Patrik Laine couldn’t believe it when a friend told him the Columbus Blue Jackets signed forward Johnny Gaudreau when NHL free agency opened July 13.
“I was like, ‘No, no, no chance. No chance. You’re playing with me,'” the Blue Jackets forward said Saturday, a day after he signed a four-year, $34.8 million contract ($8.7 million average annual value) with Columbus.
“Then I checked my phone and all these messages, I checked Twitter and all that and I saw we got Johnny. I was pretty pumped. I feel it was hard to scroll my phone, my hands were shaking. It’s so exciting to get that kind of player on your team. Obviously, he can help us in so many ways.”
Laine is already thinking of possibly playing on the same line with Gaudreau, who signed a seven-year, $68.25 million contract ($9.75 million AAV) with the Blue Jackets on Wednesday. Gaudreau led the Calgary Flames and was tied for second in the NHL last season with 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists) in 82 games. He set League career highs in goals, assists, points, game-winning goals (nine) and shots on goal (262).
The 28-year-old also led the Flames with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Calgary was eliminated in five games by the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Second Round.
Laine, who had been a restricted free agent, had 56 points (26 goals, 30 assists) in 56 games for Columbus last season. The 24-year-old said he always wanted to stay with the Blue Jackets but that getting Gaudreau makes it even more appealing.
“Like I said to (Blue Jackets general manager) Jarmo [Kekalainen] when they signed Johnny, I told them that I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to play hockey and maybe be able to play with this kind of guy,” Laine said. “Just excited to get the season going and just can’t wait.”
Laine and Gaudreau each is a left wing; if they play together, one will have to move to the right side. Laine played right wing in some games last season, with Jakub Voracek at left wing, and said he could make it work.
“I probably would prefer left side for me, personally, but it really doesn’t matter,” Laine said. “You have certain options from the right, certain things from the left. At the end of the day, you’re going to be all over the place anyways. It’s usually mostly on paper, if you’re playing left or right wing, where you start for face-offs, but you can still get creative.
“Me and Jake were kind of laughing about it, every now and then, that we were all over the place, we don’t really know what we’re doing once in a while. But yeah, it doesn’t matter. Wherever the coach wants me to play, I’ll play there and that’s pretty much it.”
Columbus (37-38-7) finished sixth in the Metropolitan Division and missed the playoffs for the second straight season after qualifying four consecutive seasons. The Blue Jackets have advanced past the first round once since joining the NHL in 2000, sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in four games in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2019 before losing to the Boston Bruins in six games in the second round.
Laine, who is entering his third season with the Blue Jackets after they acquired him in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 23, 2021, said Columbus is a great place to live and play. He wants to help the Blue Jackets get back to the postseason and make an impact there, and said the moves they’ve made, especially signing Gaudreau, should get them closer to that goal.
“I feel we took a really good step in the right direction this summer. Jarmo and all of the management did a great job of drafting great players and making good deals,” Laine said. “So as a player, that’s all you can ask for. They want to make this team better, that’s what all the players want.”