Call the author a glutton for punishment if you must.
Even though the Winnipeg Jets and Patrik Laine just resolved a months-long stalemate — one that seemed destined to stretch into the looming 2019-20 regular season — by agreeing to a two-year bridge deal worth an average annual value (AAV) $6.75 million, yours truly is always looking into what the future holds for the 2015 second-overall pick.
That’s because two years truly isn’t a long time: come summer 2021, the Finnish sniper will need another new deal — one that will depend solely on how he performs over the next pair of 82-game grinds.
Laine’s New Contract a Classic “Bet on Yourself” Case
There’s really not much to say about the contract Laine signed on Sept. 27: it’s a pretty standard bridge. It closely mirrors the AAV Tampa Bay Lightning superstar centre Brayden Point received just a few days earlier, as it should.
“An expensive but manageable bridge deal for a player whose whole career has been one big bet on himself,” The Athletic’s Murat Ates summated in the wake of the signing.
A bridge deal was the most suitable solution, as THW’s own Ryan Goethals attested back in July after Laine posted a career-low 50 points and minus-24 rating in his third NHL campaign and went through a number of extended droughts in the process.
By not signing long-term, Laine is betting on himself to do better. He is not the first Jets player to do so.
Morrissey Is an In-House Example
Laine should thank Josh Morrissey — the defenseman built a blueprint for the forward to follow.
In the 2017-18 season, the last year of his entry-level contract, the 13th-overall 2013 pick was beginning to come into his own as an elite shut-down D-man. Last September, Morrissey signed a two-year bridge deal, knowing he could cash in bigger down the line if he took his game to new heights in 2018-19.
He did just that: he continued to play the left-side on the Jets’ top pairing alongside the now-departed Jacob Trouba and was consistently successful in shutting down opponents’ best players. He set career-highs in points with 31 despite missing 23 games due to injury, time on ice with 22:24, and posted solid underlying metrics across the board. Quite simply, he was the Jets’ best blueliner.
As a result of his excellent 2018-19, Morrissey cashed in last month (although this author believes the deal’s a steal given all he brings) signing a contract worth an AAV of $6.25 million that will keep him as a D-corps cornerstone through 2027-28.
Consistency Will Be Key to Cashing In
There’s no doubt Laine would like to do something similar, but to do it, he will need to shed his penchant for wildly inconsistent play and evolve into an everyday contributor.
Goals are great and all — teams need them to win (thanks Captain Obvious). No one can question Laine possesses a once-in-a-generation shot that can beat even the league’s most elite goaltenders. It’s the reason he’s lit the lamp 110 times before reaching his 22nd birthday and is sixth in goals scored since entering the league in 2016-17.
For every five-goal game, though, there are many where he’s invisible, if not detrimental, due to his defensive deficiencies.
If Laine can become more well-rounded, such as Brayden Point, and get close (or hit) the 50-goal plateau as Matt Larkin says, he’ll have the leverage in 2021’s negotiations.
Laine’s Shown Hints of More
Laine is capable of creating chances from various points on the ice and while he on the move. He is capable of playing a diverse game using his speed and hands.
He showed he can be multi-dimensional during his incredible Finnish homecoming that kicked off his 18-goal November to remember; he showed he can make a positive impact even when not scoring when he became Patrik the playmaker last March on a line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
However, those were spurts, exceptions rather than the rule. He needs to make that type of play the rule over his next 164 crucial games. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff believes he can.
“We’re just starting to scratch the surface of what he actually brings to the table,” he said in a fourteen-minute conference call. “We’ve got an opportunity here to see it all unfold before our eyes.”
With the Jets opening up their season on Thursday against the New York Rangers, Jets fans won’t have to wait long to see game one of Laine’s “bet on yourself” era unfold.