the club will look to build around for the foreseeable future. But he's not an elite playmaker by NHL standards. In Winnipeg, Laine flourished alongside playmakers like Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, and Mark Scheifele. The Blue Jackets don't have anywhere near that level of playmaking, and while someone like Alexandre Texier is an enticing piece, he won't be an elite playmaker in 2020-21.
In his newsletter, Jack Han wrote about how Laine is the type of player who would profile well with elite transition players:
To help Laine re-establish his Power law scoring I might put him with two strong transition players who like playing in space and creating passing combinations. MacKinnon-Landeskog, Barzal-Eberle, Danault-Gallagher, so on and so forth.
Simply, if Laine a) has had his fair share of struggles in his career with the Jets, and b) is a sniper who relies on elite playmakers to get him the puck, are the Blue Jackets a good fit?
Would Laine make the Blue Jackets better? In a vacuum, yes. But there are plenty of considerations that would need to be examined before committing big assets/money to a player with his fair share of question marks. If it means parting ways with Werenski or Jones, the Blue Jackets would be better off hanging up the phone. But even if it doesn't, the Blue Jackets should tread lightly.