The Patrik Laine Dilemma

The Patrik Laine Dilemma

Cole Paganelli
2 years ago
4 min read

The Blue Jackets enter their final week of play with a disappointing 16-25-11 record, last in the Central Division. As the offseason draws near, Columbus is faced with an interesting contract decision on a player they’re hoping will be a big part of their present and future.

As Patrik Laine is set to hit restricted free agency this offseason, let’s take a look at his 40+ games in Columbus and what the Jackets should do going forward. 

A shaky first impression

When the Blue Jackets traded star center Pierre-Luc Dubois shortly after the season began, they acquired a franchise-altering player in Laine; the player took one spot ahead of Dubois in 2016 by the Jets. However, the former 40-goal scorer has yet to showcase the superstar potential he did during his earlier years in Winnipeg.

Laine reached 30 or more goals his first three years in the league and likely would’ve made it four in a row had last year’s season not stopped due to COVID. However, in 41 games with the Jackets, the Finnish winger has just 10 goals and eight assists. He also has the team’s worst plus-minus at -26, seven points worse than defenseman Seth Jones despite playing in 11 fewer games.

The blame on Torts?

While this year has been by far the worst of his career, some of the struggles can be attributed to head coach John Tortorella. Laine has struggled with the way Tortorella wants to use him, a two-way power forward as opposed to the almost one dimensional sniper he was with Winnipeg. In addition, Tortorella is known for his aggressive, “in your face” style that not every player is great at dealing with.

However, Laine’s long-term future in Columbus is a lot more plausible than Tortorella’s. The veteran coach’s contract is up at the season’s end, and after the season the team has had, he may want to start writing his sendoff now. So depending on who Columbus’ new coach will be, the right hire can help bring back the Laine Blue Jackets fans expected from the beginning.

Columbus’ payroll

Finding money to pay Laine, if they decide to go that route, should not be a huge issue. Center Brandon Dubinsky, who has spent the last two seasons on the I.R. and has a cap hit of $5.8 million, will be off the books after this season. Another veteran center, Boone Jenner, has one year at $3.75 million left but could be bought out. 

All in all, some rough estimates peg the Jackets as having somewhere around $25 million in cap space after this season. And while future extensions with center Jack Roslovic and d-man Zach Werenski will need to be considered, there should be more than enough for a Laine extension as far as finances go.

The RFA factor

With restricted free agency, teams can choose to offer a contract to a player like Laine, where then the Blue Jackets would have to match it in order to keep him. Now the chances of him even getting an offer sheet are rare, with teams afraid of the steep draft pick compensation they would be giving up if they poach the player. However, it’s not entirely impossible to see that be the case.

Just two years ago, the Canadiens gave Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho a five-year, $42 million offer sheet. If signed, Montreal would’ve had to give Carolina a first, second, and third round pick in the following draft. However, Carolina ponied up and maintained the services of Aho, who at the time was two years younger than Laine is now.

Aho is just one of three players to even sign an offer sheet with a team in the last 10 years, joining d-man Shea Weber and center Ryan O’Reilly. The most recent example of a player actually leaving for the team he signed an offer sheet with was Dustin Penner back in 2007, when the 24-year old wing left the Ducks for the Oilers.

So while it’s all possible Laine could agree to an offer sheet and the Jackets fail to match it, it’s highly improbable considering it’s been 14 years since it happened last. However, as seen with Aho, another team could make Laine’s contract instead of Columbus, removing any sort of leverage the organization feels they have.

Laine’s future in Columbus

Considering all the factors, it seems that the likeliest scenario is that with a new coach and some money cleared off the payroll, Laine doesn’t receive an offer sheet and signs a contract with the Blue Jackets. However, the money and terms are anyone’s guess.

Keep in mind, Aho was a 21-year old coming off an 83-point season when he signed for a AAV of $8.45 million over the next five years. Laine meanwhile, is 23, has topped out at 70 points, and has declined from his previous production markedly. So consider it doubtful that he would get close to that contract.

However, a shorter-term deal makes some sense. With Laine’s current deal putting him at an AAV of $6.75 million, he’s set for a nice increase. However, do the Jackets want to pay top dollar over multiple years to Laine after one of their worst seasons in recent memory?

Perhaps something in the $7.5 to $8 million per year for two seasons might work. It’s more than fair money per season for Laine, while not locking Columbus into a long-term deal they might regret. This would allow both sides to feel each other out a bit more rather than diving head-first into a marriage.

Overall, the down year for Laine might actually benefit the Blue Jackets from a financial perspective, allowing them to offer less money than I’m sure they expected to after making the trade back earlier this season. However, they are still putting lots of hope and trust into Laine, becoming the goal-scorer most of the league thinks he can be.

Share article on: