Negotiations are under way between restricted free agents and their teams as they look to work out new contracts. Among those players this year is Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine, who just polished off his third straight 30-goal season. He’s a budding superstar in the NHL, and even with the Jets’ disappointing crash out of the playoffs, there is a bright career ahead for the player EOTP’s Patrik Bexell has dubbed the “Punisher of Pucks.”
For that reason, the Montreal Canadiens should extend him an offer sheet this off-season, attemping to poach his finishing ability.
Offer sheets are extremely rare, with the last one being in 2013 when Ryan O’Reilly had an offer from the Calgary Flames matched by the Colorado Avalanche. Before that, the last offer sheet to be accepted was Dustin Penner’s in 2007 after the Edmonton Oilers sent the Anaheim Ducks forward an offer, which angered general manager Brian Burke so much he wanted to rent a barn to fight Kevin Lowe. Potential fear of retribution leads to many GMs not going down that road, being more likely to keep the status quo, and not make enemies across the league.
However, this is the modern NHL, soon to have 32 salary-capped teams. To quote former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.”
The Canadiens need to make a play right now. Carey Price, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and other veterans aren’t getting any younger, and coming off a fantastic rebound season they’re poised to launch themselves into contention in short order.
How would Carey Price sell unrestricted free agents on Montreal?— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) April 9, 2019
“I would tell them that obviously my window is growing smaller and I really want to win more than ever, so I think that should be a pretty good indication of how bad we want to win here.”
The biggest things holding them back from reaching the post-season this year were a game-breaker and a modestly functional power play.
Laine addresses both of this issues on his own.
His struggles at even strength with the Jets are apparent. He isn’t much of a play-driver, but has the talent to be an elite finisher for any team. Part of that comes from the Jets being absolutely abysmal to end this season, and that might be putting it lightly. For a team that performed so well a year earlier and to start this season, they crashed and burned spectacularly in the final months of the season.
Laine is a part of that, struggling at both ends of the ice last season, but it seemed like Paul Maurice just never seemed to try new combinations to find a spot that worked for the sniper.
Sending an offer sheet to Laine is not about his defensive prowess, or struggles at five-on-five this past year, it is about acquiring someone who can immediately step in and be an elite goal-scorer.
On the power play he is just that: one of the most dangerous shooters in the entire NHL. Montreal’s biggest issue on the man advantage was the fact they just didn’t get the puck on the net enough, and when they did it was from low percentage areas. Laine doesn’t have a low-percentage area. He lives in the “Ovechkin spot” on the Winnipeg power play, and matches the Russian’s power.
So what the Canadiens would be getting is a tale of two players: one who needs work at even strength, and one who is a dominant threat on the power play. Luckily, the Canadiens have been an outstanding five-on-five team in Claude Julien’s tenure, with three lines rolling for most of the past year, and a fourth line stabilizing in the final weeks of the season thanks to Jordan Weal.
Before thinking about where Laine would fit in, it’s worth exploring just what the potential cost would be to bring him in with an offer sheet. Evolving Hockey estimates Laine’s deal to be around seven years at $7.2 million per year, perhaps a smaller amount than expected, but his struggles last year likely drove down some of his cost which benefits the Jets — or a team willing to throw an offer sheet his way.
Offer sheet compensation calculations require the total value of the contract to be dividied by no more than five years. Were the calculated value to go above $10,568,589, the offering team would need to send the Jets four of their next five first-round picks should the player sign and the original team not counter. It’s that hefty price tag that prevents the game’s young superstars from receiving such offers.
Working backward, to avoid hitting that number on a seven-year deal, a maximum of $7,548,992 can be offered. It’s hardly enough to pry a star player who expects north of $10 million from his team to re-sign, but could be enticing enough for a player in a non-ideal situation, and would put pressure on a general manager operating close to the cap’s upper limit.
At that value or lower, the compensation due to the Jets for Laine would be two first-, one second-, and one third-round pick, with the two firsts needing to be from two of the next three draft years, and the second and third from 2020.
While draft picks and prospects are crucial to developing long-term success, if you have the chance to land a 21-year-old star who has not even hit his prime, you take that chance. Laine has the potential to help the team win now, and for the foreseeable future; a best-of-both-worlds situation.
If Laine were to sign an offer sheet from the Canadiens and join the club, they have a trio of Finnish forwards who he could mesh quite well with. Jesperi Kotkaniemi held his own at both ends of the ice, while Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia proved to be great defensive forwards alongside him. While he had a great rookie year, Kotkaniemi has more potential to be unlocked as a playmaker, and Laine is the type of player to help him do just that. In a hockey version of a symbiotic relationship, Laine helps to elevate the offensive game of Lehkonen/Armia and Kotkaniemi, while the other two cover for Laine’s defensive struggles to form a far more effective trio.
This does not factor in the impact Laine could have on the power play, which lacks a real triggerman from the circle. Sliding Laine into his typical spot not only has him as one of the most dangerous option in the league, but it frees up some space for Weber to shoot more often from a slightly different angle, and allows the team to work the puck to other high-danger areas while the defence attempts to take Laine’s shooting lane away.
Laine may very well stick to his guns and demand a superstar deal, one that Montreal would not only have to shed cap space for — namely Karl Alzner’s contract — but also part with four first-round selections, but for that maximum compensation, a team would be looking at the likes of Sebastian Aho or Mikko Rantanen. Bergevin would also have to keep in mind the lingering contracts needed for both Armia and Lehkonen, both of whom are relied on heavily by Claude Julien, and Max Domi the next season.
It is a longshot chance that Montreal and Marc Bergevin actually attempt to offer sheet Laine, as Bergevin seems to be one of the GMs who likes to keep status quo and not rock the boat. But he is also the GM who traded his superstar defender out of nowhere, and with his team on the cusp of being a contender, he has to make a bold move somewhere. Adding Laine would be just that, and could push his club over the edge and deep into the playoffs next season.