Winnipeg Jets forward Bryan Little downplayed comments his teammate Patrik Laine reportedly made in recent days about dissatisfaction with his linemates last season.
According to Finnish sportswriter Pekka Jalonen, the 21-year-old restricted free agent told him that he was unsatisfied with his linemates in 2018-19 and felt he “would have the chance to play with the best players” somewhere outside of Winnipeg. Laine, who is caught in a contract dispute with the Jets, played more minutes with Little than any other teammate at even-strength last season — so all eyes turned to the veteran as a potential source of Laine’s grievances.
Little told reporters Thursday that he and Laine spoke on the phone “two or three days ago” when the young forward texted him and asked to talk.
“He was saying sorry and apologizing for just the way I think it was interpreted, which I kind of understood before I even talked to him,” Little said in an interview Thursday, via the Jets’ Twitter account. “I know [Laine] well enough to know that he’s not someone that’s gonna purposely say negative things, especially about his teammates. If it’s going to be negative, it’s probably about himself. That’s just the way he is.”
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Laine scored 50 points (30 goals, 20 assists) last season in what was considered a down year compared to his first two high-flying NHL campaigns. While he said he played injured for much of the year, his regression — and possible unhappiness with the Jets — have made negotiations on his next contract a lengthy process.
Mike Liut, Laine’s agent, told Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup on Thursday that Jalonen made a “false conclusion” when it came to Laine’s comments in regards to his linemates.
Little, who has been with the Jets franchise since it was located in Atlanta, said he told Laine there was no need to apologize for saying he wants to play with the best players available. In Winnipeg, those stars are team captain Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, who both scored at over a point-per-game pace in 2018-19.
“Sometimes those things are misunderstood,” Little said. “I knew right away — he wants to play with the best players, that’s kind of the way he was saying it. [Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler] are our best players, so yeah. I’d like to play with those guys too. I think everyone does. When you’re young you want to score more goals, get more points, play with the best and get more ice time. I think he was just voicing that, he just wants to be one of our go-to guys.”
According to Natural Stat Trick, Laine has spent more time playing alongside Little and Nikolaj Ehlers than the Jets’ most recognizable stars at even strength over his first three seasons.
Ultimately, Little denied that the two have a cantankerous relationship and said that he understood where Laine’s comments originated from.
“The fact that he texted me confirmed what kind of guy he is — he’s a great guy,” Little said. “That short conversation we had was nice — nice to talk to him, nice to hear from him and see how he’s doing and talk about stuff other than what’s going on with [what] the media is saying.”
If the 31-year-old gained any insight into Laine’s contract negotiations during their phone conversation, too, he did not let on.
“Honestly, I said ‘you know what, I’m not even going to ask you about how it’s going, I just hope I see you soon,'” Little said. “We talked about other stuff.”
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