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At this point you have to think the new contract Jacob Trouba signed after going through arbitration — a split-down-the-middle, one-year deal worth $5.5 million — is a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
All indications are that maybe, just maybe, Trouba might not have been appeased after his brief holdout-but-not-technically and then trade request in 2016. While the Jets have certainly improved a lot and addressed many of his concerns (such as playing him on the right side of the ice) since then, there’s now an air of, let’s say, uncertainty around what this one-year deal means.
Unfortunately for the Jets, a lot of people seem to think that this might all be a precursor to Trouba bolting town at the earliest opportunity; unfortunately for him he’ll be an RFA with arbitration eligibility again next season, but few NHLers would want to play on one-year arbitration contracts for the latter half of his entire RFA run? The question, then, is whether this is at all a tenable relationship.
Because if the Jets don’t think they’re going to be able to re-sign Trouba long-term next season — and he’ll be due a huge raise because he’s a high-end defenseman who will be locked up for his entire prime — then their options are immediately not that good in terms of long-term success.
Generally speaking you don’t give up a player as good and young as Trouba and get an equal return from the other team. You might be able to make up most of his value piecemeal but certainly it’s rare to go star-for-star or anything like it. Especially when you’re the team that has decided you can’t keep the player around in the first place.
There are a few options for Kevin Cheveldayoff here. The most immediate is also the one he probably likes the least: Trade Trouba before the season starts. I know, I know: He’s probably the best defenseman on one of the best teams in the league, and trading him would be a huge blow to that team’s likely success this season.
But you have to consider two things here. First, his actual dollars-and-cents value — at just $5.5 million AAV this year — is incredible. You would be losing a great, cheapish, young player but that only jacks up what you can reasonably demand, even if you are negotiating from a position that isn’t particularly strong. Second, you get out in front of potentially thousands of questions being asked of players, coaches, and front-office types in the organization all season long about Trouba, preventing him from becoming the kind of Poochie figure the Winnipeg media has traditionally sharpened its knives against.
This is an unattractive option, for sure, but it’s one that must be considered simply because if you think this team minus-Trouba-but-plus-maybe-two-other-goodish-NHLers is still going to be a potential top-five club. Certainly, it’s clearly in the top five right now, but the loss of a player like that hurts badly.
I can’t imagine a scenario in which this actually happens, but it has to be kicked around. See what’s out there for an offer and if someone just about knocks your socks off, then you have to really consider it, because you don’t want to let this get much farther without some kind of clarity. No player should be untouchable in this league, with the possible exception of Connor McDavid, so these are important conversations to have.
Another option: You can keep Trouba around headed into the season, let him be as good as he is for you, and hope all the success convinces him to stay. Maybe you can even work out an extension before the season ends. Obviously Cheveldayoff would know a lot better than me whether Trouba’s days in Winnipeg are all but over the second he sheds his RFA status, and that’s a big consideration there, but if you have even a bit of hope that a player this good can be convinced that this is a team worth staying for, you probably have to take it right?
The other consideration there is that if you don’t keep Trouba and potentially endanger the team’s viability near the top of a tough division, anything resembling a return to the Western Conference Final probably goes up in smoke. Is that something the Jets organization would accept as part of the cost of doing business with a player like that? I don’t know. Obviously the Jets are getting a little better at being able to retain high-end talent than their previous reputation might have suggested would be the case, but at the same time, it’s not like they’re really attracting it either.
That makes Trouba difficult, if not impossible, to replace, and could therefore topple the team’s ability to meaningfully compete for a Cup with this group. So just given where the team is right now as a group, keeping him seems to be the wisest and probably only reasonable course of action, even if it causes you a problem later.
That’s the most likely scenario. You keep Trouba around, let the season go how it goes. The Jets are obviously a top contender for the Cup (if they can get past Nashville in that divisional final again) and it’s important to remember that Trouba is technically still improving as a player given that he won’t be 25 until late February.
And if at some point in the season it becomes clear he’s not going to sign long-term (seemingly a distinct possibility), then you trade him at the draft or at least before July 1. The return certainly won’t be as big as it would have been if you traded him with two years of RFA status, but the idea of potentially entering into another acrimonious six-hour arbitration hearing to get one more year of would likely be a below-market AAV then losing him for nothing really can’t be entertained either, right?
The question of whether the Jets should have made a trade when the request was made two years ago is silly. He was an elite up-and-coming defenseman but he certainly hadn’t proven much with two injury-plagued seasons and only about a third of a point per game. In fact, that Trouba has only played more than 65 games just once in his career is another issue for Cheveldayoff to navigate here because that, too, probably brings down the resale value.
But when he’s actually on the ice, Trouba is incredible. Certainly one of the four or five best defensemen under the age of 25 in the league today. To lose him would be a crushing blow to the Jets’ D corps. You really have to ask, though, how much longer they can actually afford to keep him.
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.