Spin it any way you want — and we've certainly been fed a steady diet of head-turning hot takes the past couple days — but there is one universal truth about the Patrik Laine trade.

Opinion

The Jets trading Patrik Laine to the Blue Jackets reinforces the wide-held inferiority complex many have around here, the belief that superstar hockey players aren't long for this town, writes sports columnist Mike McIntyre.  (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

The Jets trading Patrik Laine to the Blue Jackets reinforces the wide-held inferiority complex many have around here, the belief that superstar hockey players aren't long for this town, writes sports columnist Mike McIntyre. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Spin it any way you want — and we've certainly been fed a steady diet of head-turning hot takes the past couple days — but there is one universal truth about the Patrik Laine trade.

Regardless of who's at fault, regardless of who's to blame, this sorry state of affairs represents a dark chapter for the Winnipeg Jets.

Sure, the team got a hell of a player back in Pierre-Luc Dubois, an absolute beast of a centre whose play I admire. And yes, the 22-year-old from Quebec with strong ties to this city may ultimately make them a better all-around team, one that is going to be a real handful for any opponent.

But Laine's unceremonious exit from the franchise that drafted him second-overall in 2016 goes beyond simply evaluating the on-ice product and his ability to score goals like few we've ever seen. It reinforces the wide-held inferiority complex many have around here, the belief that superstar hockey players aren't long for this town.

Dale Hawerchuk was sent packing. Teemu Selanne, too. And now another vaunted member of Winnipeg's pro hockey Mount Rushmore, the Finnish kid with the potent personality and wicked wrist-shot, is gone, but certainly won't be forgotten.

The love affair for Laine was real, and this may backfire on True North Sports & Entertainment, which will be desperately looking to sell tickets in a post-pandemic world without their main attraction. Just look at all those No. 29 jerseys you'd see downtown on a Jets game-day, or local kids pretending they were Laine as they blasted one-timers on the outdoor rinks, or the international media attention bestowed on the team every time they touched down in another NHL city.

Players like Laine don't come around often, and the Jets lucked into a franchise-changing event when a ping-pong ball bounced their way five years ago. There was no other player on this team, save for perhaps the dearly departed Dustin Byfuglien, who was appointment viewing the way Laine was.

Not Mark Scheifele. Not Blake Wheeler. And not Dubois, regardless of how many goals he scores, points he produces or wins he helps Winnipeg rack up.

Why would the Jets willingly choose to walk away from (Laine)? The answer depends on who you ask...

Why would the Jets willingly choose to walk away from all that?

The answer depends on who you ask, something I've been doing for months since Laine's agent, Mike Liut, dropped an off-season bombshell by publicly stating a trade would be "mutually beneficial" for all parties.

I want to share with you two interesting conversations I've had in recent weeks with a pair of sources who have connections to the situation. I provide them not for the truth of what they said — take both with massive grains of salt — but rather to illustrate just how difficult it is to nail down the story.

Source A made it clear to me that the problem was entirely on Winnipeg's power brokers — from ownership to general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to coach Paul Maurice to Wheeler, who runs the dressing room along with alternate captain Scheifele and have repeatedly butted heads with the more laid-back Laine. In his mind, they've cultivated a toxic environment that had Laine looking for the quickest exit.

"The issues in Winnipeg right now have to deal more with issues in the dressing room between competing personalities. And when there is a divided room, that gets around the league. And players generally, if they have other options, are going to exercise them until that whole situation gets cleaned up," he said.

"I’m surprised it’s been allowed to go on this long without people in charge getting in there and cleaning it up. It’s going to have a great impact around the league with people choosing whether to play in Winnipeg or not."

Now contrast that with what Source B told me, suggesting in no uncertain terms that Laine, and Laine only, was the problem. That a perceived lackadaisical approach towards his career quickly wore thin.

"All of the issues in the room could be solved by trading one guy (Laine)," he said.

I suspect, like so much in life, the truth here is somewhere in between what Source A and Source B said.

None of the key parties, the ones who really know what went down, is willingly to share it publicly. Laine spoke Saturday, refusing to name names or point fingers on his way out the door. I specifically asked him about his relationship with Wheeler and Maurice, and the best he offered up was that there were some emotional clashes with the captain, at times, based on their strong personalities.

Wheeler, in an interesting moment of self-reflection, seemed to open the door for blame when he admitted to some regrets regarding his relationship with Laine. He said communication, rather than frustration, would have been the better route at times. But then the veteran seemed to catch himself, doing a 180-degree turn and saying he actually "coddled" Laine at times.

It's always a fool's game to try and judge a trade within hours, or even days, weeks or months, of it happening.

Similar questions were put to Maurice, who said the buck should stop with him for things going south with Laine — with one major caveat attached.

"It's the head coach's responsibility, so I'll take all of that. But I'll make sure that I would take, then the responsibility for some of these other young players that are developing incredibly well and having great success here," said Maurice, no doubt referring to the likes of Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey.

Maurice, and Cheveldayoff, also suggested Laine's desire to play top-line minutes with Scheifele — a spot that has been regularly filled by Wheeler — couldn't be met full-time as the end results, specifically on an analytical level, just weren't there. And Cheveldayoff mentioned future salary cap issues they had to navigate.

It's always a fool's game to try and judge a trade within hours, or even days, weeks or months, of it happening.

This one is especially tricky, because whether or not Dubois and/or Laine ultimately sign long-term extensions in their new hockey homes will go a long way to determining the ultimate verdict. As will the play of Jack Roslovic, the other disgruntled young player who felt he didn't get a fair shake with the Jets and was sent to Columbus in exchange for the disgruntled Dubois, who also wanted a change of scenery for reasons he won't discuss.

This situation never should have been allowed to reach a point of no return, one where Laine was likely never going to sign long-term here. And when you throw in Roslovic, and Jacob Trouba before him, that's a trio of drafted-and-developed first-rounders who have recently departed.

Maybe this blockbuster trade ultimately proves to be a win-win for everybody involved. But it's tough to see this as anything but a loss right now for Winnipeg, For the organization. For the city. And for a frustrated fan base tired of seeing some of the best, and brightest, bid farewell.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
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Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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