The fact that we’re speculating on Patrik Laine and his cost of acquisition is crazy. The fact that he actually seems to be available is almost unthinkable.
Drafted second overall, Laine is a 6’4″, 205-lb. power forward who scored 138 goals before his 22nd birthday.
In a good year, Laine is a game-changing sniper capable of 50-60 goals. In a down year, as many consider this to have been for him, he’s still a 30-goal scorer.
So why is he available?
The biggest knock on Laine is his apparent passive attitude. He has complained publicly about his deployment and sometimes seems disinterested, leading to a dip in production and frequent scoring slumps.
Even still, you can adjust an attitude, but you can’t teach a 20-goal guy to score 50. So why do the Winnipeg Jets seem to be shoving the kid out the door?
One glance at Winnipeg’s depth chart identifies two glaring needs: a second-line center to play behind Mark Scheifele and at least one top-4 defenseman.
Before we take a look at what Montreal has to offer in that department, it’s worth exploring what other teams rumoured to be involved have. The Jets are playoff contenders and will want players who can help them now. Any draft picks or prospects would be a sweetener to any potential deal, not the centerpiece.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets loss of Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky is a mystery to no one. Three of their best players walked in free agency and were never truly replaced (although replacing Artemi Panarin is easier said than done).
Sure, they brought in Gustav Nyquist, whose 15 goals and 42 points were respectable. Beyond that though, the Jackets focused on improving internally.
Enter Laine. Adding the Finnish sniper to Columbus’ top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Liam Foudy makes that trio extremely dangerous.
Although the Blue Jackets have the cap space to make a deal for Laine work, the assets they have to offer are questionable.
First, Columbus won’t move Dubois, Seth Jones, or Zach Werenski. Trading one of those three to add Laine would be a lateral move.
After those three, Winnipeg’s options for a return become increasingly unappetizing. After Dubois, center options are Boone Jenner or Alex Wennberg. Neither is the second-line center that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is looking for.
Taking one of the Blue Jackets’ defensemen is also a gamble. David Savard, Ryan Murray or even Vladislav Gavrikov would seriously improve the jets blue line. However, Savard and Murray become unrestricted free agents in 2021 and Gavrikov is currently an RFA.
Without an agreed-upon extension, it is unlikely that the Jets give up Laine for any of those players.
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New Wild GM Bill Guerin has been busy lately, sending Eric Staal to the Buffalo Sabres and acquiring Nick Bjugstad. Those two deals help the Wild on their mission to get younger but are still hurting for offense from their forwards.
Minnesota relies heavily on their blue line to provide offense. After extending Jonas Brodin last week, they now have three of their top-four defenders signed through 2025 or beyond.
Because of these factors, the obvious trade candidate here is Matt Dumba.
Dumba is the only one of Minnesota’s big four that does not have movement protection. With the Seattle Kraken expansion draft drawing ever nearer, the Wild will have to make a decision regarding Dumba one way or the other.
The question is whether or not Dumba alone is enough to get the deal done. If so, it’s hard to imagine the Wild wouldn’t have pulled the trigger already. So, it’s fair to assume that Winnipeg would want more.
The Wild have their own issues up the middle, but maybe a package including Dumba and someone like Joel Eriksson Ek or Ryan Donato could tip the scales.
The Hurricanes are probably the best fit for Laine. They have an embarrassment of riches on the blue line and favorable center depth. They have enough cap space currently to take on Laine’s contract without giving up much salary.
And imagine an all-Finnish top line of Laine, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho? Scary.
Carolina has centres Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas that could be expendable, as well as defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Jacco Slavin. They would likely want to move either Jake Gardiner or Brett Pesce though.
The thing with Carolina is that scoring isn’t necessarily their problem. Sure, every team could use a player like Laine, but the Hurricanes desperately need to address their goaltending.
Petr Mrazek and James Reimer were an adequate duo this season but neither is considered a long-term solution.
If the Hurricanes make a big move this offseason, it should be for a goaltender.
Colorado Avalanche – Like the Hurricanes, the Avalanche have an unfair amount of talent up and down their lineup. The difference is that Colorado has a wealth of cap space and no major free agents to re-sign. Nathan MacKinnon still has three years on his team-friendly deal. Cale Makar isn’t due for a raise for another year. A package consisting of Nazem Kadri and Connor Timmins could interest the Jets. Would Colorado be willing to part with Bowen Byram?
