On the surface, his value has never been higher.
Yet, how that impacts where Jacob Trouba will play next season (and beyond) remains very much in question with just under a month before the 2019 NHL Draft gets underway in Vancouver.
Why is the date of the draft important as it pertains to Trouba?
Well, it’s the place where all 31 general managers and key decision makers from the respective organizations get together every year.
It’s also the place where agents work behind the scenes for their clients, especially in the years since the unofficial wooing period opens before free agency gets going on July 1.
History has shown that impact players are often moved in June, as teams try to get their ducks in a row before the free agency frenzy begins.
Two somewhat recent examples include the Calgary Flames acquiring Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins in 2015 and Brent Burns joining the San Jose Sharks in 2011.
So while the Jets don’t currently hold a first round pick next month, they could certainly factor into what should be an exciting opening day at Rogers Arena on June 21 – depending on where things stand with Trouba and his camp.
Some folks believe the Jets are reaching the point of no return with Trouba, that if the talented defenceman doesn’t want to commit to signing a long-term deal this summer, he should be dealt before next season begins.
Trouba is one year away from unrestricted free agency and most signs point to him wanting to get to that bench post.
After putting up a career-best 50 points (including 18 on the power play) while suiting up in 82 games last season and averaging just under 23 minutes of ice time per game, Trouba is in position to cash in as a restricted free agent.
Last summer, he elected to go to arbitration, betting that his underlying numbers would help him earn a raise.
It turned out Trouba was right, as he was awarded a one-year deal at $5.5 million.
By staying healthy and delivering his most productive season as a pro, Trouba is once again in line for a raise.
Clearly, the Jets preference would be to lock up the top pairing blue-liner to a long-term deal, but the multi-million dollar question remains the same as it has been for the past three years…
Is Trouba open to making that same commitment?
To this point, that hasn’t been the case.
Could something change in the time between now and the draft?
But in this long-standing game of chicken, neither agent Kurt Overhardt or Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has really shown his cards since Trouba made his trade request public back in the fall of 2016.
All of the things Trouba talked about wanting that September have come his way, as he’s playing the right side and his role has never bigger.
The Jets would love nothing more than to be able to lean on Trouba and defence partner Josh Morrissey for the next five-to-eight years.
But if that doesn’t appeal to Trouba or if he’s set on choosing where he wants to play next summer, the Jets need to react accordingly – though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a guarantee he moves on this summer or even during the course of the season.
If the Jets reach the point where they feel it’s in their best interest to trade Trouba, how do the get equal value or something close to it?
Unless the team making the deal believes they can get Trouba signed, they’re not going to mortgage their future either.
That’s where things get a tad more complicated.
One way to combat that would be to allow Trouba’s camp to negotiate an extension before agreeing to any deal – the same way the Vegas Golden Knights were able to find the framework with Mark Stone before getting the trade done with the Ottawa Senators.
Obviously that deal was a bit different, as Stone was just a few months away from being an unrestricted free agent and Trouba is still a full season out, but the premise remains the same.
The Jets are much more likely to fetch a substantial return if Trouba is willing to sign on the dotted line with his new employer.
Otherwise, a team potentially acquiring Trouba would treat him like a one-year rental and would spent that season trying to convince him to stick around – which isn’t impossible, but would represent a significant risk as well.
As for the Jets, they’re not about to be bullied into making a bad decision just to make a potential headache go away.
To this point, Cheveldayoff hasn’t allowed Trouba to dictate where he plays and it’s hard to imagine that position changing – even with his UFA status looming large and just 13 months and change away.
A first-round exit for the Jets has led to rampant speculation the Jets might want to change their mix on the personnel front, but teams don’t just give away first-pairing defencemen.
So unless the Jets find a deal they find palatable or even inviting, the plot could thicken.
