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Why the Vancouver Canucks should consider trading for Patrik Laine

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
L. Ron Sedlbauer
29 days ago
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On Wednesday morning, Pierre LeBrun of the Athletic reported that Columbus Blue Jackets forward and former second-overall pick Patrik Laine is on the trade block:
“My understanding is that the Columbus Blue Jackets intend to work with Patrik Laine’s camp, led by agent Andy Scott of Octagon, to find the star winger a fresh start with a new team.”
The Jackets may have a difficult time finding a suitor for Laine, who is generally considered to have underperformed in Columbus since being traded from the Winnipeg Jets alongside Jack Roslovic for Pierre-Luc Dubois back in 2021.
After all, who would want a struggling, injury-prone winger on an $8.7 million deal who is currently enrolled in the NHLPA’s player assistance program?
Me, that’s who. And the Canucks should want him, too.
He’s a sneakily productive, dare I say, underrated winger whose acquisition cost is likely to be low and who would offer the Canucks a level of flexibility that they’re unlikely to find from any other winger of a similar calibre.
Before I get into Laine’s positive attributes, let’s review the case against him, which was best laid out by Thomas Drance on Thursday’s edition of Canucks Talk on Sportsnet 650:
“Laine scores from one spot on the ice, and it’s the spot in the ice 5-on-4 that I want JT Miller to spend most of the time occupying.
So he’s got one elite skill, right? His shot from the left flank on the power play. And the Canucks have a guy who I personally have no desire to see supplanted from being primarily there, even though I’m sure Rick Tocchet would like to see some more movement. I think we all would like to see more movement. So we’d like to see some more Pettersson there, too.
But, you know, Laine, despite his listed dimensions, isn’t lining up at the net front. I know that’s not where he’s going to score his goals. That’s not where he’s going to do his damage.
I think he’s really struggled to adapt. I think he’s got one elite skill. He doesn’t drive play. His two way impact is hit and miss, to put it kindly.”
He’s not alone in his convictions, either. It appears that the majority of fans agree with his assessment.
How much of Drance’s assessment is true, though? The answer is complicated, but I’d say his concerns range from bang-on to “that’s the perception, but the numbers paint a different picture.”
I’ll start with where we agree: Laine has been an elite power play contributor, but from the same part of the ice that JT Miller has traditionally excelled at. Having said that, it’s not as though the Canucks have been such a formidable team while up a man that they can’t afford to try out some new looks.
The Canucks had the 11th-ranked power play last year, which is right around where it’s been since Travis Green was on the bench. Their overall effectiveness also declined over the course of this past season, dropping four scoring chances per 60 minutes after the All-Star break from where it had been in the first four months of the season.
While I wouldn’t advocate moving Miller from that spot simply to accommodate Patrik Laine, the whole organization seems to agree that the power play needs more movement, and I find it hard to believe that adding another significant shooting threat would make the unit less effective.
To remain effective in today’s NHL, power play units need to be constantly changing and evolving. At this point, most of the league appears to have the book on the Canucks’ top unit, which has remained relatively static since Tocchet took over, if not longer. There’s no denying Miller has been effective in his spot, but there’s some question as to whether the team or the player has benefitted more from the arrangement. But that’s a discussion for another time. If nothing else, Laine would give them another option there as they continue to make adjustments.
All this is putting the cart before the horse anyway, because the idea that Laine is a power play merchant is a popular misconception. He’s generally been one of the league’s more efficient goal-scorers at 5-on-5. His 0.99 goals per 60 minutes over the past three seasons puts him just outside the top 50 among players with at least 1000 minutes of 5v5 ice time, right in the same neighbourhood as Sidney Crosby (1.02), Sebastian Aho (1.01), Andrei Svechnikov (0.97), and Steven Stamkos (0.96).
I would also quibble with the notion that Laine is one-dimensional, or an outright defensive liability. While his goal-scoring touch is undeniably his one elite attribute, Laine has maintained a healthy primary assist rate over most of his career, and his defensive game has taken significant strides from where it was during his time with the Jets.
That’s all well and good, you might say, but why should the Canucks give up an asset (or assets) for Laine when they could just as easily go out and get a winger in free agency? Well, because he’s as good, if not better, than most of the options available to them. For the sake of comparison, I took a look at some of the other free agent wingers and sorted them by 5v5 goal rate and compared them against Laine. I’ve chosen to focus on goals, but I’ve included assists and points as well, to give a fuller picture.
PlayerTOIG/60A/60P/60
Daniel Sprong2107:251.171.082.25
Jake DeBrusk2722:391.080.821.9
Anthony Duclair2111:521.080.942.02
Jake Guentzel3360:031.071.212.29
Patrik Laine18:14:400.991.262.25
Danton Heinen2438:190.891.081.97
Warren Foegele2744:040.831.051.88
Sam Reinhart3141:370.821.342.16
As you can see, while Laine hasn’t been quite as prolific of an even-strength goal-scorer as Jake Guentzel, he’s actually been more productive than Sam Reinhart, who is expected to get a big payday (likely from the Panthers) in the offseason. In addition to being younger, Laine stacks up well against the most productive players in this free agent class, and is a cut above some of the more budget options (as well as a not-so-budget option in Teuvo Teravainen, whose numbers were so paltry he didn’t even make the cut).
