As the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and free agency looms, many big names may be on the move soon, one of which could be Columbus Blue Jackets star Patrik Laine, who is a restricted free agent this offseason. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Florida Panthers may be a possible suitor for the Finnish superstar.
Some may argue that going after Laine would be a mistake – his numbers took a severe nosedive in 2020-21, as he scored just 10 goals and 21 points in 45 games as a Blue Jacket, making his value an all-time low at the moment. If Panthers GM Bill Zito can capitalize on that low value and pair him with fellow Finnish star Aleksander Barkov, a trade for Laine may prove to be one of the smartest moves he could make this offseason. But what would it take to make that trade?
What Would it Take to Land Laine?
Based on Laine’s trade from Winnipeg to Columbus, there’s already a hint at Laine’s value being relatively lower than previously thought. In late January, Laine was packaged with Jack Roslovic to land Pierre-Luc Dubois in Winnipeg, so that piece of information bodes well for the Panthers. With the fact that Laine is now coming off the worst season of his career, it might make for a perfect buy-low situation for Florida.
Florida can use the leverage they have with Laine’s down season to possibly dump a bad contract like Anton Stralman’s while also allowing Columbus to recoup some of the value lost when they gave up Dubois. A possible trade could go as follows: Laine to Florida in exchange for Stralman, Serron Noel, and the 26th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
This trade is a win-win for both sides, as Florida dumps a bad contract and gains an elite goal scorer in Laine and Columbus is able to kickstart their rebuild with a first-round pick and a solid prospect. Noel looks to be the X-factor in the deal for the Blue Jackets.
Noel, who was selected 34th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, scored 18 goals and 47 points in 48 games in his last season in the OHL in 2019-20. He only played eight games in the AHL last year, but the 6-foot-5, 216-pound winger has the track record to translate into the big-bodied, scoring winger Columbus needs. In his best junior season, Noel scored 34 goals and 81 points in 68 games in 2018-19.
How Laine Would Fit in Florida
Laine seemingly fits perfectly alongside Barkov on Florida’s top line. The two Finnish superstars would likely line up with Carter Verhaeghe to form one of the deadlier lines in the NHL if Laine returns to his previous form from his time with the Jets.
If Laine can produce anywhere close to his 2017-18 season, where he scored 44 goals and 70 points in 82 games, the trade would be an absolute win for the Panthers. Luckily, Laine would be playing with the best linemate he has ever played with he lands in Sunrise.
Over the last three seasons, Barkov ranks 12th in the NHL in points with 216 in 198 games in that span. Of those 216 points, 135 of those are assists, which is also the 12th most in that span. That is a huge jump from the likes of Kevin Stenlund and Roslovic in Columbus, who are fine players, but nothing near the caliber of Barkov.
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With that in mind, all signs point to Laine returning to form in a juiced Panthers lineup, scoring at least 30 goals next to Barkov if they are indeed matched together. In a winning culture like Florida’s, Laine could potentially reach heights in his career that he hasn’t hit since the 2017-18 season, as well.
Before he hits the ice, Laine would need to negotiate a new deal, as he is an RFA. As far as contract negotiations would go, the Panthers would have $18 million in cap space if they were to dump Stralman in this trade, so they would have a lot of room to negotiate with Laine. Since he is coming off a down year, he likely takes a two-year deal in the same ballpark as his last contract, between $6.5 million and $7 million. Time will only tell if this deal will happen, but if it does, Zito may very well be up for his second-straight General Manager of the Year Award nomination this time next year.