With that in mind, here’s a look at an assortment of scenarios the Jets must mull over before making a decision that will have far-reaching ramifications and could play a monumental role in how long their window to win stays open:
Sign Trouba to a long-term extension
This is by far the most appealing option for the Jets, but at this stage of the proceedings, also seems the least likely. It’s been written in this space on numerous occasions that if Trouba can stay healthy and have a 40-plus point season, the Jets would have no issue paying him the big-ticket salary with term that he covets. That still rings true, even with the Jets facing some serious cap challenges this summer and a number of important players left to sign. However, it’s up to Trouba to show that he considers the Jets a long-term option.
Trade Trouba on his own
As mentioned earlier, a swap of Trouba isn’t as simple as it sounds unless the player is willing to do a longer-term deal with the new team. For a guy who could be in line to make somewhere between $7.5 to $8.5 million on a contract with six-to-eight years of term, that could eliminate a number of potential suitors – as many contenders don’t have the space to fit Trouba under their own salary cap ceiling. However, all it takes is one team and few teams in the NHL aren’t looking to upgrade their respective blue line. The other thing to consider here is that while the Jets would love to get back into the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, moving Trouba for futures doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense when you consider they’re a contender and trying to win now. The Jets would love to get a top-pairing D-man and a first-rounder back, but again, very few teams are in a rush to move those types of players and include a top draft pick.
Go to arbitration one last time
This is probably the least appealing option for both sides. Trouba is in line for a raise and Cheveldayoff would prefer to set the price tag for the defenceman rather than leave it to an independent arbitrator. And if the process wasn’t enjoyable last time around, it could be less so on this occasion, especially knowing the two sides are destined for a split by next summer (or earlier).
Wait for an offer sheet
File this under the unlikely category as well. Yes, the Jets would still have the right to match an offer sheet, but it could leave them in a delicate situation to do so. Plus, allowing Trouba to leave and just take the allotted draft picks doesn’t necessarily leave the Jets any further ahead either. There has been plenty of banter about potential offer sheets this summer, until they start happening with a bit more regularity, it’s safe to say it’s not a major concern yet.
Sign Trouba to a one-year deal
This option garners risk for both sides and likely isn’t overly appealing to either. However, if the Jets don’t get any trade offers that help them in both the short and long term, this option must at least be considered. Of course, it’s never popular with the asset-management crowd to leave someone like Trouba the option to walk and receive nothing in return next summer, but in the bigger picture having him on the top pairing with Morrissey for one more season obviously makes the Jets a better team. And it would enhance their chances to be a serious contender once again. Yes, that is short-term thinking. But the other part of that equation is that the Jets would free up $7 million plus next summer to ensure they don’t run into the same problem with Morrissey. Locking him up long-term could be accomplished by keeping Trouba for one more season and then letting him move on.
Trade Trouba as part of a larger package
This is the type of move that could help increase the potential return and take a step toward changing the personnel mix as well. It’s a bit early to tell what type of package the Jets could include, but it would not be surprising to see Cheveldayoff try for a blockbuster like the one from 2015 that included Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian going to the Buffalo Sabres. In fact, it’s probably the most likely scenario that could play out, depending on the principles in the deal and type of return it could generate. Whether the Jets try to shed some salary in a deal with Trouba, like they did in moving Joel Armia to the Montreal Canadiens with Steve Mason, or if they include another player or two with term on his contract is something that will be fascinating to monitor during the coming weeks.
Jacob Trouba file
Birthplace: Rochester, Michigan
Weight: 202 pounds
Chosen by Winnipeg Jets in the first round, ninth overall, of the 2012 NHL Draft
2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 8 G, 42 A, 50 P, 58 PIM, 162 SOG, 171 blocked shots, 112 hits, 22:53 TOI
Career stats: 408 GP, 42 G, 137 A, 179 P, 297 PIM, 847 SOG, 818 blocked shots, 639 hits, 22:53 TOI
Just completed a one-year deal worth $5.5 million. He’s a restricted free agent on July 1 and is one season away from being an unrestricted free agent for the first time of his career.
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