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Patience could lead to an even bigger payday for Jets’ Laine

Patrik Laine isn’t going to rush along an extension with the Winnipeg Jets, and that might be the best move for the 20-year-old sharpshooter as he takes aim at another career year.

Patrik Laine hasn’t been at all coy about his willingness to sign a long-term extension with the Winnipeg Jets. Asked at season’s end about a new deal, Laine, who has one year remaining on his three-year, entry-level pact, said he wanted to remain with the organization for as long as they want. And when the topic of his next contract cropped up again late last week during the NHL European Player Media Tour, Laine said it’s something he wants and that the Jets do, too.

However, despite Laine’s interest in inking his next contract, the 20-year-old sharpshooter isn’t about to hurry the process along. Quite the opposite, in fact. According to NHL.com's Tom Gulitti, the seemingly always calm-and-collected Laine said there’s no rush to sign a new deal given has another season to play out before becoming a restricted free agent, and that while there’s still time to hammer out an extension before the start of the 2018-19 campaign rolls around, signing on long term is something that can always get taken care of next summer.

Truth be told, too, that Laine hasn’t yet put pen to paper on an extension with the summer slipping away might be reason enough for him to hold on into next summer. And while Laine could almost certainly sign a contract tomorrow worth north of $9-million annually, remaining patient in negotiations might be the best way to earn absolutely top dollar.

Statistically, of course, Laine’s case for inking a big-money deal is already rock solid. His 36-goal, 64-point rookie season was reason enough to believe the winger was going to cost a pretty penny to retain once his entry-level contract was up, but Laine put a stamp on that last season with an incredible 44-goal, 70-point sophomore campaign that saw him enter the Rocket Richard Trophy race and finish atop the league with 20 power play goals. He was the first player to score 20 or more goals on the man advantage since Alex Ovechkin in 2014-15 and only the fifth player to do so since the 2006-07 season. More than goal production, though, Laine also saw his point total climb last season. Despite dropping off by two assists, he set a new career high with 70 points.

But Laine’s consecutive seasons of bigger and better offensive totals lends themselves to the belief that he could even further his production as an encore. Few are expecting — largely because Laine has given no one any reason to — that some sizeable decrease in goal scoring is on the horizon, with some pegging him to win the goal-scoring crown this coming season. If Laine picks up a few more assists here or there, which seems well within reason, there’s a very real possibility he improves to become a point per game player as early as this season. That would undoubtedly drive up his asking price.

And though production might be the prime catalyst behind an even larger raise for Laine on his next contract, there are other areas that could see him increase his value this coming season. Over the course of the past two seasons, Laine has been dominant offensively but mediocre defensively. Case in point, while Laine was one of the more productive scorers at 5-on-5 for the Jets last season, his 50.1 Corsi for percentage ranked 18th, or third-last, among skaters with at least 500 minutes played. His relative Corsi for percentage was negative-1.9 percent. And this was despite the fact Laine had the most favorable zone start percentage of any player on the Jets with nearly 58 percent of his shifts beginning in the attacking zone.

So, again, while it’s all but certain that Laine’s remarkable offensive output is going to ensure he signs for top dollar, he could still push his salary that much higher if he makes him self that much more invaluable by showing tangible improvement when the puck isn’t on his stick.

There’s also the matter of comparable contracts. For instance, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still attempting to ink RFA William Nylander, and his contract value, particularly if it’s on a long-term deal, could give some indication what Laine will be worth. Recent signings of players such as Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Leon Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, Dylan Larkin and teammate Nikolaj Ehlers can also factor in, even if none of those players are accurate one-for-one statistical comparisons for Laine.

The signing that could potentially influence Laine’s deal the most, however, Auston Matthews’ pending extension in Toronto. Drafted one spot ahead of Laine in the 2016 draft, the two have similar rates of production, with Laine holding the slight edge with six more goals and two more points in 11 additional games played. So, if Matthews inks his deal — a contract most are projecting to carry a cap hit worth at least $10-million — before Laine, you can rest assured that it will have some impact on negotiations, be it major or minor. The reverse is of course true for Matthews, too, even if he’s almost inarguably the more complete, two-way player.

All of this is assuming that Laine remains without an extension through the entirety of the 2018-19 season, though, and there’s the distinct possibility that won’t be the case. Remember the aforementioned Ehlers contract? That came out of the blue on the opening day of the 2017-18 season. The usually tight-lipped Jets let very little slip through the cracks before the team itself is ready to make the announcement, and with time remaining before the beginning of the campaign, it wouldn’t be all that surprising were a deal with Laine announced before the puck drops on the new season. His best bet at adding an extra zero to his pact, though, might just be exercising some patience.

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