Throughout June, theScore will be projecting contracts for the star-studded restricted free-agent class. In this edition, we project Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor’s new deals.
Laine and Connor became dynamic offensive weapons for the Winnipeg Jets while playing out their entry-level contracts. Between them, they’ve given the Jets five 30-goal seasons. Connor was selected 17th overall in the 2015 draft, while Laine was chosen second overall the following year.
Laine has quickly evolved into one of the game’s premier goal-scorers, but he’s proven to be rather inconsistent. During the 2018-19 season, he scored 18 of his 30 goals during a 12-game stretch in November. He then found twine just four times at even strength over his final 58 contests and looked disengaged in more than a handful of those outings.
He silenced some of his critics with a stellar postseason performance, though the Jets were bounced by the St. Louis Blues in the first round.
Connor has become an effective complement to Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler on the Jets’ top line. He’s smart, quick, blessed with soft hands, and has a nose for the net. His ceiling may not be as high as Laine’s, but his floor and shift-to-shift consistency are significantly greater.
As punishment for years of successful drafting, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff finds himself in a significant cap crunch this offseason. In addition to Laine and Connor, the Jets have a long list of pending free agents, and only $25.37 million in projected cap space, according to CapFriendly.
Trouba is a safe bet to be traded, but the Jets would probably like to re-sign at least a handful of the players listed above.
Obviously, Laine and Connor are top priorities, but the cap situation could affect how their contracts are constructed. Eight-year contracts, which require higher cap hits, seem to be out of the question.
Here’s a select list of wingers to sign extensions out of restricted free agency over the last few years:
CH% = Cap hit percentage, based on cap ceiling when the contract was signed
* – Nylander’s cap hit in 2018-19 was prorated to $10.2 million because of time missed in negotiations
Nylander’s deal will likely be viewed as the best comparison for Connor in negotiations. The Swede had 122 points in the two seasons before his new contract, while Connor had 123.
A comparison for Laine is tougher to find. He’s never reached the 77 points Draisaitl accumulated in his contract year and doesn’t offer the versatility of playing center like the Edmonton Oilers forward does. Tarasenko’s deal, although outdated, is interesting. His contract year (37 goals, 73 points) is similar to Laine’s 2017-18 season (44 goals, 70 points).
However, Laine’s third-year slump creates an interesting debate. Should he be paid as the player he was in 2017-18 or 2018-19? That could be a point of contention during negotiations.
For Connor, a six-year deal seems to be the most likely scenario. It provides long-term stability but wouldn’t break the bank for the Jets. At this term, a cap hit would likely fall somewhere between $6.5 million and $7.5 million.
Laine’s contract is more difficult to predict. He and his agent may prefer a bridge deal so they can return to the negotiating table in two or three years. The cap hit could range from $5 million to $7 million. If Laine’s camp wants to get a long-term pact done in the six-to-eight-year range, then his AAV could potentially fall between $7 million and $9 million.
Connor verdict: 6 years, $43 million ($7.167M AAV, 8.63 CH%)
Laine verdict: 7 years, $54.6 million ($7.8M AAV, 9.4 CH%)
Others in this series:
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