Another day, another prominent forward appearing in trade rumors. It seems to be an annual tradition for mercurial Jets right winger Patrik Laine to pop up in the scuttlebutt. And maybe we who write about it are a bit guilty of stirring the pot. A source close to the situation has indicated the speculation comes more from the media side than the Jets or Laine’s camp…for now. But this off-season feels a bit different for the Jets and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. They have some distinct team needs to address this time. Second-line center is a hole with veteran Bryan Little’s career in jeopardy, and the Jets desperately need help on the right side of their blueline after saying goodbye to Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien over the past calendar year.
So, this time, it may actually make sense from a hockey perspective for Winnipeg to put Laine on the block. It’s not that he needs to go. He’s fresh off the most consistent season of his career, and he’s still just 22 years old. He has 138 goals to his name. For perspective, when Alex Ovechkin turned 22, he had 98 goals to his name, having only played two seasons. With four seasons in the books, Laine has been around long enough that it feels like he’s older, but he debuted so young that he’s only knocking on the door of his prime now. So why trade him, then? Not because he deserves to get moved, but because he can return so much for a team that needs to address some holes to become a real Stanley Cup contender.
Which teams might make sense as trade partners for the Jets? Consider these five.
1. CAROLINA HURRICANES
No credit to me for this idea. It’s been out there all week, floated by trustworthy insiders such as The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and TSN’s Frank Seravalli. But no team makes more sense as partners in a Laine deal. The Canes need to balance out their scoring after relying too much on their dynamite top line of Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. They’re also, bar none, the deepest team in the NHL on defense.
It would make sense to dangle one of their shutdown righty D-men, such as Brett Pesce, packaged with a prototypical No. 2 center in Vincent Trocheck. Again, not my idea, so no credit to me.
That would allow Winnipeg to address its two primary needs in one deal. The Canes could fill that hole up the middle by moving emerging youngster Martin Necas back to center. Plus they could reunite Laine with his gold-medal centerman from Finland’s 2016 world junior squad in Aho.
2. MONTREAL CANADIENS
We know GM Marc Bergevin likes to be aggressive and treat his team as a contender even if the general public believes it’s further away than he does. He may view Montreal’s play-in series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins as a sign Montreal is ready to take another step, despite the fact it was 10 points out of a playoff spot when the “real” season paused March 12. This is the same man who was willing to go all-in on Sebastian Aho with an (admittedly far too conservative) offer sheet last off-season.
It thus wouldn’t be too surprising to see Montreal make a pitch for Laine, whose swagger and quotability could make him well suited to a hockey-mad market like Montreal. The Habs have an elite farm system rising up, which should deliver defenseman Alexander Romanov to the NHL next season and goal-scorer Cole Caufield within a year, and considering they want to make a push while Carey Price and Shea Weber have good years left, it could make sense to add a big-ticket scorer to a team that has lacked one for a while.
We also know Montreal has a piece to build an offer around in Max Domi, who could be an ideal second-line center for Winnipeg and was born there since his father Tie was playing for the Jets at the time. The offer would never work as a one-for-one, but the Habs have so many prospects and draft picks at their disposal that they could balance the offer out in many different ways.
3. DALLAS STARS
Stars GM Jim Nill has a busy off-season ahead. He has $18.54 million in cap space but needs to re-sign three crucial RFA forwards in Denis Gurianov, Roope Hintz and Radek Faksa. The Stars made it clear with the Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry signings last off-season that they’re a win-now operation, going for it since the likes of Ben Bishop, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov have reached their 30s. They badly need some high-end scoring, and bringing in someone with youth and upside to boot would address Dallas’ biggest need while also yanking down the average age of the forward group.
Laine could fit comfortably into Dallas’ dressing room, too, considering it’s extremely Finn-friendly, including Hintz and blueliners Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell. Could a trade built around Laine for right-handed defenseman John Klingberg work? As is the case with Montreal, Dallas would likely have to kick in another piece.
4. CALGARY FLAMES
The Flames were a potent offensive club in 2018-19, but the scoring dried up this past season and didn’t improve under new coach Geoff Ward. They’re deep on the left wing with Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett, but there’s a big dropoff on the right side after Elias Lindholm. Laine could jumpstart Calgary’s offense.
The question is who Calgary would have to move to land him and make the money work with Laine’s $6.75-million cap hit. Is it time to move on from center Sean Monahan or consider dealing two-way pivot Mikael Backlund? Monahan has a modified no-trade clause kicking in for 2020-21, so the time to act is now. Backlund has a no-trade clause with a list of 10 teams to which he’d accept a deal.
5. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
The Devils can fit almost any big-name star under their salary cap right now. Dependable right winger Kyle Palmieri enters the final season of his deal and is a decent candidate to get moved as a rental next winter if the Devils aren’t contenders, so New Jersey could use some goal-scoring help in the long term, a finisher to play with Jack Hughes. If you’re the Jets, however, do you ask for Nico Hischier as a return? He’s exactly the type of player they need, and he’s signed for seven more seasons at a cap hit just $500,000 more than Laine’s current AAV.
Other potential suitors to watch: Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks