Blue Jackets Need to Keep Patrik Laine, For Now

The Columbus Blue Jackets have a lengthy offseason to-do list. From deciding on the next head coach of the team to how to handle Seth Jones not wanting to sign a new deal, crucial decisions will be made that will determine the course of the franchise for the next several years.

On that to-do list is deciding what to do with Patrik Laine. He along with Jack Roslovic came to the Blue Jackets in the trade that saw Pierre-Luc Dubois go to the Winnipeg Jets. There was a certain level of excitement with Laine’s arrival. But then he went on to have the worst season of his NHL career.

Related: Blue Jackets’ Exit Interviews Show Offseason Uncertainty

Laine finished the season with just 21 points in 45 games. He had as many penalty minutes as he had points. By all standards, it was a very down season for him. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why he had this rough of a season. But it’s reasonable to expect the lack of center depth to have a major role in that.

For the first time in his career, Laine was looked upon to be “the guy”. With the Jets, there was superior talent all over the ice including Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers who demanded the opponent’s attention. That left ample opportunity for Laine to do his thing especially on the power play. Few possess the kind of shot he has. Just for various reasons with the Blue Jackets, Laine could never replicate what he did with the Jets.

A Big Decision

So if you are Jarmo Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets, what do you do about this? Laine is an RFA with arbitration rights. His qualifying offer must be at least $7.5 million. But it’s very possible his average annual value (AAV) starts with a nine given his production prior to last season.

Jarmo Kekalainen Columbus Blue Jackets
Jarmo Kekäläinen must decide the best course of action for Patrik Laine. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

On one hand, how do you offer someone over $7.5 million when they just finished a season with 21 points who looked lost for long stretches? He would become the Blue Jackets’ highest paid player on a per year basis if they do agree to a new deal.

Given the lack of depth on the roster especially at center, what evidence do we have that suggests a major rebound is coming that would make the potential contract worth it? Teams know they must shadow Laine given the threat of his shot. They were able to overplay him without worrying about repercussions because the Blue Jackets simply did not have the depth to keep up. Could you stomach paying upwards of $9 million even if it’s on a one-year contract? The Blue Jackets aren’t becoming a team like the Jets overnight.

On the other hand though, what good is it to trade an asset like Laine at his lowest point? Coming off of his worst season in the NHL is not the time to cut your losses especially when the player has more there. Perhaps a new coach will help him get back on the right track. And perhaps the Blue Jackets address the need at center ice where there is more talent available. That could help him find his game again.

Laine has shown enough in his young career where if you put him in the right situation, he can be one of the most dangerous players in the world. He’s also only 23 years old. One can reasonably expect that a rebound is in order at some point.

Evaluating Potential Options

So let’s look at what the Blue Jackets could do with Laine during the offseason. A few things could happen depending upon what situations present themselves.

  • Sign Laine to long-term deal. While in theory this one could happen, I do not see this happening at this time. The Blue Jackets could see the upside and decide to invest in him to a longer term. Given the recent season he just had though, I can’t see the team offering anything two years or more in length yet.
  • Sign Laine to a one-year prove it deal. This outcome is certainly within the realm of possibility. Laine has shown what he can be. Since his trade value is at a low point, giving him a one-year deal could benefit both sides. It allows Laine to show last season was a blip on the radar while allowing the Blue Jackets another season to evaluate him. If he does enjoy a good season, his trade value would go up where a trade could net a bigger return. Or the Blue Jackets might feel more comfortable about a longer-term deal next offseason where he’s still an RFA.
Patrik Laine Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrik Laine would still be an RFA if he signed a one-year deal this offseason. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
  • Trade Laine this offseason. While there are some rumblings out there that the Blue Jackets are open to this idea, it comes with some risk if they choose to do it now. What if he becomes a perennial 40-goal scorer? You don’t win that trade. This will all depend on what kind of a return the Blue Jackets get. After last season, I don’t think the return is maximized at this point. But if it’s more of a rebuild, then the team might look at getting some good futures in return.

What Would I Do?

While a long-term deal now doesn’t seem likely, I do think a one-year deal or a trade are your most likely outcomes. I would personally do a one-year deal. Laine is still under team control and you can better your position by allowing him to prove he has so much more to give.

Laine has expressed his desire to stay in Columbus and his desire to have a better season in 2021-22. Plus I’m not sure you want to cut bait right away after giving up your number-one center in that kind of trade. Laine deserves a chance to rebound. Even at that price point for one year, that’s a chance I’m willing to take. Goals are so hard to come by and he has a world-class shot. Let’s see how he handles it with a new coach. And then if it doesn’t work out, explore a deadline deal or something next offseason while he’s still under control.

No matter how it works out, the Laine situation will certainly be an interesting one to watch. Will the Blue Jackets pay up or have they already determined it’s best to move on from him? And that’s just one of a handful of critical decisions they need to make.

It might be summer. But there will be no shortage of news for these Blue Jackets.

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