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Devils Trade Targets: Pass on Patrick Laine

Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine is looking for a fresh start with a new team. Here’s why the Devils should avoid acquiring the sniper.

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Columbus Blue Jackets' Patrik Laine plays against the Philadelphia Flyers during an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Among the plethora of needs the New Jersey Devils have to address this summer, a top-six forward is one of the items on the offseason checklist. According to a recent report, Columbus Blue Jackets forward, Patrik Laine, is looking for a fresh start elsewhere and could wear a new sweater next season. Although they need a top-six forward, New Jersey should pass on a Devils trade for Laine.

There’s little doubt that when he’s on the ice, Laine is one of the NHL’s best pure goal scorers. Since the Devils trade involving their leading goal scorer at the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline, Tyler Toffoli, there is certainly a need for the Devils to pursue a goal scorer. Laine has a 40-goal, multiple 30-plus goal, and 30-goal pace seasons under his belt.

However, acquiring Laine seems too complicated.

After scoring nine points in 18 games, Laine entered the NHL’s Player Assistance Program and missed the remainder of the season. That’s not the issue.

What is one of Laine’s issues is remaining on the ice. The 2023-24 season aside, Laine hasn’t played in a full season since his junior year in the 2018-19 season, six seasons ago.

The often-injured forward hasn’t proven the ability to stay healthy and play a full season in quite some time now, something the Devils dealt with often already in the 2023-24 season.

Honestly, Laine’s acquisition cost might not be an issue. That is, if the Blue Jackets trade him at his full $8.7 million cap hit.

However, if Columbus is going to retain salary for two seasons of Laine, that’s going to drive up the acquisition cost for the Finnish sniper. And if General Manager Tom Fitzgerald is going to use his high-value assets in a Devils trade, he has other priorities in net and on the blue line to address first.

But what if they acquire Laine at his full cap hit?

Well, then New Jersey is in a tough salary spot. The Devils already have quite a few big contracts on the books in Dougie Hamilton, Timo Meier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Ondrej Palat. Adding Laine’s full $8.7 million cap hit handcuffs their ability to extend Dawson Mercer at his projected $6,521,182.60 — according to AFP Analytics — if they choose to extend him long-term. 

With all that salary tied up in forwards and Dougie Hamilton, there certainly won’t be enough to go around in order for New Jersey to make upgrades on defense and in goal. Fitzgerald has a contract for Luke Hughes to think about in summer 2025, as well.

Plus, the Devils already have a pure goal scorer who has question marks surrounding his defensive game in Alexander Holtz. If the Devils are going to go out and acquire Laine, they’re better off giving Holtz more rope at a cheaper cap hit. We know Holtz can fill the net. Perhaps, Sheldon Keefe, Jeremy Colliton, and Co. can finally improve Holtz’s game on the defensive side of the puck.

Otherwise, Fitzgerald expressed interest in bringing back Toffoli via free agency. Although that seems unlikely, there will be other top-six scoring options who come at a cheaper cap hit than Laine’s $8.7 million, or who has a more consistent history of staying on the ice. Such names include the likes of Anthony Duclair, Jonathan Marchessault, or Vladimir Tarasenko — just to name a few.

Scoring goals isn’t the Devils’ problem. Despite the down season in 2023-24, filling the net was one of their strengths, scoring a 12th-best 3.22 goals per game. It’s keeping the puck out of their net that was the problem, and the Devils are better suited to spend their assets improving the defensive side of the puck before adding more offense.

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