Patrik Laine has been a hot topic for the Winnipeg Jets this off-season, and for good reason. The 21-year-old is currently a restricted free agent and coming off a season that has left a lot of question marks in terms of his performance and effort. He finished with 30 goals, 50 points and a minus-24 through 82 games last season. Regardless, I am not even going to entertain the folks who want to see Laine shipped out of town, so the question now becomes – bridge deal or long-term contract?
The Jets need this kid in their lineup, he brings an added element to the team that few teams have the luxury of dressing. This Finnish product has already hit the 40-goal mark at the tender age of 19 and will undoubtedly hit the 50-goal mark at some point in his career. Players of his scoring ability do not come around often.
The Jets’ power play was a combined 16.02% from the 2013-14 season until the 2015-16, the season before they drafted Laine. Since then, the Jets have been operating at a combined 22.11% over the last three seasons with Laine in the lineup. I don’t think that is a coincidence. His five-on-five play will only get better with age, maturity and the proper coaching. The Jets winger is a generational talent that has already expressed interest in staying long-term in Winnipeg. His now famous “Winnipeg is good”comment is proof just how much he enjoys the Manitoba capital – time for the Jets to pay up.
The Jets Have Options
That brings us to whether the Jets should sign Laine to a bridge deal or a long-term contract. Either way it is a positive for the Jets. A bridge deal for around $6 million a year will allow the Jets some extra cap space to sign the likes of Kyle Connor and maybe even pick up another right-handed defenseman. This will also allow Laine to prove the doubters wrong on his way to earning an even bigger payday after the bridge deal is up. A long-term contract will give the Jets an elite scorer for many years to come and it will give Laine his much-earned payday. If he were to sign long-term it is sounding like $8 million a year will be the absolute lowest possible dollar value he would accept. I am thinking more in the range of $9-10 million a year is the most realistic for a contract seven to eight years in length.
If a team were to offer-sheet Laine anything above $10 million a year it would really put the Jets in a pinch. They only have roughly $19.8 million left in cap space after signing Andrew Copp to a two-year deal with an average annual value of $2.28 million. After the Jets undoubtedly fill their roster with the likes of Kristian Vesalainen, Tucker Poolman and Sami Niku, they will have just over $15 million left to sign both Laine and Connor. By my calculations there is going to have to be at least one bridge deal between the two of them, and my money is on Laine.
It would be very intriguing with Laine and possibly even Connor both signing bridge deals. This would give the Jets a lot more wiggle room for that right-handed defenseman they so desperately need after the departure of Jacob Trouba. They could also explore the possibilities of adding a solid second line centre. Bryan Little’s time on the second line is about past. He is a solid guy to have in the middle on the third line with Lowry holding down the fourth line centre spot. As nice as it is to dream, I do not see bridge deals happening for both Laine and Connor.
Jets Fans Turning on Team?
The Jets are still very much a playoff team. Lots of people are saying their window is up and they blew it, but I have to disagree. This is still a solid team with their core group still intact (assuming they retain Laine and Connor). They still have a solid group of young prospects waiting in the wings, and they were tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second-youngest team in the NHL at the start of the 2018-19 season with an average age of just 25.8 (the Carolina Hurricanes were the youngest at 25.7).
In closing, as I mentioned, the options for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff are numerous. A bridge deal for Laine, however, may be the best for both sides. With the salary cap on the rise every season and players’ salaries going up with it, Laine will be sure to cash in big after a couple years on a bridge deal.
I predict a turnaround season for the sniper, one similar to what we saw in the 2017-18 campaign. The Jets were lucky enough to move up in the 2016 lottery and draft this kid second overall. Turning on him at the age of 21, after he put up 110 goals in his first 237 games (fourth-youngest player to reach 100 goals) would be a huge mistake and one I think the Jets and their fans would regret for a long time.