The Columbus Blue Jackets got what they wanted. The Winnipeg Jets got what they wanted.
Granted, not all Jets fans were happy with the arrangement, but Winnipeg’s future seemed a lot brighter on Saturday than it was on Friday.
Saturday morning, the Jets announced that unhappy winger Patrik Laine and disgruntled centre/winger Jack Roslovic had been sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for benched and unhappy Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round draft pick.
For the Jets, it meant that Laine, who was not likely to re-sign in Winnipeg after he becomes and unrestricted free agent in July of 2022 and Roslovic, who didn’t even report to Winnipeg for the 2021 season, are now gone and out of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hair.
For Columbus, it means that another star benched by head coach John Tortorella is no longer unhappy in Columbus and is instead far away from the Blue Jackets’ volatile head coach.
Overall, it means that all the players are happy — or at least they should be — and the front offices can now move forward.
This was a blockbuster deal involving the two players who were chosen right after Toronto’s Auston Matthews in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Laine was selected by the Jets with the second overall pick in the 2016 Draft in Buffalo. He has 140 goals and 250 points in 306 career games. He is a tremendous asset on the power play and has one of the best shots in the game.
“When I got to Winnipeg at 18-years-old, I didn’t know what to expect,” Laine said in a written statement. “It became clear very quickly that this city loved hockey more than anything else. I couldn’t have asked for a more loyal, dedicated and passionate fan base. Thank you to all the Jets fans who took me in and made my family feel welcome.”
But he didn’t care enough about a place or a fan base as much as he cared about landing that huge contract and it’s been suggested on more than one occasion that his agent believes he should be making the same as Matthews in Toronto — $11,640,250 this season.
Laine is currently earning $6,750,000 and it was unlikely the Jets would ever get close to offering an $11 million/year deal for the 22-year-old right-winger.
So Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been doing his best, in his own quiet fashion, to move Laine. When Dubois was benched by Tortorella, talks between Cheveldayoff and Columbus GM Jarmo Kekelainen got serious and now Dubois, who was the the third overall pick by Columbus in that same 2016 Draft, is a member of the Jets.
“We’re extremely excited,” said Cheveldayoff. “With Pierre-Luc Dubois coming in here, the depth and the size we have down the middle here right now is going to be the strength of our organization. Depth down the middle is something that, with winning organizations, seems to be a common thread.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice seemed torn between losing Laine and gaining Dubois.
“We’re giving up an elite shooter that I firmly believe is going to develop into a very strong, very powerful power forward,” Maurice said. “An then we’re going to get a power forward that is going to develop into an elite point producer.
“So, different starting points but in my mind they will both get to a point in their careers when they are in the same place — they’re both going to be big powerful men that will drive the play and will drive offence.”
In 239 regular season games in Columbus, Dubois had 65 goals and 159 points. So far, his offensive production is not in the same league as Laine’s (in about 70 fewer games) although he didn’t have the opportunity very often to play on the No. 1 power play and he didn’t play with talented linemates like Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, either.
The Jets now have Scheifele, Dubois, Paul Stastny, Adam Lowry and Nate Thompson as their five centres, although Cheveldayoff hinted that Stastny could move to the wing to give Winnipeg two top lines of Wheeler-Scheifele-Kyle Connor and Stastny-Dubois-Nikolaj Ehlers.
It is unlikely Dubois, who is 6-foot-3, 190-pounds, will get to play in Winnipeg before the end of the first week of February. Government regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic are still set at 14-days of quarantine for anyone arriving from out of the province.
The deal also gives Winnipeg some flexibility in terms of the salary cap. With a flat cap of $81.5 million for the next two seasons, the Jets have saved about $1.9 million — Roslovic’s salary — on this deal. Winnipeg will pay about 26 per cent of Laine’s salary. That caveat was written into the deal in order to make it a more even one-to-one trade, financially, between the two stars. Dubois is on the first year of a two-year $10 million contract.
It should be a little easier to re-sign Dubois, whose father Eric has been an assistant coach with the Manitoba Moose for the past four seasons and now makes his home in Winnipeg.
“It’s a special moment for their family for the opportunity to see their son play in Winnipeg,” said Cheveldayoff. “Hopefully this becomes a second home for him.”
Roslovic, the Jets’ first-round selection in 2015, just never became the player the Jets hoped he’d be. He was given every opportunity in every different situation to be successful and he just wasn’t up to the task. At least, not yet. Perhaps he’ll find success in his home town of Columbus, Ohio. Although he was given opportunities on the wing, he just couldn’t crack the Top 9 at centre, his natural position. He plays found himself behind the likes of Scheifele, Stastny, Lowry, Bryan Little and even, briefly, Kevin Hayes in the middle.
While a number of Jets fans were unhappy to see Laine go, no one was more disappointed than his friend and roommate, Nikolaj Ehlers.
“We’ve been brothers since Day 1,” Ehlers said. “This is not very fun, but it’s part of the business. It’s the way it goes. He’s a guy I’m going to miss a lot.”