Patrik Laine may be far off in Switzerland and still without a contract, but his presence was felt at Winnipeg Jets training camp on Tuesday.
That’s what happens when you throw some shade on your teammates and coaches, as Laine did in an interview with a Finnish reporter.
The high-scoring winger, a restricted free agent, suggested he’d be used differently and likely be more productive if he were with another team.
“When you’re having contract negotiations, one thing always is who are you playing with,” Laine told the newspaper Iltalehti. “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.”
Laine’s comments indicate he’s not thrilled with how head coach Paul Maurice employs him on the Jets second line with Bryan Little as his centre.
Maurice did his best to shrug it all off to just a young, talented player wanting more ice time and a bigger role.
“Here, over the last two years, we’ve had three really, really young players,” Maurice said, referring to Laine, Kyle
Connor and Nik Ehlers. “We can all do the math on that. That means two of them are going to be on one line and one’s going to be on the other. And he would be 100 percent right… there’s nine other forwards that wouldn’t mind playing a little left wing on that line. I get that. Everybody wants it. They want more minutes, they want to play with the team’s best.
“I’ll use my driver’s license analogy: nobody gets the keys at 14.”
As for how Laine’s comments reflect on the coach and on his linemates, Maurice said he’s not concerned about the potential distraction or that it could cause ripples in the dressing room.
“I can handle the shade. That part’s not going to bother me a whole hell of a lot,” Maurice said. “The individual experience is secondary to the team experience.”
Laine is coming off a season that saw his goal totals dip from 44 to 30. He scored 18 of them in 12 games in November, and had long slumps after that.
Maurice tried to give him a boost with a brief stint on the top line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, beginning in late February. He also dropped Laine down to a fourth line for a time.
Five days into a training camp without Laine and Connor, who’s also without a contract, Wheeler was fielding questions about a teammate he’d rather be passing pucks to.
“He spends a good deal of time with that top unit on the power play,” Wheeler said of the 21-year-old Laine. “He’s a young kid that’s had a lot of success in three years. He’s definitely not doing it by himself, I can guarantee you that. It’s a great trait to have to want more ice time, more playing time. Those are all good things.”
Wheeler said he’s not worried his job as captain, which includes keeping teammates on the same page, just got harder.
“It’s a non-issue today,” he said. “None whatsoever. I’m sure there’s parts of that that are not exactly how he meant it and blown out of proportion. Just knowing Patty it’s not something where he’s trying to get his name in the newspaper. It’s not a big deal, we’ll wake up tomorrow with new headlines.”
The stir caused by Laine, amid his and Connor’s ongoing contract stalemates, is just the latest in a training camp news cycle that’s included the unexpected personal leave of absence for Dustin Byfuglien.
“What’s that quote about rough seas making a good sailor?” Maurice said. “Something like that. But I haven’t felt it in the room. It’s been good, guys are working their asses off. Players got a little bit of turbulence, maybe, outside the jet. But inside the jet it’s good.”
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