Heading into this offseason, most experts expected the Winnipeg Jets to execute a blockbuster trade that would ship one of the team’s top young forwards out of town, but that move still hasn’t happened yet and it seems the front office probably won’t be making any more significant transactions this winter.
While there’s still plenty of time remaining before next season begins, which is expected to open sometime in December or January, the sense inside the Jets’ organization appears to be that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff would need to be blown away to trade forward Patrik Laine at this point. With that in mind, there’s a very strong chance the 22-year old opens the 2020-21 campaign in Winnipeg and will likely remain with the team throughout his fifth season in the league.
Considering the club re-acquired center Paul Stastny from the Las Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for defenseman Carl Dahlstrom and a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick, it seems Cheveldayoff and his staff are hopeful pairing Laine with the veteran forward will keep him happy and help the youngster replicate his results from the 2017-18 campaign, as the duo shared the same line together and enjoyed plenty of success during that season.
Since the 6-foot-5 winger’s current two-year, $13.5 million bridge deal is slated to expire next offseason, he’s scheduled to become a restricted free agent for the second time in his career and must negotiate a new contract before the start of the 2021-22 campaign. But considering Winnipeg has reportedly utilized him as trade bait over the last few months, it’s certainly possible this upcoming season could be his last with the team and he could be suiting up somewhere else for the remainder of his playing days.
Despite these recent trade rumors, nothing is set in stone just yet and it’s still possible Laine could spend his entire career with the Jets, although, it seems that possibility diminishes little-by-little each day. That being said, it’s not too late for both sides to repair their relationship and put these unfortunate times behind them, but it won’t be easy to accomplish that feat.
So what does Laine need to do to remove himself from the trading block? Would he actually want to remain with the Jets long term? And could another superstar-type performance in 2020-21 change his mind about playing on the second-line?
Well, it seems the answer to all three of those questions will likely be impacted by his relationship with Stastny, as they formed a strong connection in 2017-18 and could flourish together once again during even-strength situations next season. Though the Finnish native has previously stated his preference about wanting to skate alongside center Mark Scheifele on the top line, a stellar performance with the former Golden Knight might convince him and the front office to continue their relationship for a little bit longer.
While no one is expecting Laine to win the Art Ross Trophy or the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy in 2020-21, even though that would certainly help his case, the Jets would be very pleased if he could at least replicate his production, if not improve off it, from the 2017-18 campaign where he produced career-highs in goals (44), points (70), and goals per game (0.54).
Along with returning to his previous offensive form, which he was on pace to accomplish during five-on-five play this past season, there’s no question Winnipeg will also need the former first-round pick to perform more effectively on the power play, as he created just eight of his 28 goals with the man advantage in 2019-20. Additionally, the team will likely be looking for him to utilize his towering frame once again, which resulted in a career-high 97 hits during his fourth season in the league.
Even if Laine accomplishes each of these goals, there’s still a chance he might want out after next season, which would obviously force Cheveldayoff to explore potential trade packages for him once again. That being said, the right-hander won’t become an unrestricted free agent until after the 2022-23 campaign, meaning the Jets don’t necessarily have to move him next summer.
But with all signs pointing towards an eventual breakup, it’d be a little shocking if Laine changed his mind after next season regardless of what kind of performance he has during his fifth season in Winnipeg, although, anything can happen in today’s world.