For much of Patrik Laine's time with the Winnipeg Jets, he's played on a forward line with Bryan Little — which, apparently, hasn't been the talented Finn's preference.
But recently, Laine got on the line from overseas to patch things up with his usual centre.
Speaking Thursday morning, Little said the restricted free agent — absent from the Jets training camp — cleared the air with him over comments the 2017 NHL rookie-of-the-year finalist made to Finnish media earlier this week that touched on not getting an opportunity to play on the Jets' top forward unit.
"He texted me and asked me to call him, so I called him up. And we chatted for a few minutes. He was saying sorry, and apologizing for just the way I think it was interpreted, which I kind of understood before I even talked to him," Little said Thursday.
"I know Patty well enough that he's not someone that's going to purposely say negative things, especially about his teammates. And if it's going to be negative, it's probably about himself. That's just the way he is."
While Jets training camp is underway, Laine is working out with a pro team in Bern, Switzerland as contract talks with the three-time 30-goal scorer seemingly go nowhere.
Little said the show of contrition wasn't necessary but was appreciated.
"I said, 'You don't have to apologize to me. I get it...' He wants to play with the best players. That's the way he was saying it. Scheifs and Wheels are our best players. I'd like to play with those guys, too. Everyone does." – Winnipeg Jets Bryan Little
"I said, 'You don't have to apologize to me. I get it.' Sometimes those things are misunderstood, and I knew right away. He wants to play with the best players. That's the way he was saying it. Scheifs and Wheels are our best players. I'd like to play with those guys, too. Everyone does," said Little, set to begin his 13th NHL campaign. "When you're young, you want to score more goals, get more points and play with the best and get more ice time, stuff like that, so he was just voicing that. He just wants to be one of our go-to guys."
Laine was interviewed by journalist Pekka Jalonen of the Finnish newspaper Iltalehti at the start of the week. In a translation provided by Jalonen, Laine is quoted as saying: "When you’re having contract negotiations, one thing always is who are you playing with. With the merits I have, somewhere else I’d have an opportunity to play with the best players. Everybody who understands hockey knows that.
"There are top lines and then there is our line. But I play with the guys I’m told to play."
Were Little's feelings bruised even slightly when he heard what came out?
"Not really. I know him well enough to know what he was trying to say and where he was coming from. The fact that he texted me just confirmed what kind of guy he is," said Little, who had 15 goals and 41 points playing all 82 regular-season games last season. "That short conversation we had was nice. It was nice to see how he's doing and talk about stuff other than what's going on with what the media's saying."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said extending an olive branch was an appropriate move by Laine.
"I thought it was the right thing to do. When something like that comes out, whether it’s direct or in an indirect way and seems to disparage a teammate, you do the right thing and pick up the phone. And then those are the only two guys that have to answer to each other, they handle that," he said.
"I know Patty well enough that he's not someone that's going to purposely say negative things, especially about his teammates. And if it's going to be negative, it's probably about himself. That's just the way he is." – Bryan Little
Little said the topic of negotiations didn't come up in their chat.
"I said, 'I'm not even going to ask you how it's going. I just hope I see you soon.' And we talked about other stuff," he said.
Laine's agent, Mike Liut, stated Wednesday a new deal isn't imminent. Meanwhile, there's been nary a whisper on the status of a deal for Kyle Connor, another RFA not in camp. Both dynamic forwards are looking to cash in coming off their entry-level deals.
Meanwhile, there's no news on the Dustin Byfuglien front. The veteran defenceman, a critical piece as the Central Division squad tries to keep pace with its rivals, is still on a 'personal leave of absence' as reports surface that he might be considering retirement.
Indeed, as battles for jobs wage on at camp, the storylines away from the rink are of immense concern and Maurice has been in the line of fire during daily meetinga with the media.
Asked by the Free Press whether, in his 20-plus years as an NHL bench boss, he's had to address such a range of issues in training camp that have nothing to do with the on-ice product, Maurice went with a wisecrack before getting to the heart of it.
"Yeah, you go look at my second year in Toronto (2007). That was a treat. My man, Jiri Tlusty, was doing the flash in front of the newspapers. Somebody had sent some inappropriate pictures and that was the easiest one I had."
Some nude selfies of Tlusty, a Maples Leafs' rookie a dozen years ago who would later play for Maurice in Winnipeg during the 2014-15 campaign, made the press and the Czech forward, his coach and the organization had some explaining to do.
"Oh, God bless it. That was a treat," added Maurice.
But he insisted neither the contract squabbles nor Byfuglien's leave have sparked angst within the camp dressing rooms.
"None of it has hit the ice or the locker room. I like our camp. I like the compete, how hard they’re working. A little slow (Thursday). We’re at seven days, which tells you they’re starting to drag hard here. But I’ve liked our camp," he said.
"There’s been a lot of turbulence but we still have our belts on and everything’s good."
Assistant 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).
Updated on Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 6:14 PM CDT: Adds photos
7:46 PM: Final version