On the day Manitoba allowed shopping to return, the Winnipeg Jets held one hell of a two-for-one sale.
On Saturday morning, while shoppers enjoyed newfound pandemic freedoms, the Jets traded Patrik Laine — the second-greatest Finnish sniper ever to play for a Winnipeg NHL team — and fellow winger Jack Roslovic to the Columbus Blue Jackets for centre Pierre-Luc Dubois.
The Jets also get a third-round draft pick in 2022 as part of the deal and hold on to part of Laine’s salary.
Both Laine, who scored two goals and had an assist during one game for the Jets this year, and restricted free agent Roslovic — a Columbus native who was sitting at home — wanted to leave Winnipeg. They were reputed to be frustrated by their roles on a team stacked with offensive talent.
Dubois, in turn, wanted out of Columbus, where he was accused of floating this season and ran afoul of Columbus coach John Tortorella.
From a pure hockey perspective, this appears to be a pragmatic deal for Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Roslovic wasn’t playing. Laine only had one year left on his contract and was in danger of becoming another training-camp distraction next season.
Effectively, Cheveldayoff just gave up a phenomenal shooter who was becoming a better defensive forward for a less flashy but more well-rounded forward who has an additional year left on his contract.
WATCH | CBC hockey reporter Rob Pizzo breaks down the Jets-Blue Jackets blockbuster trade:
In the short term, the trade could make Winnipeg more competitive. When Dubois gets out of COVID-19 quarantine in two weeks, the Jets will be deep at a centre position that also includes Mark Scheifele, Paul Stastny and Adam Lowry.
The danger down the road is Laine could become a perennial 50-goal scorer for Columbus or whoever he signs with this summer. There’s also no guarantee Dubois will stick around Winnipeg after the 2021-2022 season.
There is, however, a bigger picture at play for Winnipeg: Not just the team, but the psyche of the city itself, where professional sport plays an outsized role.
For older Jets fans, the Laine trade brings back painful memories of the original NHL Jets, who had a penchant for making disappointing trades.
In 1985, it was top-pairing defenceman Dave Babych to Hartford for passable winger Ray Neufeld. In 1993, it was gritty forward Kris Draper to Detroit for a single loonie. And in 1996, when the original Jets were in their death throes, it was beloved, hall-of-fame winger Teemu Selanne to Anaheim for Chad Kilger and Oleg Tverdovsky.
That pattern did not persist when the NHL returned to Winnipeg in 2011. Unlike John Ferguson and Mike Smith from the original Jets, Cheveldayoff is a conservative GM who avoids incomprehensible moves.
Instead, his version of the Jets appears to have problem retaining top talent, which is a euphemism for keeping players pleased enough to stay put.
Winger Evander Kane, a gifted scorer, wanted out of Winnipeg and was traded to Buffalo. Jacob Trouba, a top defenceman, clamoured for a bigger city and was traded to the New York Rangers.
Veteran defenceman Dustin Byfuglien seemed to fall out of love with playing hockey or the club or both and saw his contract terminated after a lengthy standoff.
Now Laine, an eye-popping talent who was gifted to the Jets by the draft-lottery gods, is gone after he too decided Winnipeg is not that good, after all.
It’s fair to surmise there’s something about this NHL franchise that disenfranchises top talent.
It could be the organizational culture at True North Sports and Entertainment. It could be Jets coach Paul Maurice. It could be the locker room, led by Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who conceded Saturday to reporters he has some regrets about his interactions with younger players. It could be any, all or none of these things.
It’s a Winnipeg thing
Far more frightening to fans is the possibility the problem lies with small, cold, isolated Winnipeg itself.
The idea top NHL talent doesn’t want to play here feeds into our collective insecurities about this city and our own decisions to put up with its vagaries.
That’s why the trade of Patrik Laine can not be viewed entirely from a hockey perspective.
The Jets didn’t just trade away the most gifted young scorer in the National Hockey League. They traded away one of the most recognizable people in Winnipeg.
Laine was, for better and for worse, a symbol of excellence in a medium-sized city that ranks 77th among North American population centres, just below world-renowned metropolitan areas like McAllen, Texas, Grand Rapids, Mich. and Columbia, S.C.
Laine leaves Winnipeg with 140 goals, 110 assists and 250 points in 306 games. He also leaves a hole much larger than the tiny short-side gaps he exploited so well on the power play.