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Islanders Trade Talk: Patrik Laine Checks Every Box

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Right at the very top of the New York Islanders’ wishlist has been a purebred sniper who’s also a top-line player. It’s been a need since Jordan Eberle left the team in 2021. Now, a 26-year-old sniper who’s had a 40-goal season and multiple 30+ goal seasons is available. Even better, he’s available for cheap.

Patrik Laine has requested a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Laine has been in Columbus since the beginning of the 2020-21 season when the Winnipeg Jets traded him to Columbus. In his less than four seasons with the club, he’s experienced four different head coaches. Four. In less than four years. It’s hard to count Mike Babcock, but he was there for a summer. Three have coached him in a game. They’ve had two general managers, a rotating cast of players, and not once even come close to the playoffs.

All those words to say, it’s no wonder Laine never found a footing in Columbus. It’s been nothing short of a disaster in that organization recently. They finished last in their division in three of the previous four seasons. Just this past season, Laine went to the Player’s Assistance Program very publicly and bravely to receive care.

Breaking Down Patrik Laine

Laine hasn’t played a complete season since 2019-20, which is a genuine concern. Despite that, he’s played at over a 30-goal pace in every single season of his career, aside from the alternate reality 2020-21 season, during which Winnipeg traded Laine. He only skated in 18 games this season, with the last one coming before Christmas. He had six goals and three assists. It’s tied for his lowest output in terms of points per game in his career, with that bizarre 20-21 season.

This season was weird for Laine, regardless of lower point totals in a *very* small sample size. He experimented playing at center in real games, all while receiving his lowest TOI (Time On Ice) in his career. Laine typically skates around 18 minutes on average a night, but he only received 15 minutes this season. Those discrepancies could absolutely be responsible for his lower totals.

His career is now eight seasons old, and it’s had its fair share of ups and downs. Laine is a supremely talented player. He’s one of the best shooters in the entire NHL when he’s at his peak. Laine’s capable of much more than what he’s shown in Columbus, especially considering the relative dearth of talent around him.

It’s a Risk Worth Taking

I get that everyone is afraid of taking a risk. Laine has some baggage. But he’s also got the most pure talent of any top-six forward available. Every player has warts, and Laine’s seems to come from the environment around him. Winnipeg pushed him out, and Columbus hasn’t had its head screwed on right at any point during his tenure there.

When he’s compared to Nikolaj Ehlers, Laine measures up better. Ehlers is the other main trade target for the Islanders, and both played together in Winnipeg. While close, the better player there was Laine. Ehlers saw a dip in ice time and his role in the last two seasons. In 22-23, Ehlers struggled to score. This year, he played phenomenally and had the most points he’s had since 2016-17. Ehlers’ price is at a peak right now, while Laine’s is at a low.

The difference between the two is simple. Laine has a higher ceiling. Laine’s raw talent for shooting the puck is better than Ehlers’. Adding in the fact that Laine is two years younger, it becomes a slam dunk that Laine is the better acquisition. He’s younger, better, and cheaper to acquire. Risks be damned.

The Salary is the Question

To this point, the elephant in the room has been ignored. The biggest reason acquiring Laine is risky business is simple. His contract has two years left at $8.7 million a year. That is a lot for a player who has not played an entire season in five years. That’s where Ehlers has an edge. A long-term extension for Ehlers likely maxes out between $7 and $7.5 a year.

To acquire Laine, it becomes a necessity to shed salary. The Islanders only have a bit over $6 million to work with. There needs to be more than just moving out Jean-Gabriel Pageau to acquire Laine. The Islanders would have to get Columbus to retain money or find a third team to broker. The cost of acquiring Laine drops dramatically when you don’t have them retain any salary.

To fit Laine, a minimum retainment would be $1.7 million, reducing Laine’s cap hit to $7 million a season—the more that gets retained, the more flexibility it gives the Islanders. The flip side of that coin then becomes the cost of acquiring that space.

Using PuckPedia’s wonderfully constructed Perri Salary Cap Relief Calculator, they estimate the cost of a team taking on $1.7 million for two seasons is a mid-second-round pick. The Islanders have one of those. They also have a late second-round pick. If you slide that number to $2.5 a year, it becomes an early second-round pick. Namely, Puckpedia lists it as the 33rd overall pick, the first in the second round.

This is where the Islanders have to ask a serious question of themselves. How much is the extra space worth? Is the added flexibility of adding in Laine at the maximum, 50% retained, worth their first-round pick? PuckPedia estimates two years of $4.35 million costs a mid-to-late first-round pick. 

Making the Trade Itself

Finding a team to take on that salary has also become more complex. The Arizona Coyotes no longer exist, and the Sharks have used all three of their retained salary spots. The only other bottom-feeder with money to burn is the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks have all three salary retention spots open. They also don’t have any significant contracts expiring within the next two seasons, where taking on this salary could preclude them from taking it on.

If the Islanders offer Anaheim their 20th overall pick to take on half of Laine’s salary, would they say yes? It’s not a certainty, but it would likely entice them. Then, the attention gets turned back to Columbus. They wouldn’t want only futures, presumptively, considering they just signed Johnny Gaudreau until 2031.

Would Columbus be interested in Pageau? That’s hard to say. Columbus centers include the young Adam Fantilli and skilled veteran Boone Jenner. Pageau may not be the best stylistic fit for Columbus. However, they made a trade earlier this year with the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alex Nylander, who never had a great run in Pittsburgh.

Therefore, it’s worth pondering what value Oliver Wahlstrom brings to the table. Wahlstrom, 24, had his roughest year as a pro this year. His value is at a low, but there’s talent within him. Remember, in this scenario, the Islanders don’t have Columbus retain any money. They’ll use Anaheim to retain half of Laine’s cap.

Overall Cost and Final Thoughts

Could Wahlstrom, the 61st overall pick this season, and the Islanders’ third-round pick in 2025 get the job done for Laine? It’s unknown at this point what Columbus’ ask will be, but that type of offer would be the type of trade that would entice Columbus the most. Draft chips for Columbus to keep or flip for another player or to keep to continue their rebuild, along with a high-ceiling young player struggling to break through.

So, for those keeping count at home, this hypothetical Laine acquisition would cost the Islanders the 61st overall pick, the 2025 third-round pick, and Oliver Wahlstrom. Then, depending on how much salary the Islanders can get Anaheim to take, the 20th overall pick could bring Laine’s hit down to as low as $4.35 million for two seasons, which would be a steal. 

Acquiring Laine at 50% retention and then flipping Pageau, whom teams wanted at the trade deadline, gives the Islanders more than enough space to keep their pending UFAs and RFAs. It would also give them enough room to add a Kevin Stenlund or an Anthony Duclair. 

Flexibility is king. While it would cost the Islanders a lot to acquire Laine at 50% of his cap hit, it feels like their best shot at contending. Ehlers won’t have a salary that low at any point he’d hypothetically be on the Island. It would also give the Islanders a clear two-year window to compete before they’d have to pay Laine again, all while giving new deals to Brock Nelson, Noah Dobson, Alexander Romanov, and maybe even Kyle Palmieri. 

Too often, during the latter half of Lou Lamoriello’s reign as Team President and General Manager, he hasn’t done enough to add to the team. This offseason might be his best shot to add premium talent at lower-than-usual prices. Whether it is, in fact, Laine or it’s Ehlers, Lou has to add. The draft is in 15 days. The clock is ticking.