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Laine, Connor could miss camp, but Jets claim it won't be distraction

Restricted free agent forwards remain unsigned with reporting date approaching

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor each remains an unsigned restricted free agent, but some of their Winnipeg Jets teammates claim it won't be a distraction if the forwards are not at the opening of training camp next week.

"I don't think it's going to be much of a disruption," center Bryan Little said after an informal precamp skate Wednesday. "It's happening more and more now around the League. It's not really a distraction. You just figure there's a chance it might happen, so you're kind of prepared for it."

Laine and Connor are among a group of high-profile NHL restricted free agents that includes forwards Mitchell Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks and Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames, and defensemen Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers and Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins.

"We'll get asked about it every day after practice, but other than that, it's just sort of the way things seem to be working right now," Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey said. "I don't think anyone loves that it is the way it is. I went through it myself."

Morrissey was a restricted free agent last offseason and signed a two-year contract Sept. 16, two days into camp.

"Obviously we want both those guys here," he said. "They're amazing players. Each situation is so unique. It's just part of the game right now."

 

[RELATED: Morrissey has discussed contract extension with Jets | 31 in 31: Jets season preview]

 

Laine had 50 points (30 goals, 20 assists) in 82 games last season. He has scored 110 goals in his three seasons, sixth in the NHL in that span. Connor had 66 points (34 goals, 32 assists) in 82 games last season and was second on the Jets behind the 38 goals scored by Mark Scheifele.

"You want those guys to be here at Day One, but I think we all understand there's a lot more going on behind the scenes that's not in our control," Little said.

Fowards Nikolaj Ehlers said getting Laine and Connor back on the ice would be important for the Jets, but he doesn't know when that will happen. 

"They are huge parts of our team. I believe that they're coming back, I believe that they want to come back and play for us because we really have a good thing going, but we'll see," Ehlers said the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago on Thursday. "You don't know what's going to happen, that's why everyone is waiting on something right now."  

Morrissey said his contract negotiation helped him understand the business of the game better, that patience and preparation are priorities.

"It was just a process, wasn't a whole lot of fun, and anyone would be remiss if they didn't have that thought in their mind every single day about, 'Are we going to get something done or not?'" he said. "At the same time, look at the way this trend has been going and I think everyone's prepared that it might take some time."

The Jets head into the season with a revamped defense after they traded top-pair defenseman Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers for defenseman Neal Pionk and the No. 20 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft (used to select defenseman Ville Heinola) on June 17, and lost defensemen Tyler Myers (Vancouver Canucks) and Ben Chiarot (Montreal Canadiens) as free agents.

"It's kind of the evolution of a team," Morrissey said. "There's always going to be additions, subtractions, so those three guys were big pieces of the back end, but I think I'd be concerned if I didn't feel we had some good, young players here that can come and are ready to take the next step in their game too."

Video: 31 in 31: Winnipeg Jets 2019-20 season preview

Pionk will likely move into the Jets' top four with Morrissey, Byfuglien and Dmitry Kulikov. Nathan Beaulieu, Sami Niku and Tucker Poolman will compete for the other minutes.

The uncertainty of Laine and Connor, and the changes at defenseman seem, to have lowered outside expectations of the Jets. Little said he'd have no objection to that, confessing he didn't much care for the theme of training camp a year ago, coming off a 114-point regular season and a loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final.

"Maybe that's a good thing," Little said. "Last year, coming into camp and answering questions about the Stanley Cup and stuff like that, it was the players having to tell everyone else to take it down a notch. It wasn't about just lowering expectations, it's that some people don't realize how hard it is to get back to where we were at, to make it that far. A lot of things have to go well."

Winnipeg had 99 points last season, finished second in the Central Division and was eliminated in the Western Conference First Round in six games by the St. Louis Blues, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

"You just have to make the playoffs and then it's a whole different game," Little said. "Anything can happen, and you see it every year. An injury, someone going cold at the wrong time could be the difference. Last year, people expected us to be in the Final and had all these grand plans for us. We were humbled last year, and maybe a change in personnel is what we need."

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