WINNIPEG -- Just over one year ago, Patrik Laine made a bet on himself.
At a time when many young players were cashing in on lucrative long-term deals, the Finnish sniper opted for a two-year bridge contract with the Winnipeg Jets and it was Kyle Connor (seven years, $50 million) that got a bit more security.
Of course, there were a particular set of circumstances that led to that decision by Laine and his camp.
Laine was coming off a third consecutive 30-goal season, but his 30 markers and 50 points represented the lowest point total he'd produced in three seasons.
That season was filled with wild swings -- a hot streak that included 18 goals in 12 games over the course of a month -- but also some lengthy cold spells, with 12 snipes in those other 70 games.
Consistency was lacking. Puck management was a work in progress.
But this was a 21-year-old with 110 goals over three seasons, and that left him in elite company.
The Jets weren't ready to make the type of commitment the Buffalo Sabres made to captain and franchise cornerstone Jack Eichel, who inked an eight-year deal worth $80 million.
By the time the contract stalemate had ended, Laine had missed all of training camp and the pre-season but was ready for the opener.
The compromise meant that Laine and the Jets agreed to a two-year pact that carried an average annual value of $6.75 million.
That was both a significant raise from his entry-level deal and a solid value for the Jets, similar to what the Tampa Bay Lightning ended up doing with Brayden Point (who earns thee same AAV, but signed for three years instead of two).
Laine’s goal totals were down slightly, but had the season not been paused, it’s a safe bet 30 goals would have been eclipsed once again -- to go along with a career-high in assists.
His ice time was up and so was his engagement level, as Laine took another step to becoming a true power forward.
There were fewer peaks and valleys in Laine’s fourth season and I would argue last season was his best as a pro in terms of overall impact -- especially when you consider he was often a decoy instead of the trigger-man on the Jets’ power play (eight goals, down from 15 the year before and 20 the year before that, when he had a career-high 44).
There is still another level for Laine to reach, but he’s trending upward.
Laine is hearing his name in the rumour mill these days, much like frequent linemate Nikolaj Ehlers did last summer.
As we get this mailbag rolling, Laine was prevalent in the conversation and garnered several questions worth answering.
Jason @SubduedTheatrix: What is the realistic probability of Patrik Laine being moved?
I explored the topic to a degree in this earlier column, but realize it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
Because of the way the Jets conduct their business and how general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff keeps his cards close to the vest when it comes to both contracts and possible moves, it’s hard to get information on a subject such as this one from inside the organization.
Could this be a where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire situation?
It would be negligent to ignore the possibility, while reiterating it seems like a longshot right now - unless the Jets are absolutely blown away by an offer from another team.
During nine-plus years as the GM, Cheveldayoff hasn’t been backed into a corner by a player, even when that individual has asked for a trade - sometimes multiple times.
While Laine has been vocal in asking for more responsibility and will continue to push the envelope on that front, there have been no indications that he wants out or is unhappy here in Winnipeg.
When you combine that with the growth he’s shown in his game, it seems unlikely - though not impossible - Laine could be traded this off-season.
If it ends up being the case, it would represent a seismic shake-up and better include an impressive package coming back.
@YuriGelfat: Will Laine sign here beyond RFA years?
This is an intriguing one and assumes Laine remains in Winnipeg beyond next season and inks a new pact.
Let’s get this out of the way quickly.
The Jets would like Laine to remain in Winnipeg beyond his RFA years and they would have team control for three more seasons (including next season) before he could potentially become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
But it’s not quite that simple.
A flat cap for this season and next will likely impact the salary Laine might be seeking and may influence how his camp approaches the next negotiation.
The biggest difference compared to last summer is that Laine will have arbitration rights - and the case presented will likely be based on big contracts that were signed based on projections of a rising cap.
Should Laine’s development take another step forward, it’s hard to imagine he would not command a salary that is at (or even higher) than the $8.25 million captain Blake Wheeler is scheduled to earn for four more seasons.
That number will rise depending on the length of the deal and how many UFA years are bought.
Should the two sides not find common ground on a long-term deal, you can be sure the Jets won’t want him to walk for nothing.
So that means trade talks could certainly heat up after next season.
For the time being, the focus should be on figuring out who Laine is going to play on a line with, whenever things get underway.
Ashley Grant @McJags: With Tampa’s success without Stamkos in the lineup and their impending salary cap issues, is there any way the Jets would explore the possibility of obtaining him from Tampa?
No doubt it’s been an impressive feat for the Tampa Bay Lightning to reach the Stanley Cup final without the benefit of having Steven Stamkos in the lineup.
Seeing Stamkos streak into action and score on his third shift was one of the coolest stories of these pandemic playoffs.
And while it must have been tough for Stamkos to be limited in terms of playing time and possibly suffering another injury, he showed his leadership by remaining on the bench with his teammates to offer moral support as they won Game 3.
