It’s not suspect that a two-way system such as John Tortorella led to a scoring drought for one of the NHL’s biggest stars, Patrik Laine. Laine’s numbers had been steady, before the move in 2019-20 he had a solid 63 point season with Paul Maurice.
2021 and Tortorella
Maurice is a coach whose style adjusts to the talent on the ice, which he always had the opportunity to contribute on offense. He was on the power play for the Winnipeg Jets and had linemates in Nikolaj Ehlers, Adam Lowry, and Paul Stastny. However the on-ice product wasn"t always a motivation to leave a job, and it appeared despite his second line spot he wanted out. There was controversy with his teammates, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele who Laine was unhappy after being treated wrongly, but teammates who you"re supposed to be able to confide in, learn from, and form a brotherhood.
According to the report, outside the locker room, both Wheeler and Scheifele would make things difficult for Laine and talk behind his back. Coach Paul Maurice would not interfere and just let Wheeler and Scheifele lead the team the way they wanted. Thus, the situation in Winnipeg was difficult for Laine.
Maurice has since stepped down as head coach of the Jets. “This is a good team, I am a good coach…but sometimes you can only push so far," an emotional Maurice said. Dave Lowry has been named interim coach of the Jets for the time being.
On January 23, 2021, Laine was moved to the Columbus Blue Jackets, with Jack Roslovic for Pierre Luc-Dubois and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. It was a needed reset, for both teams at the time because Tortorella had lost Dubois.
As expected in a Tortorella system, every forward will play two ways, offense, and defense. Tortorella incorrectly used Laine and as a result, Laine"s potential was stunted by the dump and chase style of hockey Tortorella made infamous in Columbus.
This style of play is obviously not progressive enough to keep a sniper like Laine at a 60 point pace. To his credit, Tortorella"s style is defensively stifling to an opposing offense and is known for low scores and giving enough defensive cover to allow players like David Savard to thrive. In the remainder of the 2020-2021 season, Laine finished with 24 points, disappointing and far removed from his previous season with Maurice.
"I understand the need for a tight system, but all players are different," Laine said. "I do not even want to be like everyone else. I am who I am and do things my way. Everyone should be given the opportunity to be themselves. Then, of course, you have to play within the team’s system. I think it’s stupid not to use my potential. But then it’s another matter what the coaches think."
Laine had a seven-game streak without a point which led to another benching in that period, which everyone could see shattered his confidence. Tortorella"s regressive style of coaching never left much for the grey area in regard to growth in a new format. A new team I felt was due for Laine. There was also a benching for a verbal confrontation with an assistant coach, which was not helping to hide the dysfunction in Tortorella"s last season.
On May 10th, Laine completed his exit interview with the media availability and had some humility in questioning, saying he could do better, despite the system. While I feel like someone of his skills, that is definitely true, but he definitely didn"t fit into an archaic inflexible system that Torts ran.
Even in the end, there were bright spots for Laine, as he found a spot on the power play with his excellent slap shots. With the reload the Jets traded away the old core, in Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, and the team that went toe to toe with the President"s Trophy and Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was tough to see Atkinson go, but in return, we got a piece that elevated the power play in Voracek. On the 1st line of the power play, Voracek fed Laine the puck and Laine has continued to deliver, so much so that he currently is sitting with 10 power-play points. Laine, since the start of the season, has accumulated 4 power-play points, and 3 goals and 7 assists total. Brad Larsen has competently used the pieces available to him to maximize all of his players" capabilities and Laine is arguably a staple on this Blue Jackets offense.
Since November 5th, 2021, Laine has been on injured reserve due to an oblique strain. He was slated to be out 4-6 weeks and only recently skated as of the 29th. It is a tough spot to be in, considering the recent family issues he"s had to deal with.
Laine and his family have my condolences. Speaking as a fan, I want to see him thrive in an atmosphere where his skills are treated as a utility, instead of a hindrance and Larsen has done a great job so far. Columbus has a competitive edge, despite losing the core of the last 5 seasons.
The window for contention will be here soon if Columbus can keep Laine flush in offensive helpers like Jakub Voracek, and Brad Larsen can develop the rookies right.
Main image credit