Nashville Predators – The Predators don’t seem to be popping up in rumours but they could be an intriguing fit, despite the divisional rivalry. Nashville, like Minnesota, will have a decision to make regarding their blue line. Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are signed long-term and Mattias Ekholm still has two years on his deal. If Dante Fabbro plays two games next season, he will also require protection. Ekholm would be an attractive asset and the Preds have ample center depth.
With all that in mind, do the Canadiens really have the assets to stack up against the teams mentioned above?
Before we look at who the Habs might give up, let’s briefly touch on who they won’t, or at very least shouldn’t be willing to move.
The Big Four – Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Caufield, Romanov
Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi aren’t going anywhere. If they were, this entire discussion would be baseless. Their emergence as top centermen is the reason that Danault is expendable.
Cole Caufield should also be as close to untouchable as one gets. Using Caufield to acquire Laine would certainly seem like jumping forward in time a few years, but he could be a 50-goal scorer himself. If you have that type of player in your pipeline, you’re better off retaining your assets and allowing him to develop.
Lastly, the Canadiens simply cannot part with Alexander Romanov. They haven’t had a defensive prospect like Romanov since the last Russian defender they drafted early and we know how that played out.
— NHL (@NHL) September 27, 2020
Let’s just say that it would be unwise for GM Marc Bergevin to move Romanov before giving him an opportunity.
Who is available?
Beyond “the big four”, pretty much everybody. Forget about Shea Weber, Carey Price or Jeff Petry being moved. Besides them, nobody should be off the table.
Let’s start with Philip Danault. Any deal for Laine involving the Canadiens will almost certainly begin with Danault.
Danault is easily a second-line center in the NHL. He has emerged as a defensive specialist and was recognized for it this season, placing sixth in Selke Trophy voting. With Suzuki and Kotkaniemi just starting their careers, however, Danault has been forced down the lineup.
It’s Danault’s offensive production that gives people pause; he has never scored more than 13 goals or 53 points in the NHL. Not exactly eye-popping for a top-six center.
Danault, however, still believes he can contribute offensively and does not seem to be on board with the way Montreal shifted to its younger pivots in the playoffs.
If Suzuki and Kotkaniemi continue to progress as they have, it seems that a mutual divorce between Danault and the Canadiens is inevitable.
Danault would solve the Jets second-line center issues but it’s unlikely that he is a sexy enough name to move the needle.
Aside from Weber and Petry, the Canadiens have what can best be described as quantity over quality.
Including Karl Alzner, Montreal has seven NHL defensemen under contract for next season. Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen are RFAs, but both are capable of an NHL job. Cale Fleury, Josh Brook and Victor Olofsson could all push for playing time in Montreal next season.
That brings us to 12 defensemen and only six spots to fill every night.
Obviously, they have the depth to move someone out. Using process of elimination, however, tells us that their options aren’t as wide as indicated.
As mentioned, Weber, Petry and Romanov won’t be going anywhere, especially since the ink still isn’t dry on Petry’s new contract.
Joel Edmundson was just acquired, extended and given a 10-team no-trade list, so it seems unlikely that the team would be interested in moving him.
Ben Chiarot left Winnipeg as a free agent just last summer and, while it isn’t unheard of for teams to reacquire such players, it remains to be seen whether or not Chiarot is the kind of player for which Winnipeg would be willing to give up assets.
Juulsen, Brook, Fleury and Olofsson are relatively unproven and likely wouldn’t provide much value to the Jets, and Karl Alzner…. is Karl Alzner.
That leaves us with Brett Kulak and Victor Mete. While Kulak had a solid post-season, neither player has demonstrated an ability to be a consistent top-four provider.
Mete has shown flashes that he can progress to a top-four guy, but if he can’t put it together playing with Weber or Petry, would a change in coaching system be enough for him to take the next step?
Hard to say.
Maybe the Canadiens can offer a package of Danault, Mete and their first-round pick this year to entice the Jets into parting with their star sniper. Maybe they can include a prospect like Ryan Poehling to sweeten the pot.
No matter what, if the Jets plan to move Laine, there will be no shortage of offers to comb through. That will increase prices and then it will be a matter of who is willing to give up that extra piece they initially didn’t want to.
If the Canadiens are to compete with potential offers including players like Dumba, Pesce, Kadri or Ekholm, it’s almost certain that acquiring Laine will end up costing the Canadiens one of Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Caufield or Romanov, and then some.
Given the team’s surprising performance in the postseason and the sheer level of talent in the pipeline, it’s simply too expensive to give up what will be necessary to acquire a player like Laine.