Maurice needs to get Laine going

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BOSTON — Dazed and confused was all I could come up with when I was asked Tuesday night to try to interpret, as best I could, the current state of mind of Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/01/2019 (1342 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BOSTON — Dazed and confused was all I could come up with when I was asked Tuesday night to try to interpret, as best I could, the current state of mind of Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine.

As Winnipeg prepares for Game 51 of the 2018-19 NHL season, a home date Thursday at 7 p.m. against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Laine is mired in the worst scoring slump of his budding NHL career. He has scored just one goal in his last 12 games and a measly four since that magical month of November wrapped up seven weeks ago.

At first blush, Laine’s numbers are still pretty terrific. He’s a 25-goal scorer with another 10 weeks to significantly inflate that total. In 205 games since he debuted in October 2016, Laine has put 105 pucks past the globe’s premier goaltenders.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Winnipeg Jets' Patrik Laine listens to head coach Paul Maurice at practice.

Mathematicians will note the probability the talented Finn scores is once every two games. Dumb guys like me with old, tired eyes will counter Laine only scores in bunches. There’s no way to predict when he’ll pump home his 26th.

Well before the next total solar eclipse, one would hope.

In Boston, Laine hit rock bottom, failing to even generate a shot attempt against the Bruins. Not one single release from a guy who’s been earmarked as a generational sniper. Making matters worse is the fact he was a minus-1 while using his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame to administer exactly no hits in a 4-3 shootout victory.

Digging deeper, the Finnish-born player posted a 31.25 per cent possession rating during 5-on-5 situations, according to Corsi stats. Translation? Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and a whack of other Bruins absolutely owned the puck every time Laine, as part of a woefully unproductive second line centred by Bryan Little with accompaniment by winger Jack Roslovic, was on the ice.

Which, by the way, wasn’t particularly often — by design.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice gave Laine just 16 shifts, the same as fourth-liner Mason Appleton. He also had a career-low 10:55 minutes of ice time, including a 10-minute block of time in the middle period when he watched his teammates start to push back and wasn’t asked to join the fray.

In recent games, Laine’s decision-making has lacked conviction. Each move from the remarkably talented Finn has seemed ponderous, like he’s suddenly sloshing in quicksand.

To me, Laine even looked apprehensive in the shootout, busting a late move that Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak saw coming. He might have been better off striding into the high slot, dropping his head and brazenly unleashing a long, blistering slapper — just to get the feel of one while maybe handcuffing Halak on shock factor alone.

I firmly believe the affable young man with the rarest of skill sets and a mix of poise, playfulness and just a dash of pomposity that captivated Winnipeg even before the moment he was drafted in 2016, will, undoubtedly, do monster things in the NHL.

Maybe even Hall-of-Fame worthy things, the bulk accomplished in a Jets jersey.

Winding down his entry-level deal, Laine could sign a lucrative, long-term contract this summer, although he’s no longer in a position of strength to demand the moon and stars.

In Seinfeld vernacular, the Jets have ‘hand’ on this one.

Or, the two sides could agree on a bridge deal that would still pay Laine handsomely in the short term, with the opportunity to earn more as his production goes into overdrive down the line.

But at this moment in time, he’s a kid whose confidence is shredded. It’s like he’s only now finally experiencing all the usual foibles of a raw rookie, two years after the fact.

Some in Twitter-land say he’s due for a visit to the press box. Others have even made the outlandish assertion that a stint with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose might not be such a bad idea. Please… let’s stay down here on planet Earth.

Laine hasn’t lost his touch. He’s just lost his way.

This is no time for tough love from Maurice and the rest of the Jets’ decision-makers. Limiting his minutes Tuesday was a proportional response, and similar actions by the bench boss in the past provoked the right-handed shooter to perform at a higher standard.

Perhaps it’s time to reunite him with Winnipeg’s resident construction crew, Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev. Feed off their energy and work ethic. Simplify the game. Clear the head.

It worked in Helsinki. Eighteen goals in a month was a pretty nice result.

Maurice has shown no hesitation in the past to toss Laine into the line blender, and he shouldn’t stand pat now. He needs to help get the prized piece going.

Assign him to the right side, with spark-plug Mathieu Perreault up the middle and raging bull Brendan Lemieux on the left.

Sure, it’s radical. But inside-the-box thinking isn’t effecting a change for the better to the talented but enigmatic Laine’s unexceptional game. No line shakeups should be discounted when it comes to lighting the fuse of the Jets’ — and one of the NHL’s — most dynamic and lethal offensive weapons.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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