In the summer of 2021, it was Zach Werenski agreeing to a long-term deal to stay with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Is 2022 about to be the summer of Patrik Laine?
Fair or not, the Blue Jackets have garnered a reputation as an organization that has struggled to retain high-level talent. They have built this unfortunate reputation over many years but look to put it in the rear-view mirror this offseason.
It was just over ten years ago, in February of 2012, that the 5th Line learned that Rick Nash had asked the Blue Jackets for a trade. While he would not be sent to the New York Rangers until that offseason, learning that the face of the franchise had asked for a trade was certainly a gut punch to many in the organization and fan base. He said that he lost sleep worrying about what the fans might think after the news broke.
"I'm not too sure what to expect," Nash said after it was revealed that he asked for a trade. "I've been with these fans my whole career here. I love them no matter what. They're a great fan base, loyal. They've been patient with this organization and with this team. No matter what the reception is I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for our fans."
He had been with the club for ten years and openly loved the organization, city, and fan base — later proven by the fact that he came back to live in Columbus and work for the Blue Jackets. But he still chose to leave, both out of frustration with the constant losing and to give the team a chance to gather assets for another rebuild. This inability to retain star players on the way to building a contender would continue to stick with the franchise.
The Blue Jackets finally found another elite forward when they traded for Artemi Panarin, during the 2017 offseason. However, after two record-setting seasons in the point department and helping lead the team to a sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he too decided to move on, signing with the Rangers in July of that year.
Losing Panarin to a division rival was particularly tough considering that general manager Jarmo Kekalainen made a last-minute push to keep the Russian winger, reportedly offering what would have been the largest contract in team history.
Columbus also lost their two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender that offseason, when Sergei Bobrovsky decided to sign with the Florida Panthers instead of re-upping with the organization he had been with for the past seven years.
Then yet again, after the 2020-21 season had concluded, it was revealed that star defenseman Seth Jones had informed the Blue Jackets that he would not be re-signing with them when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2022. This led to him being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks just minutes before the 2021 NHL Draft began.
However, a bright spot did emerge as one week after the Seth Jones trade, it was announced that the team was able to re-sign their other star blueliner, Werenski, to a six-year extension. This was progress for the club, but it wasn't yet enough to shake the uneasiness surrounding the organization's history of failing to build a contender by retaining enough top-end talent to do so.
Now, with the news that Laine does indeed want to stay in Columbus, could this finally be a place where stars want to stay long-term to be part of a build toward championship contention?
An RFA now, Patrik Laine is asked about his contract situation: I dont think it should be an issue. Theyve expressed they want me here. Ive said the same thing. The feeling is mutual. Just figure out the term and money and all that and I think we should be fine. #CBJ— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) April 30, 2022
A deal has not been done yet, but it looks promising that the Blue Jackets will make it two straight summers of successfully keeping a star player in Columbus for the long-term. Our own Coby Maeir gave us a look at what a Laine extension might look like, on Tuesday.
If a deal does materialize, the Blue Jackets may have taken another leap forward in dismissing the notion that they're unable to keep star players in Columbus, and may finally take that next step toward perennial playoff relevancy.