During an interview last Friday with Sportsnet's Chris Johnston, Patrik Laine claimed contract talks with the Winnipeg Jets were non-existent. The 21-year-old winger professed to be unconcerned but added he was prepared for anything.
Laine's remarks raise questions about his future with the Jets. Johnston's colleague Sean Reynolds believes the young Finn's comments are a reminder of Winnipeg's small-market vulnerability. Reynolds acknowledged Laine may have been trying to jump-start his stalled contract talks. However, he feels time, money and circumstance work against the Jets. Reynolds couldn't confirm if Laine was contacted by clubs hoping to sign him to an offer sheet. Nevertheless, Reynolds feels the sniper's remarks suggest he could be prepared for a future outside of Winnipeg.
With training camps just three weeks away, Laine is among several high-profile restricted free agents without a new contract. Despite the Montreal Canadiens' failed attempt last month to sign away Sebastian Aho from the Carolina Hurricanes, the threat of an offer sheet lingers. A rival club could attempt to sign Laine before camp opens but that bid will likely fail. With over $17 million in salary-cap space, the Jets can easily match a substantial offer.
At this stage in the off-season, few clubs have sufficient cap room to make a competitive bid. Most, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets, have RFA talent of their own to re-sign. Others, such as the Ottawa Senators, might not be an enticing destination for Laine.
MARNER TO SWITZERLAND?
Like Laine, Mitch Marner is among this summer's notable unsigned RFAs. For weeks, there's been no sign of progress in contract talks between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the 22-year-old winger.
The Marner camp is preparing for the possibility of no deal in time for training camp. On Tuesday, TSN reported his representatives spoke with Switzerland’s ZSC Lions about the possibility of training with them next month. TSN's Darren Dreger suggested Marner could attend Leafs camp without a contract if he paid the insurance premium. “What a circus that would be,” tweeted Dreger, who suggested trade interest in Marner will grow as the days pass.
The Athletic's James Mirtle recently reported the Leafs and Marner's agents discussed proposals of three, six and seven years. It's also believed the Leafs offered between $9 and $11 million annually, depending on the term.
Marner's reps are said to be seeking something comparable to Auston Matthews' $11.634-million annual average value. They recently reacquired David Clarkson's dormant contract with the intent of placing Clarkson and Nathan Horton on long-term injury reserve. That would provide the Leafs a combined $10.5 million in wiggle room to sign Marner when the season opens in October.
As for the possibility of a trade, it'll take a significant offer to pry Marner out of Toronto. Any interested club should be prepared to meet his hefty salary request. As with Laine, an offer sheet is unlikely given how few teams can afford to pitch an unmatchable offer.
RISTOLAINEN'S FUTURE WITH SABRES
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has frequently surfaced in this summer's trade rumors. Speculation resumed last week after the 24-year-old seemed to imply his days with the Sabres could be numbered.
The Buffalo News cited a recent interview Ristolainen recently gave to Finland's MTV Sports expressing his unhappiness over being unable to help the Sabres win. He found recent seasons have been tough and he's been unable to enjoy playing hockey. His remarks sound similar to former Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly following the end of the 2017-18 regular season. O'Reilly was subsequently traded to the St. Louis Blues and went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, leading the Blues to the Stanley Cup last spring.
Ristolainen said he's been in discussion with Sabres GM Jason Botterill. He couldn't say what the future held other than he'd be at one of the NHL teams' training camps on Sept. 12.
Over the weekend, Mike Harrington reported Botterill plans on having Ristolainen on the roster when training camp opens next month. He wasn't surprised or disappointed by the rearguard's comments, confirming he's spoken with Ristolainen but wouldn't elaborate over what was discussed.
Ristolainen is signed through 2021-22 and lacks no-trade protection. Harrington pointed out the Sabres are overloaded at right defense but still need forward depth. Botterill can afford to be patient if he's considering shopping Ristolainen for a scoring winger.
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