Patrik Laine has presented the Columbus Blue Jackets with a real opportunity here. A few months ago, the prospect of re-signing the pending restricted free agent seemed like a gamble. An unsure bet that general manager Jarmo Kekalainen was either going to have to make or pass on, tapping the table twice before trading the forward away to a rival team.
That feeling has vanished. Or at least it has among the Blue Jackets faithful and many of the analysts who cover this team.
Earlier this month, Mark Scheig of The Hockey Writers made his thoughts on the matter clear, concluding his column on Laine with the following:
"Let’s start having the right conversation about Laine. It’s time to ditch the trade talk and it’s time for the Blue Jackets to prioritize making Laine a Blue Jacket for life."
He’s not alone in this line of thinking either. Over at JacketsCannon.com, “Dalerrific” chimed in with their thoughts on the matter after Laine’s three-goal game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 17.
"Don’t be reckless, but don’t burn bridges either. This team has the cap space, other young players to build around, and more futures on the way. But you won’t find another Patrik Laine, so make it happen."
Meanwhile, Blue Jackets fans on Twitter aren’t exactly on the fence about the prospect of keeping Laine in Ohio for the foreseeable future.
And neither are we.
Sure, there are points to be deliberated. Laine is billed as a pure goal scorer, yet over the last three seasons, he’s only found the back of the net two more times than Oliver Bjorkstrand in just eight more games played according to Stathead.
This is a different kind of player, however. Laine is proving right now that, when he’s in his highest gear, he’s among the most indomitable players in professional hockey. In their history, how often have the Blue Jackets been able to boast of having the most electric player out on the ice? A truly elite talent who can bend the game to his will for stretches of time?
The 160 regular-season games the organization got out of Artemi Panarin is really the only recent span of time they could consistently make that claim. We’re years removed from Rick Nash in his prime as well, so it’s been a while.
Fans of the Blue Jackets have watched other Eastern Conference superpowers trot out seemingly endless streams of quality players while watching their own request trades out of town or leave via free agency.
Yet they have a chance to secure a real building block by, as Scheig called for, keeping Laine in town for life. While that kind of contract isn’t allowed by the current CBA (*wink, nod*), at this juncture, it seems like Columbus has a pillar worth locking into place.
By this point, we all know the general details that would go into re-signing this player. We know that the Blue Jackets would be paying for the bulk of his prime years without having to overspend for what he’s done in the past while on the wrong side of the aging curve. We also know that it’d take a decent bump off of the $7.5 million cap hit he’s carrying this season. Perhaps in the $9.5 million AAV range.
The cost of keeping Laine is borderline secondary, though, for a handful of reasons. Columbus has been in a constant cycle of churning top-level players for several seasons now. Some of that has been outside of their control, and the Blue Jackets did their best to turn straw into gold with the Pierre Luc-Dubois, Josh Anderson and Seth Jones situations, among others.
If Laine actually wants to stay and continue buying into being a Blue Jacket, it’d mean so much for the culture that they are trying to build within this organization. There’s been a stigma that no one wants to stick around in Columbus that dates back to the Jeff Carter fiasco back in 2012.
Inking Zach Werenski to a six-year extension was a pushback on that idea. Getting Laine to sign a seven- or eight-year extension would give the Blue Jackets yet another skilled player who has committed to being on the roster long-term. Loop goaltender Elvis Merzlikins into that group too, and suddenly Columbus’ roster looks more stable than it has in years. That’s also assuming that hometown draftee Cole Sillinger wants to be on the roster long-term and that Kent Johnson becomes the kind of player we think he can be.
Again, the turnover hasn’t really been the team’s fault. And, to their credit, when players have wanted out, they got them out. Laine isn’t asking to get traded, though. To our knowledge, he hasn’t informed the team that he desires to play in a bigger market, à la Jones.
The reality is that Laine can’t continue the torrid pace that he’s been on during his eight-game point streak, where he’s found the back of the net 10 times and added six assists. Yet for a player who has the reputation for being streaky, he’s been pretty consistent this season, all things considered.
If the Blue Jackets traded Laine, there’s virtually no chance that they’d get a player of his caliber back in return. When Charlie found the golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he didn’t trade it for 3,000 more candy bars, hoping to find two tickets instead of one. He held onto the winner he had.
Moving this player for futures would be akin to doing just that.
In the NHL, stars win in the playoffs. Depth is important too—compare the rosters and playoff outcomes of the Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning for proof of that—but you’ve got to have skaters capable of breaking games open. Laine can do that and is finally showing that he can be the player that the Blue Jackets traded for when PLD decided he wanted out of town.
The real Patrik Laine has finally stood up. Now it’s on the Blue Jackets to keep him in town as they build toward being a real, steady postseason threat.