Six days ago the Columbus Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets came together on a blockbuster trade, a massive swap of star players who wanted out. It will be hard to top as the "biggest trade of the 2021 season."
And, so far, only one of the three players involved has played a game for his new team.
Such is the trade market in a pandemic season. Jack Roslovic, the "other" piece of the deal who should not be underestimated, debuted for Columbus Thursday night. A local boy, Roslovic didn't have a contract with Winnipeg, so he stayed State-side through training camp, and did not have to cross an international border after the trade.
John Tortorella let him take the opening faceoff on home ice, he played 14:14, didn't get a point, and Columbus won in a shootout.
The headliners, though, have still not been seen.
LAINE HAS LANDED pic.twitter.com/tzEluRn340
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) January 29, 2021
"I think he's arriving as we speak right around this time in Columbus," Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Friday about when he expects Patrik Laine to arrive. "And then he's going to go through two negative tests and 48 hours quarantine, and then joining our team on Monday."
So there you go, mark it on your calendar. Laine's first projected game with Columbus would be at home next Tuesday against the Stanley Cup finalist Dallas Stars.
It's less clear when Pierre-Luc Dubois will join the Jets, but his mandatory federal quarantine period is still believed to be two weeks. His debut could be a while off.
So Laine steps into the spotlight first and Jackets fans will get a look at the next superstar who hopefully signs a long-term extension. A goal scorer by reputation and in reality, Laine is not a one-trick pony. He's got some snarl, loads of passion and personality, and has found improvement as an all-zones player.
"I know he wants to be the best," Kekalainen said on Sportsnet 590 The Fan's Writer's Bloc. "He's had 44 goals is his highest number so far, he scored 36 as an 18-year-old. He wants to be a 200-foot player, he wants to be a winning player. I know that that's important to him, he wants to win."
"He's put a lot of emphasis in becoming a better all-around player and still score goals. People underestimate how good of a passer he is. You overplay him and he finds a seam and makes a great play and he's got a really good vision of the ice, and he can really snap the puck and pass it, so you better be ready thinking he's going to be shooting and all of a sudden it's coming for your stick."
In his wave goodbye game to Winnipeg, all of those elements were witnessed.
Why, exactly, Dubois wanted out of Columbus remains unclear, but with Laine it was a little more on the sleeve. Within the Jets' loaded group of forwards, he was a second-line player. Kyle Connor, another prolific scorer, occupied the left wing spot next to Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. Laine was needed to drive the second line opposite Nikolaj Ehlers.
Getting a consistent centre who was up to the task for those two was becoming a battle. Paul Stastny was around for a run and then left. Ditto for Kevin Hayes. Stastny was brought back for this season.
Roslovic is not as established in the league as Laine, but his desire for wanting out was based on a similar feeling. He was not able to break into a top-six role and there was no clear path for him to do it. There is more room to move around within this Columbus roster, a mixture of youth and vet with a lineup ordered by team success.
"In general, I would say our players are proud to be here, proud to be part of the Columbus Blue Jackets," Kekalainen said. "If somebody's not we probably don't want you here."
"I am very sympathetic to players who want to come and talk to me if they don't feel they have an opportunity to excel in their profession just because of a competitive standpoint, depth of the team or something like that and they're not getting an opportunity to play and pursue their dream and be the best they can be at their profession. I try to help the players. I try to develop and have a plan for the players to become the best they can be and, if it's not possible in our organization, I'm willing to help and I always say to the players my door is open."
Maybe the saddest part of this whole transaction for Columbus is that Kekalainen took a shot on Dubois in the 2016 draft, picking him third overall when most projected Jesse Puljujarvi as the more prized prospect. And it worked out! Dubois was a huge factor for Columbus in the bubble playoffs and developed into a player who would fetch a Laine in trade.
Of course, the silver lining is you fetched Laine in a trade, the player chosen one spot ahead of Dubois in that draft. On 31 Thoughts: The Podcast this week, Kekalainen acknowledged he attempted to trade up for the No. 2 pick to get Laine that season, but that he never felt close to pulling it off.
Maybe it was meant to be anyway, but that will be decided at another bargaining table. Laine will be an RFA this coming off-season with arbitration rights and only two more seasons away from being UFA eligible. Kekalainen has been a long-time fan of the Finn's and if he does sign on for the future, the Jackets have a franchise game-changer.
"I've watched him play since he was 16 years old as an underage on the under-18," he said. "I've lived in that city and I have a pretty good network in Finland so I've done my homework as far as how he has been growing up and what kind of person he is, what kind of teammate he is. He won a lot at an early age, winning the championship with his club as an 18-year-old and world juniors as an 18-year-old. And being one of the best players in that tournament at that age doesn't happen very often."
"It's been fun to watch him grow and we'll get to know him much better now that he's going to be part of our team. I've had several conversations with him the past few days and he's excited at the opportunity, excited to come to Columbus. And we hope it leads to a long-term relationship."