The Blue Jackets have finally crossed off “re-sign Patrik Laine” from their offseason list of things to do.
Laine, a star forward and the team’s leading scorer last season with 30 goals and 56 points, agreed Friday to a four-year contract extension worth a total of $34.8 million to remain in Columbus. The deal has an $8.7 million average annual value that doubles as the Jackets’ per-season charge against the NHL’s salary cap — which has increased by $1 million to $82.5 million for next season.
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After signing superstar forward Johnny Gaudreau on July 13 to a seven-year, $68.25 million deal, Cap Friendly now puts the Blue Jackets at $6.36 million over the cap on a 25-man roster that’s two over the NHL maximum of 23 by the start of the season. They will need to make one-or-more trades to become cap compliant before the season-opener Oct. 12 at the Carolina Hurricanes.
Laine also had a one-year, $7.5 million qualifying offer on the table that came with a 5 pm Friday deadline to accept. He opted for the longer option, giving Columbus a potent group of NHL forwards.
“One of our priorities this summer was signing Patrik Laine to a contract extension,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “He is a special player, one of the truly elite goal scorers in the National Hockey League, and he has fit in extremely well with our group since his arrival. He is an integral part of the team we are building in Columbus and we couldn’t be happier that he will continue to be a Blue Jacket for the foreseeable future.”
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Laine, 24, had a much better second season with Columbus in 2021-22 than his first foray with the Blue Jackets following a trade in January 2021. Despite missing 26 games for a pair of injuries plus time needed to mourn the death of his father , Harri, Laine shined atop the Blue Jackets’ forward group.
He finished the season averaging a point-per-game for the first time in his NHL career and likely would’ve set a career-high in points had it not been for the extended time away, which included the final seven games of the season with a back injury.
After a disappointing 2020-21 campaign, Laine proved he was still an elite offensive force for the Jackets, who acquired him along with center Jack Roslovic on Jan. 23, 2021 in a trade that sent Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Winnipeg Jets.
Laine finished that season with just 12-12-24 in 46 games, which were career-low marks that included two goals, one assist and three points one game for Winnipeg prior to the trade. He also missed time for an injury that season, an oblique strain, after playing the season-opener with the Jets.
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He was unable to find top gear with the Blue Jackets under the direction of coach John Tortorella and then lamented Tortorella’s insistence on defensive play as a hindrance to his offensive production. Following Tortorella’s departure in a “mutual agreement” with the team to part ways, Laine thrived under new head coach Brad Larsen — one of Tortorella’s assistants.
Laine initially clashed with Larsen following the trade in a verbal exchange that led to Tortorella benching him for an entire third period at Nationwide Arena. The incident didn’t linger, however, and Laine brought a new attitude and recharged effort into last season.
Playing on a one-year qualifying offer of $7.5 million, he set his sights on rebounding under the direction of a new head coach and a roster turned over by trades that removed a number of former stalwarts — including captain Nick Foligno and alternate captains Cam Atkinson , David Savard and Seth Jones.
A familiar face from Winnipeg, Pascal Vincent, was hired as Larsen’s associate head coach and playmaking winger Jakub Voracek was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers for Atkinson with the hope of jumpstarting Laine’s production. Laine and Voracek didn’t spend the whole season on the same line, but the experiment was successful — including the pair playing opposite walls with the top power-play unit.
Now Laine is poised to play with Gaudreau, who racked up a 40-75-115 effort in his final season with the Flames.
Laine was on his way to a great season, too, but the oblique injury plus the loss of his father presented major hurdles for him and the Blue Jackets. Columbus went just 8-10-1 during Laine’s absence and 6-9-0 in his first 15 games back.
Those two stretches essentially dropped Columbus from contending for the playoffs and made the final three months a motivational challenge.
The Jackets overcame it with a lot of help from Laine, whose scoring prowess emerged during a 23-game stretch from Jan. 27 to Mar. 19 that showed the influence he can have on the outcome of games.
Laine scored 19 goals and notched 14 assists for 33 points in the run, including a hat trick and four two-goal efforts to lead the Blue Jackets to a blistering 14-7-2 mark. It was a reminder that he’d torched the NHL in his first two seasons with the Jets for 80 goals, 54 assists and 134 points in 155 games by the age of 20 – including career-highs of 44 goals and 70 points in his second year (2017-18).
That’s the kind of production the Blue Jackets hope to get from Laine over the course of the new contract. The question is whether his play will meet that standard consistently enough?
Like a lot of elite scorers, Laine tends to be streaky on both ends of the spectrum. He’s gone through numerous spans of feast or famine through six NHL seasons and his team’s success often follows those trends. It’s fair to wonder whether Laine can add more consistency this far into his career, but those looking for optimism on that front need look no further than his birth date.
Laine won’t turn 25 until the end of next season, April 19, 2022, and he’s already logged 176-151-327 in 407 games. He’s also been vocal about his desire to remain with the Blue Jackets and play in Columbus, a growing hockey market that offers a chance to play for passionate fans who allows players enough privacy to live their lives without feeling trapped in a fishbowl.
The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, locked up another key piece of Kekalainen’s “reset” plan to revamp the roster for a future run at the Stanley Cup.
Laine’s decision follows multi-year extensions signed in the past 18 months by star defenseman Zach Werenski, captain Boone Jenner, goalie Elvis Merzlikins and forward Oliver Bjorkstrand – not to mention veteran center Sean Kuraly leaving the Boston Bruins to join his hometown team last summer as a free agent. Forwards Eric Robinson and Justin Danforth are also signed for the next two seasons, joining Voracek and veteran winger Gustav Nyquist among those already under contract for 2022-23.
Laine, a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights prior to his new deal, was one of eight RFAs on the NHL roster. Now that he’s signed, Kekalainen and his front office have a better idea of how much cap space they have left for other deals.
It’s a piece of the puzzle and one that both sides are happy is in place.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Blue Jackets sign Patrik Laine to four-year extension