WINNIPEG – The cautionary tales are never too far away and remain relevant, even if the circumstances themselves are vastly different.
And while the Finnish Flash is still revered around these parts, nearly every fan of the 1.0 and 2.0 versions of the Winnipeg Jets wishes Teemu Selanne was never traded to the Anaheim Ducks in a swap for centre Chad Kilger and defenceman Oleg Tverdovsky on Feb. 7, 1996.
Looking back, there were salary considerations to consider and the franchise was on the verge of moving to Arizona for the 1996-97 season anyway, but that doesn’t take away the magnitude of the deal or the lessons that can be learned from it.
At a time when trade rumours and chatter surrounding Patrik Laine seem to be picking up steam, it’s incredibly important for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to fully survey the situation before he considers pulling the trigger on another potential blockbuster.
While it’s true many Jets fans would like Cheveldayoff to be a bit more proactive when it comes to making deals, there are numerous factors to consider before shipping out a 22-year-old who has already scored 138 goals and produced 247 points in 305 NHL games.
For those of you who prefer to focus on more recent history, look no further than a trade involving the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins on July 4, 2013, several weeks after the Bruins lost in six games of the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Tyler Seguin, chosen second overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, was the centrepiece of the deal and was moved to the Stars along with Rich Peverley and defence prospect Ryan Button for a package that included forwards Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser and defenceman Joe Morrow.
There are several Winnipeg connections in that deal, with Morrow spending parts of two seasons with the Jets, Fraser playing for the Manitoba Moose of the AHL and Peverley the key part of the deal to the Bruins in 2011 that sent Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart to the Atlanta Thrashers.
This isn’t about connecting the dots, it’s about mining deeper into that 2013 deal.
Seguin, who was chosen right after Taylor Hall went to the Edmonton Oilers, had gone to the Stanley Cup Final twice in his first three seasons but was playing mostly behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
With 56 goals and 121 points in 203 games with the Bruins, Seguin wasn’t quite living up to the hype – even if his ice time and opportunity was somewhat limited as he found his way (Seguin played just over 15 minutes per game with Boston and now averages nearly 20).
The talent was there, but the consistency was not. Some growth and maturity was required, which is not uncommon for most 21-year-olds.
Seguin has blossomed into a bona fide star, flourishing after the move to become close to a point-per-game player (223 goals and 514 points in 534 games with Dallas) who just reached the Stanley Cup Final with the Stars.
Stars general manager Jim Nill is thrilled with the way things turned out, but the same cannot be said for his then-Bruins counterpart, Peter Chiarelli.
It’s one of the reasons Chiarelli was shown the door in April 2015, though missing the playoffs that spring was also a contributing factor.
Eriksson managed a 30-goal, 60-point season in his final year with the Bruins and Smith was a steady player who was eventually traded to the Florida Panthers, and has since taking his game to another level with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Morrow and Fraser were depth players that never fully panned out. Neither did Button, while Peverley’s career was cut short due to a heart condition.
There’s always risk in any trade, but the Stars got the most talented player in the deal. Usually the team getting that player wins the deal and this was not an exception to the rule. Seguin is the type of player organizations want to build around, and the same can be said for Laine.
This isn’t about piling on in the hot-take society we live in, but the Seguin deal should matter to the Jets for one reason and one reason only: when considering moving a talent like Laine, trying to fill multiple holes but not getting an elite player back can end up presenting a major problem – even if the original premise makes sense.
For an organization looking to fill multiple holes on defence and at centre, the idea of exploring the option of moving someone out from a position of strength has plenty of value.
Laine is entering the second year of the bridge deal he signed just over a year ago, one that carries an average annual value of $6.75 million. Signing Laine to a long-term extension is going to require a significant financial commitment, but elite goal scorers get paid and that’s an investment the Jets should be comfortable making – especially if the growth in his game continues.
The global pandemic and flat salary cap will bring some challenges for the Jets and most other teams, but goal scoring is one of the most coveted commodities in the NHL.
Laine has not only proven to be a consistent producer on that front, but his best days are most likely ahead of him, and that’s saying something when you consider he had 44 goals as a sophomore.
Although an injury to Bryan Little that ended up being season-ending (and is now career-threatening) proved to be the impetus behind the move, Laine spent a good chunk of time playing on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Connor as Wheeler moved to the second-line centre spot.
Laine showed that he can handle the job and the additional responsibilities that come with it. The Jets asked Laine to work on his all-around game and that’s exactly what he’s done. Laine still has the potential to be a 50-goal scorer and is showing the willingness to be a true power forward, someone who is both highly skilled and engaged physically on a regular basis.
So, what’s the issue?
It’s well-documented that Scheifele and Wheeler prefer to play on a line with Connor, which leaves things at a bit of an impasse.
Laine is a first-line talent and should be playing first-line minutes. If he isn’t going to receive that level of playing time with the Jets, then it makes sense to investigate a deal.
However, this doesn’t seem like a situation that has reached the point of no return. Further options should be explored.
Should the Jets eventually decide to move on from Laine, it can’t be for a second-line centre and a second-pairing defenceman. An exceptional player must be going back the other way because replacing Laine and his production is no easy task.
If Cheveldayoff doesn’t get blown away by an offer, he’s in no rush to be backed into a corner to make a trade, since the Jets still have three years of team control before Laine can become an unrestricted free agent.
Sure, with another productive season Laine would have some additional leverage if a longer-term deal is difficult to negotiate and he files for arbitration. But again, no matter how folks feel about maximizing the value of an asset, there is no rush to move Laine out.
A lot can change in three months, let alone three years.
The laws of diminishing returns don’t apply here. Someone like Laine is going to have value whether he’s one, two or three years away from unrestricted free agency.