Consider for a minute that you are a goal-scoring superstar in the NHL. In the middle of your third year in the league, you are being compared to the greatest goalscorer of your lifetime in Alexander Ovechkin. Your face is plastered on billboards and buildings across your newly adopted city. You are a main attraction.
If you didn’t connect the dots– you are picturing Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine.
GROWTH AND DEDICATION
The 20-year-old native of Tampere, Finland is enjoying yet another phenomenal season with the Winnipeg Jets. While there is a long way to go, it looks like he may top his career bests from just a year ago. Laine has been a star since arriving in Winnipeg in the fall of 2016. To put it in perspective, the highlights of his struggles are limited to an own goal in 2016, choppy edge work in his skating in his rookie year, and a cold October in 2018 that limited him to just three goals. He followed that up with an eighteen (18) goal November. He has seen challenges, met them head on, and made us quickly forget.
It is without a shadow of a doubt that I can say Patrik Laine is a superstar goalscorer in the NHL. There is only one thing that could cloud over the party for Winnipeg Jets fans. I am referring to all of the talk of that damned offer sheet.
Look. I completely understand the logic behind it. If I were a general manager in the National Hockey League, and Patrik Laine were to become a restricted free agent at noon on Monday July 1st, 2019, I would absolutely approach him about signing an offer sheet with my team. It is part of the due diligence of being a general manager at the NHL level. There are only a handful of teams that wouldn’t look into something like that. Mainly because they are busy with their own young talented superstars.
Obviously Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets would prefer not to deal with an offer sheet situation. It is in the best interest of the Jets to negotiate an extension with Laine on their own terms, and to come to an agreement that they are comfortable with. No team wants to be backed into a corner.
The offer sheet does require a few things from the signing team that people tend to overlook. Firstly, the team signing the offer sheet needs to have the cap space, roster room, and goal scoring need. Simply, you have to rule out some teams just by the nature of their situation.
Teams such as the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Nashville Predators will have to carry $11 million or less in cap space into the 2019 off-season. The Capitals still have Ovechkin, the Penguins still have Crosby/Malkin/Kessel. The Predators also have an entire core of players locked up at a cap friendly value. These teams also have their own productive offensive talent, and the logistics of making a Laine offer sheet work just is not there.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Secondly, getting an offer sheet done also requires the team signing it is already somewhat built. The fact is that Patrik Laine will demand at least $9 million against the salary cap. Given the demand for a prolific scorer, and his player comparable being among the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, that is the going rate for a player of his kind. In reality, we are looking over $10 million per year. An average annual value of $10,148,303 or more would require the signing team give up four first round picks.
Signing the offer sheet means that the signing team must believe that Patrik Laine outweighs the value of their four potential first round picks. It means this team must already have a plethora of young talent, either on their roster or in the system. There are a handful of teams that have stocked cupboards in terms of prospects: the Philadelphia Flyers, the Arizona Coyotes, the Carolina Hurricanes, and Vancouver Canucks are among them. However, the organization must believe that many of their prospects are a sure bet. It means that the signing team must be convinced that they nailed each of their last three or four drafts, and that they will not need a first round pick until 2024. That is asking a lot.
Third, the signing team needs to understand that they are making an enemy in Kevin Cheveldayoff. Teams often avoid these offer sheets because it can be bad for business. They are disrupting trade negotiations and working relationships for years to come. I am pretty sure that Brian Burke would still follow through on that barn fight offer he made to then-Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe during the Dustin Penner offer sheet. Keep in mind that whole dispute was over a 29-goal scoring Dustin Penner that once through his back out while cutting a pancake.
I will admit that about four years ago that Kevin Cheveldayoff might not be the most daunting enemy to make. There was a time where Cheveldayoff was not commonly looked at as one of the best general managers in the league, but I would argue that time is gone. There might not be a smarter, more patient GM in the game right now. If I’m another team, I would not want to make an enemy in Cheveldayoff. He has the backing of the fanbase and the Winnipeg Jets ownership, and he will ultimately take a shot at your roster when you’re down and out. As the old saying goes, ‘if you’re going to shoot the king, you’d better kill him.’ Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets would be a tough kill-shot.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the thing that people tend to overlook the most when evaluating a player as an offer sheet candidate. The player must actually want to sign the offer sheet. The player needs to want to play for this other team. He needs to like the other organization, the other city, the other coach, the other players more than they like their current one. The player also needs to believe they have a better chance at winning a Stanley Cup with this other team.
I’m not really sure why Patrik Laine would leave Winnipeg. Laine would need to hate the city; he doesn’t, he’s made that very clear in the past. Laine would need to hate Paul Maurice, but Paul gives him plenty of ice-time. He is also one of the winning-est coaches in NHL history. Patrik Laine would need to think he has a better chance at winning a Stanley Cup somewhere else; right now, I am not really sure that team exists.
I get that other teams will target him, and if I’m Patrik Laine, of course I’m going to listen. If some team wants to give you eighty million dollars, you’re going to listen. The fact of the matter is that offer sheets don’t happen every summer for a reason. Offer sheets are a very complicated process. I think we are at the point with the Winnipeg Jets where we can rest easy on Laine. There is no crystal ball, but I think Patrik Laine will be a Winnipeg Jet for a long time. I don’t see the end coming by way of an offer sheet; especially not on the watch of Mark Chipman and Kevin Cheveldayoff.
salary cap values and offer sheet information obtained from capfriendly.com
brutes battaglia (twitter: @brutesbattaglia)