WINNIPEG — The potential for an eventual union made so much sense that you figured it probably wasn’t going to happen.
But the Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets appear to have decided now was actually the best time to take action with star players who preferred to be elsewhere in a blockbuster deal for both franchises.
For all of the debate involving the first and second overall picks in the 2016 NHL Draft, the discussion has now shifted squarely to the second and third picks — who will forever be linked, thanks to Saturday’s trade.
With Patrik Laine and 2015 first-rounder Jack Roslovic departing in the trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois, this is a move that could have serious ramifications around the NHL in terms of potentially shifting the balance of power.
The Jets are losing a proven sniper in Laine and a versatile forward in Roslovic, who was looking for a bigger role.
That is a significant price to pay, but it’s also the cost of doing business when trying to acquire one of the most valued commodities in the NHL — a six-foot-three, 218-pound pivot with plenty of offence in his game.
In bringing in Dubois, the Jets are adding a special talent who can provide an incredible one-two punch down the middle with Mark Scheifele.
During three-plus seasons with the Blue Jackets, Dubois has 66 goals and 159 points in 239 games, adding eight goals and 19 points in 26 playoff contests.
No, he’s not as prolific as Laine, but Dubois had 42 goals and 99 points in his second season in the QMJHL and projects to be a guy that can eclipse 30 goals at the NHL level and provide some serious matchup challenges for the opposition.
Laine arrived on the scene in June of 2016, with his refreshing manner and lightning-quick release. He immediately became a fan favourite, filling the back of the net with great frequency while providing quotes at an equally rapid rate.
Laine wasn’t afraid to be self-deprecating and he held himself to a high standard. When things got difficult, he dug in.
Laine immediately changed the dynamic of the Jets franchise, igniting memories of another Finnish superstar who made a remarkable impact before making an early departure in what became a Hall of Fame career. It didn’t matter that Laine and Teemu Selanne didn’t play anything close to the same style: they both loved Winnipeg and Manitobans loved them right back.
People across the province are just a bit surprised that those “Winnipeg is Good” t-shirts — that were a result of a famous Laine quote — have quickly become a collector’s item.
Laine is a player that once scored five goals in a single game against the St. Louis Blues in November of 2018. As a second-year NHLer, he scored 44 goals and recorded 70 points.
In his “down” season, Laine still finished with 30 goals, which is a reason to celebrate for most players. This isn’t to say some of the criticism wasn’t warranted.
That 30-goal campaign featured 18 goals scored in a single month for Laine, which is a remarkable achievement. It also meant he scored only 12 goals in the remainder of the season and the dry spells were more prevalent than they had been previously.
One has to wonder what might have happened if the Jets had made Laine an offer of something in the neighbourhood of eight years for $8 million dollars after that sensational sophomore season.
Instead, Laine appeared to grow frustrated by playing mostly on the second line, even if he was the featured option on the power play.
When Laine’s agents made it known publicly this off-season that a change of scenery would be beneficial for both parties, you got the sense a potentially messy breakup was the most likely outcome.
From a historical perspective, you also realized that a player requesting a trade has rarely led directly to a trade (see: Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba for points of reference).
Of course, the initial Zoom call Laine had with reporters at the start of camp had a few awkward moments within it. He was given several opportunities to dismiss the notion he wanted out and chose not to do so, though he went out of his way to declare he would not become a distraction.
Laine stayed true to his words, even if the trade happened quicker than most people anticipated.
Laine’s final game in a Jets uniform — the 4-3 overtime win over the Calgary Flames that saw him score twice (including the overtime game-winner) and set up another — was a fitting snapshot of the player he has blossomed into.
On display was a budding power forward who relishes big moments and someone who wasn’t afraid to put in the necessary work to round out his game.
Laine also showed his investment level by quickly coming to the aid of linemate Kyle Connor and emerging from the scrum with some blood on his face after an invitation to tangle with Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk.
How things got so complicated in this marriage still remains a bit of a mystery and it will be interesting to see how forthcoming Laine is going to be when he’s ready to discuss the matter.
For now, Laine is turning the page and hoping to heal from the unspecified upper-body injury that kept him out of the past three games and figures to sideline him for several more.
He’s the centrepiece of the biggest trade Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has made since sending Kane and Zach Bogosian to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015.
Strangely enough, the pick acquired by the Jets to select Roslovic 25th overall was the final link for either organization to that deal.
Roslovic’s departure is a classic case of a player who felt his path to the top-six was blocked by the other talented forwards on the Jets’ roster.
Despite coming off career-highs of 12 goals and 29 points, Roslovic figured to be slotted in on the third line with Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp to start the season.
The combination of being unhappy with his place on the depth chart and needing a new contract as a restricted free agent meant that Roslovic remained home in Ohio as the season began.
Ironically, because of Laine’s early-season injury, Roslovic probably would have been reunited with frequent Manitoba Moose linemate Kyle Connor in Game 2. That point is now moot, as Roslovic is joining Laine in fresh-start territory.
Laine arrives in Columbus as a guy who could quickly grow into the face of the franchise, while Roslovic gets to play for his hometown team — a feel-good story as a product of the Ohio Blue Jackets AAA hockey program.
As for Dubois, the final chapter of his Blue Jackets career is one he’d quickly like to move past.
The breaking point in the relationship featured Dubois stapled to the bench for the final two periods on Thursday after what can only be described as a lackadaisical shift that drew the ire of Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.
Effort level isn’t a concern when it comes to Dubois, who is coming off an outstanding playoff that saw him elevate his play against the likes of Auston Matthews and John Tavares in the qualifying round series that sent the Maple Leafs packing.
Because of quarantine rules, Dubois won’t be able to jump into the Jets lineup for at least 14 days. Once he arrives, the Jets will likely put him beside Nikolaj Ehlers on what figures to be a potent second line with either veteran Paul Stastny or the Swiss Army Knife Copp.
Whereas Laine’s bridge contract (which carries a salary cap hit of $6.75 million and a salary of $7.5 million) is slated to expire at the end of this season, the Jets get a bit more cost certainty — and some immediate savings in the short term — with Dubois.
Although he signed the deal with the full expectation he would be moved, Dubois is under contract for the next two seasons at $5 million. He will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the end of it and the initial belief is that the long-term price for both he and Laine should be similar.
That comes with one caveat — all signs pointed to Laine not being willing to commit over the long term with the Jets.
Will it be any different for Dubois when he reaches that point? The Jets will cross that bridge when they get there, though the chances of keeping him around for the long haul are already higher than they would have been for his predecessor.
Plus, the benefit of having Duobis’ father Eric in the organization as an assistant coach of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose cannot be overlooked.
There is no doubt that Dubois has some big skates to fill, but you can be sure he’s happy to start the next chapter of his career after enduring a public breakup of his own.
Winning a trade involving Laine was always going to be a difficult proposition for Cheveldayoff, but by bringing in a high-end player like Dubois at a premium position, the Jets remain in a position where they figure to remain competitive in the North Division.
Over the course of time, it will be the players at the core of this move that will ultimately determine who actually wins the deal.
Right now, both sides are working to strike a balance between being happy a resolution has arrived, while also feeling some disappointment over the departure of players who were expected to be part of the fabric of the respective organizations for years to come.