You have to wonder how Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff does it. Another negotiation, another star under contract at what can be perceived as a steal of a deal.
On Friday the Jets announced Patrik Laine signed a two-year extension with the club at an AAV of $6.75 million. How many other NHL teams would jump at the chance to lock up a three-time 30-goal scorer (and one-time 40-goal scorer) at that price?
On the surface the contract looks a lot like the deals signed by fellow RFAs Brayden Point ($6.75 million) or Matthew Tkachuk ($7 million) but there’s one big difference: both Tkachuk’s and Point’s deals are three years that walk those players to unrestricted free agency through one year of arbitration. Holding Laine to a two-year deal forces the young star to go through likely two arbitration hearings to get to that same spot, giving the Jets a lot more leverage.
To understand why, you have to look at the Jets’ history of dealing with star RFAs. The most recent example is Josh Morrissey. Last summer he had sought a long-term deal, but settled on a two-year bridge with an AAV of $3.15 million. Morrissey responded with a great year and negotiated an eight-year extension with a $6.25 million AAV this off-season.
That’s the dream scenario for Winnipeg — that Laine follows the same carrot-on-a-stick approach and rebounds from a down campaign to prove he’s worth a long-term buy in.
There are risks involved. Clearly Laine’s comments in the media over the summer suggest a player frustrated with his organization. So for the Jets to now ask Laine to prove himself, after he’s already become established as one of the greatest young scorers the game has ever seen, is somewhat of a gamble.
But it’s also another reason why a two-year deal gives the Jets an advantage.
The Jacob Trouba situation illustrates why. Back in 2016 the defenceman sat out the beginning of the year after asking for a trade. When a trade didn’t come Trouba signed — you guessed it — a two-year bridge deal at a team-friendly price. When it expired a one-year, arbitration-awarded contract followed. Finally the Jets moved Trouba for Neal Pionk and a first-round pick (used to land Ville Heinola) this off-season. And so far Heinola looks like a player.
The point of this is the Jets used this tactic to save money, get another three years of quality service from a disgruntled defenceman, and allowed them time to explore trade options when it became clear Trouba remained on a course toward unrestricted free agency.
Clearly the path of least resistance for Laine will be to put his best foot forward, rack up big numbers and sign a fat contract extension with the Jets.
Conversely, the path out of town is long, contentious and costs him money.