Trade potential: could the Kraken get Patrik Laine?

Columbus Blue Jackets v Carolina Hurricanes

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 12: Patrik Laine #29 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates with the puck during the first period of the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on October 12, 2022 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)Photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

The difference between the trade market and the free agent market is a matter of the calendar but also with projection. 

For weeks leading up to the launch of hot stove season, also known as NHL free agency opening on July 1, we know who may be available. We can project a fit, contract, and future. The trade market is a little different. Aside from a small appetizer of names, many ideas are kept in deep secret until the move goes down, the trade call happens, and we’re all suddenly dropping our jaws online. 

It's now an idea not so secret, for forward Patrik Laine. 

At least, that’s the name reportedly swirling in the trade winds, with the Seattle Kraken emerging as a serious contender to land the talented but unpredictable sniper, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on the “32 Thoughts Podcast.” 

The possibility that Laine could be wearing a Kraken sweater by this fall is very real. They need and are on the hunt for a star scoring touch, and he’s reportedly interested in a new beginning. As far as a goal scoring machine who’s been mentioned in his career with the greats of today, there may not be a much better name on the market this summer. But he comes with a price, and with risky conditions. 

So what happens if general manager Ron Francis pulls the trigger with Blue Jackets counterpart Don Waddell? Here’s what the Kraken could be dealing with: 

What are you getting with Laine? 
His strength is his shot. It’s been described as “elite,” “heavy,” and “lethal,” among others. It’s a bazooka. There’s no beating around the bush: the Kraken need more offensive production and it starts with someone who can finish and resuscitate their five-on-five production and team shot percentage, which both took a massive hit this past season. He can let it fly with lightning quick wrister or drop a sledgehammer-like one-timer. Outside of Jared McCann and in a right-shot sense, the Kraken haven’t had a player even close to this kind of role since Daniel Sprong, who has since moved onto Detroit, and was best used by the Kraken in a sheltered fourth line/power play specialist role.  

Laine has experience of playing center or wing, but the wing is where he’s much more of a natural fit, spanning reasons for his role as a shooter to the Kraken already projected to be full in the middle with Matty Beniers, Shane Wright, Yanni Gourde, and maybe even McCann as a candidate to play the pivot. He’s a towering mass at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds. Defensive flaws are a small stain on his permanent record. Physical play isn’t his forte. 

But he’s got three seasons in the 30-goal range or more, including a 44-goal banger when he was just 19 years old in 2017-18, second in the Rocket Richard Trophy race behind Alex Ovechkin’s 49 snipes. Laine is 26 years old, suggesting a modest amount of mileage on his physical odometer, and a proven fixture to drive play when he’s at his healthiest. 

But, speaking of health: he missed all but 18 games this past season while dealing with a broken clavicle, hasn’t hit north of 68 games in five years, and has been in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program since January. 

How does Laine fit into the lineup? 
Pretty simple at this point: plug him in at either wing, and let a playmaking center tee it up for him. 

There’s less stress on his role defensively on the wing than in the middle, where the Blue Jackets completely burned out this exercise. Last season provided a ton of clarity that Laine is much more comfortable as a winger. Installing him there will likely push someone like Jordan Eberle or Andre Burakovsky down the depth chart, a necessary move to accommodate someone’s resume of Laine, where top line minutes provide an opportunity for top line production with a player who’s proven elite in a top line role. Idealistically, that’s where the Kraken and Laine have to co-exist. 

On the power play, the left circle is due to get plenty of action, where Laine’s shot has a history of punishing opposing goaltenders and penalty kill schemes. 

Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Islanders

ELMONT, NEW YORK - MARCH 10: Patrik Laine #29 of the Columbus Blue Jackets waits for a faceoff during the first period against the New York Islanders at the UBS Arena on March 10, 2022 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

What will it take to get Laine? 
That’s a two-part answer. The first deals with logistics, and the other deals with the transaction. 

