The opening of NHL training camps brought with it a wave of RFA signings, with Mitch Marner, Brock Boeser, and Charlie McAvoy among the biggest names to re-sign with their clubs and reunite with their teammates ahead of the 2019-20 season.
Longtime NHL player agent Mike Liut, who represents Laine and Rantanen, was asked about the status of talks between the Winnipeg Jets, the Colorado Avalanche and their respective talented RFAs during an appearance on The Starting Lineup on Wednesday morning.
“We’re not close,” Liut said, also indicating that the current state of talks isn’t surprising.
“Nothing happened that we didn’t know was going to happen. Nothing has gone on that we didn’t anticipate,” Liut continued. “There’s term, there’s AAV, there’s structure, and clubs have to manage their cap, we have to represent our clients. We have our convictions, they have theirs.”
“Generally these things get done when people move,” Liut explained. “If one side doesn’t move, or if both sides don’t want to move, then it doesn’t get done, until such time as it needs to get done.”
Among this year’s crop of RFAs, while unique in many ways — factor in the depth of talent, the flat salary cap, and the desire of many players to sign a bridge deal — there are a number of strong comparables to make between players, leading to a game of chicken that lasted all summer to see who would sign first and set the market.
Marner’s six-year, $65-million deal is one of the more term-heavy contracts and features the biggest cap hit of the bunch, while both Boeser (three years, $17.625M) and McAvoy (three years, $14.7M) signed bridge deals with smaller cap hits. While Liut didn’t tip his hand in terms of contract asks for his clients, he pointed to Marner as a strong on-ice comparison for Rantanen in terms of performance on the ice.
“Is there a comparable? Yeah, I think Mitch Marner and Mikko Rantanen are probably the two closest comparables in terms of how they play the game, where you have wingers that are adept at creating offence for those that they’re playing with,” Liut said. “And they do it maybe a little bit differently — I mean, Mikko’s 225 [pounds] and Mitch is not, but Mitch is a terrier and he’s a great player.”
Laine, Bryan Little, ‘completely fine’ after line comments
Laine, who has long been reported to be a strong candidate for a Boeser-like bridge deal, made headlines on Tuesday when he expressed his desire to play on the Jets’ top line. While those quotes could easily be perceived as a shot at his second-line centreman Bryan Little, Liut insisted that was “not Patrik’s intent, and certainly not what he said.”
“In contract negotiations, one thing always is who you are playing with,” Laine told Iltalehti writer Pekka Jalonen in Finnish, as translated by Jalonen on Tuesday. “With the merits I have, somewhere else I’d have an opportunity to play with the best players. Everyone who understands hockey should know that.”
“There’s top lines and then there’s our line,” Laine, who played most of his 2018-19 minutes on the Jets’ second with Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers, said. “I play whoever I’m told to play with.”
Liut, when asked about the quotes, also acknowledged the pressure Laine has been under both at home in Finland and in his second home of Winnipeg.
“Patrik went through a pretty tough year last year because everybody expected him to score 50 or 60 goals and I think he’s trying to explain away what happened or at least defend himself a little bit and that’s an impossible thing to do,” Liut said.
Though he fell short of those lofty expectations, Laine still managed to tally 50 points on the season. The 21-year-old registered 30 goals and 20 assists for his third 50-plus point campaign in as many seasons, but struggled with consistency over the course of the year.
“Patrik reached out to Bryan immediately… they’re more than fine. That’s hockey, right?” he continued. “These guys are all, to coin a phrase, alpha males. That’s why they’re there — they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t, and they get frustrated and angry and they want more. Everybody wants more. I leave that stuff in the room with the people who need to address it, and I push them to address it.”