The Lightning are definitely going to be facing a salary cap crunch in a couple of weeks and it’s likely at least one member of their deep pool of centre talent is going to be on the move.
The Jets should be one of many teams bombarding Lightning GM Julien BriseBois with offers and, at some point, there could be a deal to be had.
But the chances of Stamkos being involved in a potential trade would be found somewhere between slim and none.
Stamkos has a full no-movement clause and a contract that carries an AAV of $8.5 million for the next four seasons.
The prospect of Stamkos and Mark Scheifele occupying the top two centre spots on the depth chart would be something to behold, but don’t expect it to happen -- otherwise you’re likely going to be disappointed.
@ScottNewmanWpg: Is Shayne Gostisbehere a good fit for the Jets?
Since the Jets are looking to make some improvements to the back end this off-season, it makes sense that folks are curious about who could fill some of the spots.
The Philadelphia Flyers have an abundance of D-men and Gostisbehere saw his role reduced under new head coach Alain Vigneault, so he’s likely looking for a new home.
During the course of his career, Gostisbehere had some strong moments -- he was second in Calder Trophy voting in 2015-16 and he recorded a career-high 65 points in 2017-18 -- but his production dipped dramatically in each of the past two seasons (37 points in 78 games and 12 in 42 games).
By the time the playoffs rolled around, Gostisbehere was limited to five games and was scratched for 11.
Yes, he’s under contract for three more seasons at a reasonable cap hit of $4.5 million and he’s only 27 years old but for me, he shouldn’t be close to the top of the list when it comes to the players the Jets should prioritize in a potential trade. I don’t see this as an optimal fit for the Jets or as a likely landing spot for Gostisbehere.
Gary Poppins @gojetsgo_17: If you had to choose between one of Heinola or Samberg for who starts with the Jets, who is your bet on?
Sticking with the defence, to me, this doesn’t necessarily have to be an either/or situation.
It might only be one, but both Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg could start with the Jets next season.
Plus, it could very well depend on what happens during the off-season in terms of acquisitions or free-agent signings.
Heinola is younger, but got his first taste of the NHL last fall, skating in eight games with the Jets before he was sent to the minors and eventually returned to his club team in Finland.
There were some flashes of brilliance, with Heinola scoring his first NHL goal on Matt Murray and chipping in five points, but he was an undersized blue-liner that needed some additional seasoning.
He got that by playing with his club team and suiting up for Finland at the world juniors.
With the NHL season likely pushed back to late December or January, there’s a chance Heinola could skate at the world juniors for a third time, which would be another important international experience for him.
As for Samberg, the pandemic brought a close to his college career, derailed the opportunity for a third consecutive NCAA Frozen Four title with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.
It also prevented him from possibly making his NHL debut with the Jets after he signed his entry-level contract. And due to the smaller taxi squad, Samberg couldn’t be part of the Jets expanded roster coming out of the pause.
So you can be sure Samberg is going to be eager to make an impression when training camp begins.
Heinola has more offensive upside and already got a taste of the NHL to go along with his other pro hockey experience in Finland, but Samberg is more physically mature and he’s older (22), so he might be more ready for the grind.
Samberg also has big-game experience from his two appearances with Team USA at the world juniors.
The Jets are looking to add size to the back end, so that will work in Samberg’s favour as well.
Samberg could eventually blossom into a guy who plays on a pairing with Neal Pionk, but is more likely a candidate to start the season with Tucker Poolman.
To me, his physical maturity gives him a slight edge over Heinola at this stage of the proceedings.
But don’t be surprised to see them both on the Jets’ roster sooner rather than later.
The Colonel @Jetsfan19961: Many say that Anton Lundell is already NHL ready as a middle-six centre. Do you think if the Jets were to get him at 10, he is a viable fix for the Jets No. 2 next year?
First and foremost, there are not many 10th-overall picks that jump right onto the roster after their first NHL training camp -- and even fewer stick around beyond nine games.
This is not a knock on Lundell, it’s the simple reality of the situation.
If a player is ready to jump right into the NHL and contribute immediately, he’s not likely going to fall to 10.
Secondly, while Lundell is well-liked by many in the scouting community, I haven’t heard many people suggest he’s ready to step into the NHL right away -- and even fewer saying he’s ready to be a second-line centre right out of the gate.
Lundell is known as a strong two-way player, but there are still some questions about his offensive upside.
Some in the scouting community aren’t the least bit concerned, others see more of a checker. It will be up to Lundell to see where he slots in.
I don’t think he would be ready to jump into a second-line centre job this season, though he could eventually grow into the position over time.
He could very well be on the Jets’ radar, but there are other more dynamic players that will be available at 10 -- that’s why I didn’t include Lundell on this list.
It’s also possible Lundell is off the board when the Jets make their selection, since the Minnesota Wild (ninth overall) could also be in the market for a centre.