Friday's NHL: Blue Jackets re-sign Laine, trade Bjorkstrand to Kraken

Stephen Whyno
Associated Press

Patrik Laine signed a long-term deal to stay with the Columbus Blue Jackets, completing the final major item on their checklist to cap off a successful offseason.

The winger re-signed Friday for four years and $34.8 million, a contract that carries an $8.7 million salary cap hit through 2026. The deal allows Columbus to keep the high-scoring winger even after adding top free agent Johnny Gaudreau.

The Blue Jackets' Patrik Laine, left, scores a goal against Red Wings goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic during the third period.

When they surprisingly landed Gaudreau, the big question was whether the Blue Jackets would be able to fit Laine under the cap as a restricted free agent. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen made sure that wasn’t an issue.

“One of our priorities this summer was signing Patrik Laine to a contract extension,” Kekalainen said. “He is a special player, one of the truly elite goal scorers in the National Hockey League, and he has fit in extremely well with our group since his arrival. He is an integral part of the team we are building in Columbus.”

The Blue Jackets made room for Laine by trading forward Oliver Bjorkstrand to the Seattle Kraken for a third- and a fourth-round pick in the 2023 draft.

“It was a difficult decision to trade Oliver, who has given so much to our organization over the past seven years,” Kekalainen said. “However, a move like this needed to be made in order for us to be salary cap compliant after the Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine signings. We are thankful for Oliver’s many contributions to our club, on and off the ice.”

Laine was a point-a-game player last season in his first full year with Columbus. The 24-year-old Finn has 184 goals and 158 assists for 342 points in 431 games NHL regular-season and playoff games with the Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets.

Columbus acquired Laine along with Jack Roslovic from Winnipeg in January 2021 in exchange for disgruntled center Pierre-Luc Dubois. The challenge was always keeping Laine around.

This deal does that, and it comes in the aftermath of Gaudreau blowing away the myth that players don’t want to go to or stay in Columbus, after the likes of Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Seth Jones all wanted out rather than signing long term.

“I thought it was a good spot for me personally,” Gaudreau said after signing. “I think we can have a lot of success here. It’s somewhere that I had circled on my list for a while now. It’s not only from what I’ve heard about the city and where you live, but they’ve got good players on this team, too, and I’m really looking forward to jumping in with this group.”

Beyond Gaudreau and Laine, that group includes top defenseman Zach Werenski, rookie center Kent Johnson, 2021 first-round pick Cole Sillinger, captain Boone Jenner and 27-year-old goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. With Laine under contract, the Blue Jackets are another step closer to returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2020.

Seattle added more talent by acquiring Bjorkstrand, a 27-year-old from Denmark who is coming off a season in which he set career highs with 28 goals and 57 points and matched his previous NHL season best with 29 assists.

“We’re excited to welcome Oliver to our organization,” Kraken GM Ron Francis said. “He’s coming off of a career year offensively playing top minutes in Columbus. His creativity and hockey sense will be good additions to our forward group.”

Going into their second year in the league, the Kraken already this offseason signed Stanley Cup-winning winger Andre Burakovsky, defenseman Justin Schultz and goaltenders Martin Jones and Magnus Hellberg.

Preds sign Niederreiter

The Nashville Predators offered forward Nino Niederreiter the perfect combination of a competitive team stocked with friends and former teammates along with a physical playing style. His new two-year contract also gives him the flexibility to either hit free agency again or stick around if everything works out as he hopes.

Niederreiter signed a two-year, $8 million deal on Thursday to join a team he helped Carolina beat in the first round of the playoffs in 2021. He said the Hurricanes had a really hard time beating the Predators.

“They’re such a competitive team,” Niederreiter said via Zoom from Switzerland. “They skate really hard. They’re very physical and hard to compete. And I think we had a really tough time. And I think this team is not very far from having such a great run.”

Nashville also reportedly is a team that Calgary forward Matthew Tkachuk would consider as a trade destination. Niederreiter called Tkachuk a terrific player who scored a lot of points last year.

“Obviously, players like that don’t come around very often, and he would be definitely a great addition. But at the end of the day, it’s not in my power to say it,” Niederreiter said. “But I mean, obviously, he’d be great on the team.”

Signing Niederreiter was the Predators’ biggest free agency move since keeping forward Filip Forsberg off the market just before it opened. General manager David Poile also picked up defenseman Ryan McDonough from Tampa Bay via trade.

“He’s such a terrific defenseman,” Niederreiter said of McDonough. “He knows how to win, and he won with Tampa Bay.”

The 29-year-old Niederreiter had 44 points in 75 games with Carolina last season and ranked third on the Hurricanes with 24 goals. He has scored at least 25 points in nine of his 12 NHL seasons. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound forward also has played for the New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild, with 181 goals and 187 assists in 732 games.

Also helping lure Niederreiter to Nashville was a trio of former teammates.

The native of Switzerland won silver medals with Predators captain Roman Josi at the 2013 and 2018 world championships. Niederreiter played with Nashville center Ryan Johansen with the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL. Niederreiter’s best scoring season came in 2016-17, when he had 57 points and 25 goals, one off Mikael Granlund, a new teammate in Nashville.

“Obviously, knowing Josi for quite a lot of time made it very easy to come, but knowing that I have a chance to play potentially with Johansen or Granlund made things a lot easier,” Niederreiter said. “I played with Johansen for quite some time in the minors and obviously was with Granny in Minny.”

Niederreiter was the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft. He made his debut with the Islanders during the 2010-11 season and wound up playing 64 games over two seasons with New York. He played six seasons with Minnesota, where he scored 228 points in 434 games.

Niederreiter has played in each NHL postseason since 2014 and has 15 goals and 15 assists in 82 playoff games. He finished second with four goals in 14 games for Carolina this last postseason, playing alongside Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast and bringing size and his physical style to their top defensive line.

Nashville’s physical play was yet another attraction for Niederreiter, who thinks it will be a good fit.

“I thought back then they play a great style of hockey, and now I have a chance to play for them,” he said. “So hopefully it works out perfect.”