It wasn’t the deal for which either side was really hoping, as it’s neither long-term nor big-money, but after nearly two days of deliberation following what was reportedly a marathon arbitration hearing, an arbitrator has ruled that Jacob Trouba’s next contract with the Winnipeg Jets will be a one-year pact worth $5.5 million.
The ruling sees Trouba’s decided deal come down between the two sides’ asking prices. It was reported last week that Trouba, who played arguably his best pro season to date in 2017-18, was asking for a $7 million salary, while the Jets were aiming to give the blueliner $4 million for the coming campaign, which would have represented only a modest raise on his previous $3-million cap hit.
However, despite the ruing nearly doubling Trouba’s year-over-year salary, the immediate future as it pertains to the defenseman and the Jets is a no-brainer. Winnipeg has 48 hours to accept the arbitrator’s ruling and will almost certainly do so, thus bringing Trouba back on the one-year pact. There’s little reason to believe Trouba remains anything other than a Jet over the course of the 2018-19 campaign, either. Reason being is that Winnipeg’s championship window is wide open. Fresh off of a trip to the Western Conference final with a deep, youthful and high-octane roster, the Jets will be gunning for a return trip to the third round with their sights set on taking the next step. Trouba can be an integral part of such a run, too, because despite some belief otherwise, he has inarguably developed into a top-tier top-four NHL defender.
Last season, Trouba had the highest slant of defensive zone starts among the regular top six defenders in Winnipeg, yet he boasted the third-best Corsi for percentage (51.1), second-best shots for percentage (52.4), third-best goals for percentage (55.1), second-best scoring chances for percentage (53) and best high-danger chances for percentage (54). He drove play and insulated the crease as well, if not better, than any other blueliner.
And while some will assert that his offensive totals should preclude him from consideration as a true top rearguard — and Trouba has failed to eclipse 10 goals or 33 points in any of his five campaigns thus far — his underlying numbers are undeniable. Only 15 defensemen with more than 750 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time scored at a higher rate per 60 minutes last season, and over the past three seasons, Trouba also ranks 25th among 3,000-plus minute defenders in 5-on-5 production per 60 minutes. He’s in the same company as the likes of Colton Parayko, Ryan McDonagh, Matt Dumba, Shayne Gostisbehere, Nick Leddy and Kris Letang.
Trouba’s all-around effectiveness only puts emphasis on the biggest question now facing the Jets: what comes beyond this season.
The glass-half-full answer would be that while there is some believe that there now exists a one-year shelf life on Trouba’s tenure as a Jet, that’s not entirely accurate. Come Jan. 1, 2019, Winnipeg will have the opportunity to once again formally open up contract negotiations with Trouba and attempt to ink the defenseman to a long-term deal. But even if that doesn’t come to pass, and there’s reason to believe it won’t given this is the second time in his young career that Trouba’s contract negotiations with the Jets have become somewhat contentious, Winnipeg will still have some semblance of control over Trouba’s future. He will remain a restricted free agent next summer, though he’ll continue to hold arbitration rights, which means we could be set to playback this entire off-season scenario come July 2019. Arbitration would give the Jets the opportunity to keep Trouba in the fold on what would likely be another one-year pact, at which point they could then negotiate another deal in January 2020.
Truth be told, however, a more likely course of action should Trouba not re-sign on a long-term deal before next off-season would be to ship the defenseman off to the highest bidder. Trading Trouba at the culmination of the coming campaign makes more sense than letting the situation drag on for another year, too, because the closer the Jets get to July 2020, the closer Trouba is to becoming an unrestricted free agent. Moving him while he’s under team control will undoubtedly fetch Winnipeg a greater return while also negating the possibility for him to bolt as a free agent and be lost for nothing.
Lest all the focus be on what’s best for the Jets, it should be said that a trade might be what works best for Trouba at this point, too. In Winnipeg, at least for the next couple of seasons, it’s unlikely he would unseat Dustin Byfuglien for the coveted top-pairing role, and Trouba could most definitely contribute further were he able to log those first-unit minutes and land a part on the top power play, a role he doesn’t have with the Jets. Additionally, other organizations may be more willing to give Trouba what he’s looking for in a contract, which is to say others could offer him the long-term, top-dollar deal he’s seeking while being free from some of the cap-space hangups that Winnipeg finds themselves facing.
The unfortunate reality for the Jets — and not that this is Trouba’s problem — is that there are very few scenarios in which they can come out on the winning end if they deal a prime-aged defenseman who has already proven his mettle. Ideally, Winnipeg would land a player of similar ability to fill the void left by moving the blueliner along, but it’s more likely the Jets land a promising prospect and future value than it is they add immediate impact in any trade involving Trouba. The only real silver lining for the Jets may be the financial aspect of any potential trade, which is to say that the money saved on handing Trouba a contract worth in the $7-million range annually can then go to others on the roster.
The Jets are presently projected to have roughly $36-million in cap space next off-season, according to CapFriendly, with new contracts due to captain and pending UFA Blake Wheeler, as well as RFAs Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, who combined to score 75 goals for Winnipeg last season. The Jets will need a considerable amount of cap space to lock all three in on long-term deals. This isn’t to mention, either, that Winnipeg still has to work out a deal this summer with vastly underrated blueliner Josh Morrissey, who has become a defensive stalwart in three short seasons. But the Jets would probably prefer the difficulty of working around their own cap constraints and making the money work than the alternative, which is moving Trouba and failing to receive full value in return.
None of this is a foregone conclusion, however, and only Trouba, agent Kurt Overhardt, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg front office can really, truly know where things go from here. Maybe the relationship, despite a pair of difficult negotiations, is salvageable. Maybe there’s a way to make things work well into the future. The only certainty when it comes to Trouba and the Jets is that this saga isn’t over, and it won’t be until he lands with another organization or puts pen to paper and commits long-term in Winnipeg.
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