With the NHL Trade deadline a little over a month away, I am seeing an increasing number of people calling for the Jets and Cheveldayoff to make another move for a second line center to hopefully get Laine going once again. For the entirety of the season, Laine has been on a line with Little and primarily Kyle Connor, and early on, especially in November, the results spoke for themselves. Laine notched an insane 18 goals in November on a line with KC and Little, however December was much less kind to our Finnish sniper, as he tallied only 3 goals.
Of Laine’s 25 goals this year, Bryan Little has assisted on ten of them. Keeping in mind that 11 of Laine’s 25 goals are power play goals, Little has been in on 10 of Laine’s 14 even strength goals, that’s pretty good considering Laine and Little “have no chemistry, Maurice doesn’t know what he’s doing SPLIT THEM UP!!!” This has been the sentiment of many Jets fans throughout the year and more recently throughout Laine’s extended goal drought. People have been so caught up in the success that Laine had with Paul Stastny last year that they aren’t seeing, or simply don’t want to see, that Byran Little has not been the issue for Patrik Laine this season and has even, as shown above, been a major contributor when #29 has found success this season.
After a down year last year which saw him post only 43 points in 82 games, Little has bounced back in a big way this season, having already put up 28 points in 46 games, which puts him on pace for around 50 if he stays healthy which is his career average.
But Little’s contributions go far beyond his point production; on a line with two offensively gifted players, whether it be Connor or Nik Ehlers with Laine, Little has the role of being the defensively responsible player on that line. We all know Laine makes his fair share defensive blunders, as does Connor and Ehlers, so as the center on that line it is his job to cover for these mistakes and minimize their impact on the game. When you consider the defensive role Little needs to play on that line, and the look at the offensive production he still contributes, I’m not sure how or why Jets fans are so hard on him and how they can possibly think that he is the reason for Laine’s struggles this year. Even going back to last year, Laine had scored 30-35 goals on Little’s wing before the acquisition of Stastny.
All this isn’t to say that I don’t think the Jets should look at the trade market, I still think Laine needs a driver on his line, someone who will go into the corners and get the puck, sit in front of the net and battle along the boards to get him the puck (*cough cough* Wayne Simmonds), but to say that Little has been the issue or the issue for Laine is a ridiculous statement, one that I hope fans will start to let fade as they start to appreciate what he brings to this team and the role that he has to play on that line.
For all of you stat lovers out there, let’s look at some of Little’s stats this year to further amplify my point. Little is sitting at 52.8% in the face off dot this season, having taken 625 total this season. He has 17 takeaways compared to 10 giveaways, averaging just over 16 minutes of ice time a night. 61.2% of his lines starts have been offensive zone starts, compared to just 38.8 in the defensive zone and finally he has a Corsi For of 718 versus Corsi Agaist of 730 (49.6%).
Overall I think some fans are way too hard on Little, and to say that he is holding back the offensive abilities of Laine simply because of a three month experiment last season with Stastny is ridiculous. I think everyone needs to start realizing that Bryan Little is not the problem, and that he actually in fact helps the team a hell of a lot more than he hurts any aspect of it.