It’s time for another Screen Shots column, in which we focus on two or three hockey topics, and analyze them in a short amount of space. Today, we’ve got two for you.
– Columbus Blue Jackets winger Patrik Laine is arguably the hottest offensive player in the league right now, scoring his ninth career NHL hat trick Thursday in a 7-4 win over Chicago, and extending his points streak to eight games. Laine has averaged two points-per-game (10 goals, six assists) in the streak, and it`s no coincidence the Blue Jackets have gone 6-2-0 in those eight games. Laine`s career arc has taken a couple of dips during his six-year NHL career, but the way he`s playing now, he`s guaranteeing himself a sizeable raise when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
The 23-year-old Finn currently has a $7.5-million salary-cap hit, and if he continues to contribute offense at this rate, he could well be Columbus`highest-paid player. (Next season, their highest-paid player could be defenseman Zach Werenski, who will earn more than $9.5 million in the first year of a six-year, $57-million contract extension.) It is no longer out of the question Laine could sign for $10 million per year, most likely on a short-term contract. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after next season, so it will be intriguing to see if he commits to a longer contract and commitment to Columbus, which is in the midst of a rebuild, and may not be that far away from being a playoff team.
The Blue Jackets need foundational players for their rebuild, and Laine can be one of those players. But it's going to cost them a good deal of money to retain the sniper for the long-term, and although they have the salary cap space to do so, there’s no guarantee ownership will fork over enough cash to keep Laine happy. A long-term extension may not be in the cards just yet, but should Laine thrive next season, he’ll be in line for an even bigger payday. The motivation is there for him, and in the past few weeks, he looks ready to capitalize on the opportunity.
– Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin is also of late boosting his game to another level. In his past seven games, Larkin has generated six goals and 14 points, and he’s now got 26 goals and 52 points in 46 games, putting him on a pace to demolish his current career highs in goals (32) and points (73), both set in the 2018-19 campaign.
Like the Blue Jackets, Larkin's Wings are unlikely to make the playoffs this season, but they're getting closer in part because Larkin is still getting better. At 25 years old, his prime is ahead, and although he’s scheduled to be a UFA after next season, it’s hard to see Detroit GM Steve Yzerman not signing him to a contract extension as soon as possible. It won’t be cheap – Larkin already is Detroit’s highest-paid player at a cap hit of $6.1 million per season – but the Wings have the cap space to give him a significant raise, and Yzerman is highly unlikely to let him move on to another organization, either by trade or the free agent market.
In his seven NHL seasons, Larkin has improved just about every year. In some ways, he’s been a man on an island as Yzerman tried to surround him with talent, and that strategy is starting to pay off. But it’ll likely take a little more time for him and Detroit to be a playoff threat. In the meantime, Wings fans can take solace in the fact they have a genuine threat up the middle, and a talent in Larkin that is still growing and thriving.