On a day like today the saying “no news is good news” applies for Winnipeg Jets fans. Especially when the alternative is an unsigned RFA venting about his playing situation.
That’s what the hockey world woke to on Tuesday as an interview by Finnish journalist Pekka Jalonen revealed a frustrated Patrik Laine, who said he thinks he should be surrounded by better linemates than the ones coach Paul Maurice has provided.
“In contract negotiations, one thing always is who you are playing with,” Laine told Jalonen in Finnish. “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.”
But if there’s worry that Laine’s comments will create a wedge between himself and his Jets teammates, captain Blake Wheeler wants to make it clear that won’t be the case.
“It’s a non-issue today. I mean none whatsoever,” Wheeler said.
At the same time, Wheeler wasn’t buying into Laine’s premise of playing with better players.
“We’re top five in the league (on the power play) the last couple of years. (That’s) a big part of what Patty does,” said Wheeler. “He’s definitely not doing it himself I can guarantee you that.”
The fact Laine is bringing up his beef about desiring better linemates in the context of his current contract negotiations is telling. Multiple reports (including information from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman) suggest Laine and the Jets are looking at a bridge deal, which would provide Laine a chance to bet on himself after a down season. The problem is, you can’t bet on yourself without also betting on your situation, and Laine clearly has issues with his.
Jets management and Maurice would never tell you second line centre Bryan Little isn’t up to the task, but actions speak louder than words — and there has been no shortage of action on this file. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has traded his first round pick at two consecutive trade deadlines to bring in a new second line centre (Paul Stastny in 2018 and Kevin Hayes in 2019). Cheveldayoff also pushed hard to keep Stastny in the summer of 2018, going as far as saying he may have overextended financially with a contract pitch. It was ultimately turned down, though, and Stastny left for the Golden Knights in Vegas.
These moves should tell you that the Jets organization is seeing the same thing a lot of fans are: Little is a great hockey player as is Laine, but the pair have shown very little chemistry together.
Go back two seasons to Laine’s finest goal scoring campaign, when he netted 44 goals and finished second in the league behind Alex Ovechkin. Of those 44 goals, Little assisted on just six. Last season, Little assisted on only nine of Laine’s 30 goals. All together, just over 20 per cent of Laine’s goals from the past two seasons were set up by his primary centreman. For a little context, Wheeler assisted on 58 per cent of Mark Scheifele’s goals.
Pressed on the usage of his young sniper on Tuesday, Maurice preached patience with Laine.
“I’d like to play with Sidney Crosby if I’m a player,” Maurice said. “I’d really like to. But Phil (Kessel) didn’t play there and neither does Evgeni (Malkin). Patty Kane doesn’t play with Jonathan (Toews) consistently.
“I’ll use my driver’s license analogy. Nobody gets the keys at 14.”