It’s hard to have a contending team in this age of the NHL without the accompanying panic over future salary cap problems. Every year you don’t get the parade, as the Jets did not last year when they were more than good enough, the fear grows that financial obligations will keep you from getting one at all. You don’t get that many rolls of the dice, and everyone is watching the big money-ticker.
Which leaves the Jets in something of a sore spot with Jacob Trouba. He has been their top-pairing defenseman for years now, in that he takes the toughest assignments and the hardest shifts. While Dustin Byfuglien gets the headlines and the points, it’s Trouba that the Jets have decided to make the foundation, at least on the back end.
Trouba will also be a restricted free agent after the season, This will be the third time that Trouba has entered restricted free agency, and previous negotiations have not always been cordial. His deal before this one was actually signed during the season, as negotiations dragged out past training camp. Trouba is probably in no mood to cut the Jets some slack, and his desire to remain in Winnipeg long-term has always been a doubt. But then…who among us?
And that’s where things get a touch tricky. After the season, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are out of their entry-level deals. Laine especially is going to command $10M plus, or so you’d think. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be around McDavid money after his entry-level deal expired. And players may be more inclined to take the William Nylander route than they were before. Connor will not come cheap either, as he’s likely to be coming off back-to-back 30-goal seasons.
The Jets will have $27 million or so in space, so it would seem possible to keep everyone, at least for a short time. But if the three big draws all come back for what you’d figure, that won’t leave a lot of room for role players like Brandon Tanev, Nic Petan or Brendan Lemieux, or Ben Chiarot. And depth is what makes the Jets what they are, or at least it’s a big reason.
Which makes what the Jets judge Trouba at so curious. He’s not a dynamic scorer from the back end. He doesn’t really drive the play, so much as ride along with it. He’s not Subban or Karlsson or Doughty back there. That doesn’t mean he isn’t vital, but if he’s looking for major dollars, that will be the first cudgel the Jets go to in talks.
Another thing the Jets might look at is that in last year’s playoffs, Trouba really struggled with the Knights. The whole team did, to be fair, but throwing up 40% CF%s in the biggest games in franchise history is an odd way of demonstrating you’re the key log in future Cup runs. That was only one spring, and perhaps this one Trouba turns that around.
So what do you value Trouba at? Again, he’s restricted, and we know that no one is going to come with an offer sheet (though the Hawks may want to seriously think about it). If you’re looking at the highest-paid defensemen in the league, all of them score and produce offense. Ryan Suter is ninth on the list now, and though he doesn’t score like he used to, he did when he signed that deal. You have to get to Marc-Eduoard Vlasic’s $7M per year deal to find a player similar in style. Do the Jets fancy Trouba to be that?
Troubs might, which would leave $20M for whatever else the Jets want to do. And they may only get it for one year. Given how things have gone between the two camps, Trouba for sure wants to test what unrestricted free agency looks like. Or he’s going to ask the Jets to make it worth his while to forego that chance for a few years.
A lot is going to pivot on what the Jets and Trouba do in the playoffs. And with every success and dominant performance, it may actually get worse for the Jets.
Game #32 Preview Suite