Blue Jackets Must Prioritize Signing Patrik Laine for Life

Patrik Laine has put on a show since the end of January. The Columbus Blue Jackets are seeing results in the standings because of that.

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Laine’s latest performance propelled the Blue Jackets to a 2-1 win in Montreal on Saturday thanks to his late power-play goal with 7.2 seconds left in regulation. There was no goalie in the world that was going to stop that shot, high off the bar and in. It made goalie Elvis Merzlikins say postgame that even if two goalies were in net, they weren’t stopping that shot.

Laine factored in on the opening goal of the game as well with an assist on Oliver Bjorkstrand’s goal just 1:16 into the game. That gives Laine 12 points in his last six games (7-5-12) with five multi-point outings. The Blue Jackets are 5-1 in those six games.

This is by far Laine’s best stretch of play since the big trade that saw he and Jack Roslovic come to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Coach Brad Larsen said this is the best he’s seen Laine play since coming to Columbus.

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The numbers don’t lie. Despite missing 19 games due to injury and the passing of his father Harri, Laine is a point per game player this season with 27 points in 27 games (13-14-27.) This includes 10 of his 13 goals at even strength and now four game-winning goals thanks to his blast on Saturday.

We are finally seeing the Laine the Blue Jackets were hoping they would get when they made the trade. This is a player that can flip the game on his own and is a true difference maker. Very few players in the NHL can come up with that shot in that situation with time running out. He’s a rare talent and the Blue Jackets have him.

The Decision

When this season is over, Laine will be a restricted free agent. But he is just one year away from unrestricted free agency. Many folks in the hockey world have wondered what the future might hold here. It’s a fair question in the sense that given the events of last season and his down year (just 12-12-24 in 46 games combined between the Jets and Blue Jackets) would the Blue Jackets want to commit a long-term deal to Laine if he wasn’t producing as needed?

That’s why both the Blue Jackets and Laine agreed to his qualifying offer. It bought time. It gave the Blue Jackets time to see more of him. It also gave Laine a chance to rebound.

So far, it’s worked out for both sides. The Blue Jackets have now seen first hand the kind of player Laine is. Laine has also shown that even despite several challenges (being traded, being injured, losing his father) he can still produce and is one of the difference-making players in the NHL.

Patrik Laine Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrik Laine has overcome a lot since the trade but is now showing what he’s capable of. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Many are still wondering what happens next here. Could Laine be dealt at the deadline for a big package of prospects and picks? What about in the offseason? Could a trade happen there? Do the Blue Jackets want to commit huge money to this player?

Here’s my question. Why is this even a conversation right now? Why are we talking about the possibility of trading one of the game’s most electric players? I think we’re having the wrong conversation. The conversation should be about prioritizing and signing Laine to a long-term deal, not seeing what you can get in a trade package for him. I will now present my case to you for consideration.

The Case for Signing Laine Long-Term

Let’s flash back to when the big trade first happened. Do you recall the welcome Laine got in Columbus? The Blue Jackets put up a billboard in his native language to welcome him. That’s a big deal. How many players have received that kind of treatment upon arrival to a new city?

Then when talking about the trade, GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t hold back on his thoughts on Laine as a player. Recall that Laine and Dubois were the numbers two and three picks in the 2016 draft. Had the Blue Jackets held the second pick, Kekalainen is on the record as saying they would have selected Laine. That’s how much they thought of him as a player. Now they got him in a trade. In their mind, that’s a win.

Jarmo Kekalainen Columbus Blue Jackets
Jarmo Kekäläinen would have taken Patrik Laine in the 2016 Draft had he still been available. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

It’s clear that the team has liked him for some time. But as with any business decision, there are costs to consider and it has to make sense for them now and in the future. As stated earlier, it’s fair to wonder if there was a future here especially if production continued on a downward trend.

But we need to keep something in mind. Laine doesn’t turn 24 until Apr 19. He’s still very young and has the prime of his career ahead of him. There were certainly challenges and adjustments he had to go through. He had never been traded before. He was in a new city. There was a clear drop in the talent level at first. It only made sense to see what this year brought before making any definitive decisions.

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Now look at Laine. He has seven goals in his last five games and became the first Blue Jacket ever to have three straight games scoring multiple goals. His rise in play in this small sample has led to good results in the win column.

At the end of the day, there is still a decision to be made. Will the Blue Jackets sign Laine or will they find a trade for him? I really don’t think there’s a decision at all. Here’s why.

  • What could you possibly get back in a deal for Laine in which you come out on top? Connor McDavid and other superstars aren’t coming back the Blue Jackets’ way.
  • If you think the Blue Jackets won’t pay for top talent, think again. They tried to open the vault for Artemi Panarin before he bolted to New York. For what it’s worth, I think securing Laine would cost less than what it would have took to secure Panarin. Remember it would have been around $12.5 million cap hit. It’s reasonable to think Laine can be secured for $10 million or less AAV.
  • If Laine is producing with this current group of Blue Jackets, just wait until Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko and others come in. This includes the two firsts they hold for the 2022 NHL Draft. Just imagine Johnson feeding Laine for years to come.
  • Beyond all of that though, this goes beyond hockey. Blue Jacket fans have been waiting for a long time to have a true, difference-making player on their team that wants to stay and is willing to stay. There have been no indications that Laine doesn’t want to stay. The Blue Jackets now have an opportunity to make a big statement to their fans by securing Laine until he’s in his 30’s. Why wouldn’t they want to do that to a difference-making player?
  • Plus, have you seen Laine’s wardrobe? He just has that buzz around him that makes him very relatable.

Related: Patrik Laine is the Most Interesting Man in Columbus

Prioritize Signing Laine for Life

Of course there are limits to how long a team can sign a player. But by offering a max eight-year deal to a player like Laine, they get his prime years and would be under contract until he’s 32. Not only are you paying for what’s he already done, you’re paying for future results too.

Let’s say the Blue Jackets sign Laine to eight years/$80 million as an example. If he scores 40 goals in multiple seasons, the Blue Jackets got him at a discount. It’s a lot of money. But because of how special Laine’s talent is, there’s a chance the contract becomes a bargain.

This is why the Blue Jackets must prioritize signing Laine. While there are always risks, there’s a huge reward here. You have to pay for talent. And you have to pay for difference makers. Laine is both. And if you think he’s good now, just wait until there is better talent around him.

Let’s start having the right conversation about Laine. It’s time to ditch the trade talk and it’s time for the Blue Jackets to prioritize making Laine a Blue Jacket for life.