While it’s obvious that Laine’s reputation isn’t exactly sterling at the moment, it’s important to consider some contextual factors.
He plays in Columbus, for one.
Be honest with yourself. How good would a player have to be in Columbus for you to notice?
How many Blue Jackets could you even name without googling the roster?
Johnny Gaudreau was one of the best wingers in the game when he was in Calgary, and I’d forgive you for forgetting he existed until you read his name just now. That’s why these numbers are all so important, even if you’re a “just watch the games” person. No one watches Blue Jackets games, not even the most die-hard eye test enthusiast.
Do they even have a home broadcast? He may as well play on Mars.
I’m kidding. Mostly. But you’d be well within your rights even as the most plugged-in hockey fan to be unaware that Laine was basically a point-a-game player in the two seasons that preceded his disastrous and shortened 2023-24 campaign. In addition to being just all-around forgettable as a franchise, the Jackets have also been very bad since they upset the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 playoffs. They own the league’s fifth-worst record over the past four seasons, just ahead of the Seattle Kraken, who literally didn’t exist in the first season of that sample.
More importantly, Laine has also been put in a uniquely bad position for a player with his profile. Since joining the Jackets, Boone Jenner has been far and away Laine’s most common linemate, who has spent over 200 more minutes with him at 5-on-5 than any other forward. Jenner is pretty much the platonic ideal of a guy you’ve heard of, but know nothing about. He also happens to be, without exaggeration, one of the league’s least efficient set-up men. Over the past three seasons, Jenner boasts the league’s 429th-best primary assist rate at 5v5 among players with at least 1000 minutes of TOI, according to Natural Stat Trick with 0.37. For context, Matt Grzelcyk, a defensive defenceman with a career-high of 26 points, is at 0.38 over the same span.
Jenner has some positive attributes (he’s been nearly as efficient a goal-scorer as Laine since 2021), but if Laine is truly a one-dimensional goal-scorer, it’s hard to imagine a worse centre for him to have been stapled to over the last several seasons.
Just for fun, I took a look at the most common linemate for each of the free agent targets I mentioned earlier to give a sense of what they had to work with. This is pretty unscientific, given that these players all spent wildly different amounts of time with their most common linemate, but I think it still serves as interesting context. (It’s also worth noting that Aleksander Barkov was the most common linemate for both Anthony Duclair AND Sam Reinhart.)
PlayerA1/60
Morgan Geekie0.7
Patrice Bergeron0.61
Aleksander Barkov0.97
Sidney Crosby1
Boone Jenner0.37
Jeff Carter0.26
Ryan McLeod0.69
Only poor Danton Heinen had a worse primary linemate among players in this sample. Again, this is just one small piece of context in an ocean of data, but I still think it’s worse noting that over the past three seasons, Jake Guentzel (widely considered the best winger in this year’s FA class) managed only .008 more goals per 60 than Laine did. He did so while playing mainly with Sidney Crosby, the 10th-best player by primary assist rate over that span, while Laine did so with Boone Jenner, who, again, was the 429th “best” player by the same metric.
With all those numbers out of the way, there are also a couple of intangible factors to consider. The first is that Rick Tocchet has proven that he can get fantastic results out of players with an offence-first reputation. He was known as the “Phil Kessel whisperer” in Pittsburgh, and he turned JT Miller into a high-end two-way player for the first time in his career at the age of 30. That may seem like an apples-to-oranges comparison, but consider that Miller had even worse defensive metrics than Laine heading into this season, and he managed his turnaround while simultaneously transitioning to playing as a full-time number-one centre. Getting Laine to play passable defence seems like a relative cakewalk for the Jack Adams Award winner.
Finally, there’s the acquisition cost. Laine is a heavily distressed asset and liable to cost significantly less than a player like Martin Necas, a player who the Canucks are rumoured to be interested in and who could be due for a raise that puts him in more or less the same territory as Laine. The Canucks are also one of the relatively few teams that have the space to take on all (or most) of his salary, meaning he could potentially be available for mere pennies on the dollar. When you factor in his injury history (a string of unrelated bad-luck ailments that includes a busted collarbone and a bout with COVID-19), Laine’s value is so depressed that getting the Jackets to take Ilya Mikheyev back in a potential deal doesn’t seem completely out of the question.
Just as importantly, Laine is only locked up for another two years, which makes the commitment significantly shorter than most of the Canucks’ other potential targets. The Canucks’ window is relatively short, with Thatcher Demko’s contract expiring in 2026, and Hughes’s deal expiring the year after. Prioritizing Laine over someone like Guentzel would maximize the Canucks’ flexibility in the event that things go sideways, or, more optimistically, in the event that prospect Jonathan Lekkerimakki is actually the elite winger they’ve been looking for all along.
The Canucks are going to have a lot of options this offseason, and after taking several big risks last summer, it’s understandable if they’re interested in more of a sure thing than what a Laine trade would represent. But if there’s a chance, however slim, at getting out from under the Mikheyev deal and giving the Canucks the high-end top-six winger they’ve been looking for, it would be foolish not to at least consider it.
 

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