First, any team interested in acquiring Laine would require the forward to be cleared from the player assistance program before talking with him, though Aaron Portzline of The Athletic reported Thursdaythat Waddell expects doctors to clear Laine very soon. Laine’s contract also includes a 10-team no-trade clause, and would require some navigation, though reports have suggested the task is small. Laine also recently put his downtown Columbus penthouse condo on the market

Second, there’s the “hockey trade” component of a potential deal, where the Waddell used the phrase in a Thursday news conference to establish framework of the transaction, along with the desire to completely clear his books of Laine’s $8.7 million annual salary and a stance that the Blue Jackets are totally fine passing on a trade if it doesn’t meet their needs. This is classic posturing in the art of negotiations. With Laine likely on the move, Waddell is suggestively trying to maximize his leverage, which wasn’t much about a few days ago. He’s fighting for a situation where the Kraken would give up a player on the roster, in exchange for Laine, to fit a need on the Blue Jackets. Or, the Kraken would take on another contract to make the deal work, and collect full risk of Laine’s contract that has two more years of club control while re-arranging the roster to accompany this move. 

The Blue Jackets have a thick pool of restricted free agents needing substantial housecleaning this offseason. Among the names likely to be moved and help alleviate the cap crunch: forward Alexandre Texier, defenseman Jake Bean (read: a Ron Francis first round draft pick in Carolina) and fellow blueliner Adam Boqvist. In trading for Laine, taking on another contract situation would help Columbus ease their RFA predicament.

But with teams in the league well aware of a potential trade, the dip in his numbers, and his no-trade clause, the move likely wouldn’t be too costly – and could still end up with the Blue Jackets retaining a portion of Laine’s salary. 

Who or what goes out the door from Seattle is pure guesswork. The Blue Jackets could easily ask for a rostered player who can help with offensive firepower, or a top end prospect ready to take that next step (though we’ve already learned Francis reportedly told teams, “hands off” with Shane Wright). They need an upgrade on their goaltending situation, but Waddell put any talks of trading or buying out Elvis Merzlikins to bed on Thursday. The Kraken have a plenty of salary cap room and a deep combined pool of prospects and draft picks. But the Blue Jackets have been sending signals that a Laine trade has to involve more than just dangling an “I.O.U” in the form of draft capital and future talent. 

So why go for Laine? 
The Kraken need a proven goal scorer with star potential who can elevate a team’s offense, and Laine has a history of filling that role. Again, he's available to add by trade, right now. Prodigious and reliable names may be available on the market soon like Sam Reinhart, Jake Guentzel, or Jake DeBrusk by free agency. But as the league’s salary cap capacity for all 32 teams is expanding, competition may do the same for teams looking to upgrade their goal-scoring artillery, where 11 days still exist for every interested team to game-plan their sales pitches. 

Laine’s case presents another “strike while the iron is hot” situation, similarly to when the Kraken picked up Oliver Bjorkstrand two summers ago (more on that below). Columbus was in salary cap hell when, funny enough, they extended Laine with a four-year, $34.8 million deal. They had to trade somebody, and Bjorkstrand was the odd man out. Now, an opportunity exists to reunite both players in Seattle. Hockey is funny. 

Bjorkstrand has scored 20 goals in back-to-back seasons and arguably, the two biggest in Kraken history, when they eliminated Colorado in the historic game 7 upset last spring. Could Laine benefit from the same type of move? Up until three years ago, he was in the conversation as one of the league’s greatest modern goal scorers, with Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak, Leon Draisaitl, and Nikita Kucherov. His numbers have hit a major speedbump ever since. But if his game is resurrected in Seattle, he’s a grand slam fit. 

It's a big “if.” 

Anyone Laine knows around Seattle? 
Bjorkstrand, from the Columbus days. Brandon Tanev, from the Winnipeg days. Nearly everybody’s got a relationship on nearly every team, but as far as new surroundings, every relationship helps. 

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