The Winnipeg Jets haven't been too busy this off-season, and with RFA defenseman Jacob Trouba still without a contract for the upcoming season, some fans in Winnipeg are starting to worry the summer has been too quiet.
Trouba, 22, is coming off of his third full season with the Jets, and the 2012 ninth-overall selection has become an important — and promising — part of the Jets’ blueline. Over his 211-game career, Trouba has scored 23 goals and 72 points while averaging more than 22 minutes per night, and some believe he could be the face of the Jets defense until long after Dustin Byfuglien moves on, whenever that may be.
So, what’s the issue with getting Trouba under contract? Well, according to TSN’s Gary Lawless, just about everything.
“(The Jets and Trouba are) apart everywhere,” Lawless said on TSN’s That’s Hockey. “They’re apart on money, they’re apart on term and they’re apart on usage. Jacob Trouba doesn't want to play in the bottom pairing anymore. He wants to play with Dustin Byfuglien or one of the other top four D in Winnipeg. He wants power-play time. He wants to be a big part of what they're doing in Winnipeg if he's going to be here for a long time.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Trouba wants to be paid what he feels he’s worth, especially if he’s going to sign a long-term deal. Disputes over money and term are common in contract negotiations. However, following the past two seasons, and especially after a 2015-16 campaign in which some felt he took a step back, there seems to be concerns about whether Trouba deserves to be paid like a top-pairing blueliner. The fact of the matter, though, is that barring a trade, Trouba is likely to sign either a long-term deal that pays him like a top-four defenseman or a bridge deal that sees him in line for a raise a few seasons down the road.
More interesting than the debate about money and term, then, is Trouba’s concern about his usage and where he fits into the Jets' lineup. That Lawless points to Trouba's wanting to play a steady top-four role at even strength and wanting to play alongside one of the Jets' top three defenders points to the biggest issue facing the rearguard over the past two seasons: his partnership with Mark Stuart.
Per Stats.Hockeyanalysis.com, Trouba has played roughly 2,481 minutes at 5-on-5 over the past two campaigns, boasting a 53 percent shot attempts for percentage and 52.4 goals-for percentage. But nearly 1,424 of those minutes have been played alongside Stuart, over which time Trouba's numbers have taken a very noticeable dive.
Together the pairing has managed a shot attempts for percentage of 51.6 percent, a goals-for percentage of 44.9 percent, allowed 52.4 shot attempts against per 60 minutes -- 1.5 shots worse than Trouba's total 5-on-5 numbers -- and have been on-ice for 2.28 goals against per 60 minutes -- more than a quarter of a goal more than Trouba's overall totals.
With Stuart, Trouba has no doubt struggled, and the dive in his shot suppression, goals-for percentage and goals-against per 60 minutes indicates Trouba has fared better with every other defensive partner he has skated with. And of the two defenseman he's played more than 250 minutes with over the past two campaigns, Byfuglien and Tyler Myers, that's absolutely true.
Some will argue Trouba has had a higher percentage of offensive zone starts with every other partner than the 48.9 percent with Stuart, but that doesn’t even entirely make up for the difficulties the duo of Stuart and Trouba have had together. It’s hard to entirely compare a 273-minute partnership between Myers and Trouba to that of Stuart and Trouba simply because it’s a much smaller sample. That said, it's worth noting Myers and Trouba, when paired together at 5-on-5, have started 47.2 percent of their shifts in the defensive zone yet boast a 53.1 percent shot attempts for percentage and a 58.3 goals-for percentage.
The same goes for Byfuglien, with whom Trouba has played 645 minutes at 5-on-5 with a 52.4 offensive-zone start percentage. In fact, with Byfuglien, the Jets look like that have one of the most formidable pairings in the entire league. The duo has a shot attempts for percentage of 56.6 percent and an awesome goals-for percentage of 69.8 percent.
Had Trouba spent the past two seasons with anyone other than Stuart, the underlying numbers give reason to believe Trouba would have posted career years in each subsequent season since his rookie campaign. Instead, those rookie totals — 10 goals and 29 points in 65 games — remain the best of his career.
When, or if, the Jets lock up Trouba to a new deal, money and term are going to be the main focuses of the deal. But Trouba’s usage will be the most important thing to watch because if the Jets want to get the most, that’s the area where they’ll need to give the most.
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