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Laine trade 'tough,' but was only solution for Jets

Inability to agree on role led to No. 2 pick in 2016 NHL Draft being dealt to Blue Jackets

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Patrik Laine's legacy with the Winnipeg Jets will be remembered as much for its imperfect fit as its highlight-reel goals.

Laine, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and forward Jack Roslovic were traded on Saturday to the Columbus Blue Jackets for center Pierre-Luc Dubois, the No. 3 pick in 2016, and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. 

Production was never an issue for Laine, who has scored 250 points (140 goals, 110 assists) in 306 NHL games since joining the Jets for the 2016-17 NHL season. Only eight players have more goals in that span, led by Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (182). Laine's 52 power-play goals since entering the NHL are the third most behind Ovechkin (65) and David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins (60).

Rather, it was an inability to find a fit and a role that were comfortable for the team and player.

"I think that's a tough one," Laine said. "It's a tough question right now. I don't really know, like right now I don't even want to think about it, just going to leave it behind me and take all the great memories I had with this team and my teammates with me and move on.

"I don't think maybe ... it wasn't the right fit for me and for the team. They have a lot of depth and a lot of great players. I think it was just the team's time and my time to move on. They got a [heck] of a player in return too; he'll be a good player for the Jets. I think it was just time for us to move on." 

 

[RELATED: Patrik Laine traded for Pierre-Luc Dubois | Fantasy impact of trade]

 

Prior to signing a two-year, $13.5 million contract ($6.75 million average annual value) Sept. 27, 2019, Laine made public his desire for added responsibility, including more time on the first line and on the power play. Laine's agent, Mike Liut, suggested this offseason that a trade might be a good option.

A roster loaded with veteran forwards made finding a fit for Laine difficult, something Jets coach Paul Maurice and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff acknowledged after the trade. 

"That's the environment that you're trying to create for each player is for them to feel like they have the opportunity to be at their best," Maurice said.

"I would suggest to you that when Patrik came in and worked as hard as he did this year, we were kind of constantly trying to work on that. Trying to constantly get to the point where Patrik appreciated who he was playing with, and the opportunity he was given. And felt we had made great strides with that coming into this year. It's the head coach's responsibility, so I'll take all of that."

Laine played with numerous centers last season, including Bryan Little, then No. 1 center Mark Scheifele, and Cody Eakin after he was acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 1, 2020.

Laine scored 63 points (28 goals, 35 assists) in 68 games last season, his lowest goal total in four NHL seasons, but the highest points-per-game average of his career (0.93).

"I think it all comes down to the opportunities," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. "We tried a lot of different things ... like last year Mark and Patty played together most of the year, and if you look at the analytics it just really wasn't working. It just really comes down to finding that right fit, finding an opportunity."

Cheveldayoff said making the best of an imperfect situation became the priority, one that was addressed by the acquisition of Dubois, who was the No. 1 center with the Blue Jackets.

"I wouldn't make this trade if it wasn't something that I felt wasn't going to help our team get better," Cheveldayoff said. "Trading a player like Patty, he's a great person, he has special abilities, it's tough. But Pierre-Luc Dubois is a big, hard, two-way centerman that makes other people around him better. That's an important factor if you're trying to win, and that's what we're trying to do here."

Video: Columbus acquires Patrik Laine

Laine showed what he can bring in Winnipeg's first game this season, scoring two goals and an assist, including the winner in overtime, in a 4-3 victory against the Calgary Flames on Jan. 14. It was his last game for Winnipeg; he missed the past four games with an upper-body injury and was placed on injured reserve Friday. He is day to day.

Laine scored 64 points (36 goals, 28 assists) in his rookie season. He followed it up with 44 goals in 2017-18, second most in the NHL behind Ovechkin (49). Laine's 20 power-play goals were most in the NHL that season.

In his third season, Laine dipped to 30 goals, although five came in a memorable game against the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 24, 2018. Earlier that month, Laine, from Tampere, Finland, scored a hat trick in his home country in a 4-2 win against the Florida Panthers at the NHL Global Series at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki on Nov. 1, 2018.

Although the memories were plentiful in Winnipeg -- including a run to the Western Conference Final in 2018 -- they were tempered by regrets of what could have been.

"Maybe I could have communicated a little better instead of just getting frustrated," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. "That would be the extent of it. Never once was I hard on Patty, far from it. If anything, I was very respectful and coddled a teenager and a young 20-year-old. … maybe if I could have communicated better, maybe it would have made things better."

As the Laine chapter closes in Winnipeg, Wheeler chose to focus on the positive.

"We connected on a lot of big goals," he said. "We tried to give him the puck on the power play every chance we got. He's a guy that's very powerful and he's starting to tap into that a little bit. So, I'll have nothing but good memories of the time spent on the ice with Patty, and some of the steps we were able to take as a team and an organization."

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