Blue Jackets’ Expansion Draft Plans Could Be in Trouble With Laine Deal

There are three varying viewpoints to the following conversation involving Patrik Laine. If you’re a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, you may have heart palpitations and start to sweat a few beads of nervousness. If you’re an antsy soon-to-be Seattle Kraken hopeful, you might experience similar palpitations but out of sheer joyous possibility; bouncing about like a kid on Christmas morning. Thirdly, if you’re just a die-hard, happy-go-lucky hockey fan who loves a good bit of drama, then sit back with a bag of kettle corn, a cup of cider and watch as the next three to six months unfold.

Patrik Laine Winnipeg Jets
The drama surrounding Patrik Laine may be far from over. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To be clear, there’s nothing to be alarmed about yet. There’s no reason to get overly excited yet and most importantly, there’s absolutely no reason to fall down on your hands and knees, cursing the heavens, and crying out alone in a pool of your own tears… yet.

However, there is a potential situation; a situation that should be on everyone’s radar. All joking aside, this is a very unique situation.

Last Week’s Trade – The Dubois Side

The trade this past weekend between the Blue Jackets and the Winnipeg Jets was a blockbuster, albeit a peculiar and anticipated one. Both franchises shipped out a disgruntled star in exchange for another. The Jets walked away with Pierre-Luc Dubois (only days removed from his infamous final shift as a Blue Jacket) and the Jackets took home Winnipeg’s former second-overall pick, Laine.

Pierre Luc-Dubois Blue Jackets
After strong-arming the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dubois will have a fresh start with the Winnipeg Jets. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dubois, wanting to vacate Ohio, had initially held out on contract negotiations prior to the current shortened season. The eventual deal agreed upon by both sides was a trade-friendly, two-year extension that would help shop the frustrated forward. However, a deal wasn’t manifesting fast enough for Dubois, so the former third-overall pick took a note from the NBA’s James Harden and decided to force Columbus’ hand; hence, “the shift.”

Enter Winnipeg.

Everything on the northern side of the border now appears fine and dandy for at least a little while longer. It remains to be seen if the Jets and Dubois are a match for the long-term or merely a short-term solution for both player and club, but regardless, Dubois is back in Canada and out from under John Tortorella’s thumb. With two years left on the contract, there’s still plenty of time for him to prove that he’s not just “another immature young star” and for Winnipeg to decide if they want to invest in the Quebec-native. This is really all just backstory to the real crux of the issue.

The Laine Side

Somehow, without the assistance of a 1981 Delorean or even a Flux Capacitor for that matter, the Blue Jackets have managed to go back in time.

John Tortorella Columbus Blue Jackets
John Tortorella has never been known to mince his words. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yes, barring another trade, Laine will be a Blue Jacket for the remainder of this season. However, once the season ends, Laine’s contract expires and he will be a restricted free agent once again. With the shortened season that’s just four months from now.

One of the speculated, though denied, reasons that Dubois wanted out of Columbus was head coach Tortorella. Not known for mincing his words, Tortorella, a two-time Jack Adams Award winner, has ruffled more than a few feathers over the years. In a recent interview with Sportsnet, he recently stated that he’s going to approach Laine the exact same way he did with Dubois.

“I coached Luc like I coach every other player here, like any other player coming in here and like I’m going to coach Laine when he comes in here.”

John Tortorella to Sportsnet during a televised interview on January 27th, 2021.

If Laine, who is arbitration-eligible this offseason, isn’t satisfied with the team itself or for the blunt tutelage of Tortorella, he could potentially choose to not re-sign with the organization and leverage a trade instead. This would ultimately put the Blue Jackets in the exact same situation they were in with Dubois only worse now.

In a normal offseason, this would be a dilemma unto itself. However, this offseason isn’t like any other in the history of the NHL. As we all know, by July 17, every NHL team (minus the Vegas Golden Knights) will have to submit their protection list for the Seattle Expansion Draft on July 21. Herein lies the dilemma at hand. If Laine hasn’t re-signed by then, the Blue Jackets will have to make a series of difficult decisions surrounding who they choose to protect for the upcoming draft.

The Seattle Expansion Draft

As mentioned, Laine will be a restricted, arbitration-eligible free agent after this season. Even if Columbus chooses to qualify the Finnish winger, they’d still need to protect him if he remains unsigned. Otherwise, the Kraken could select Laine without having to offer financial compensation. Seattle would be acquiring his rights.

Much like a pending unrestricted free agent, the Kraken could select Laine and then have first rights to offer him a contract without having to give up draft assets. Seattle could acquire the young, talented, and elite goal scorer essentially for free. They would have their franchise player. The Kraken could then turn around and pay Laine whatever he wants because they will have the cap flexibility to do so. Honestly, it’s the ideal situation for him…

Under the expansion rules, the Blue Jackets can only protect up to seven forwards. You can almost guarantee that Cam Atkinson, Max Domi, Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Jack Roslovic, and Gustav Nyquist occupy the first six slots. That leaves room for only one more player.

There are a few notable names exempt from the draft, including Alexandre Texier and Elvis Merzlikins. You can find the full exempt list here. Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, Laine is 100% not amongst them.

Patrik Laine Jets
All eyes will be on Patrik Laine the next six months. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s highly unlikely that Columbus would let Laine, ergo Dubois, walk for nothing, but due to the timeline of this season, it is a possibility. The NHL trade deadline is a little over two months away and the front office needs to monitor Laine closely. If his heart isn’t invested in the team, they’ll need to make a decision and soon.

If I’m Columbus, I’m trying to lock Laine down for at least a two-year deal. The last thing you want to do is scramble and lose yet another young star…

What do you think? What are your thoughts on the trade? Will Laine be the next Dubois? Be sure to comment below.