There’s absolutely no reason Jacob Trouba should have entered the month of September without his name on an NHL contract. In early August we learned that the 22-year-old defenseman was struggling to find common ground with the Winnipeg Jets during negotiations.
According to Gary Lawless on “That’s Hockey,” the defender is looking for some assurances about his role within the organization (as transcribed by Dustin L. Nelson over at TheHockeyWriters.com):
“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.”
While that was just about a month ago, it doesn’t seem like things have changed much between the two parties. Trouba still doesn’t have a new deal in place and the Jets will open their training camp on September 20. Winnipeg has had all summer to get a contract done with the RFA, but they have yet to figure out an extension that makes sense.
While Kevin Cheveldayoff twiddles his thumbs trying to figure out whether or not Trouba is worth top-pairing money and term, there are plenty of NHL teams in dire need of defensive help. Squads like the Edmonton Oilers — who traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson earlier in the summer — and the Detroit Red Wings need to kick the “gentleman’s agreement” to not use offer sheets to the curb.
The logic behind the false impasse makes sense to some degree. General managers worry about ruining their relationship with other GMs by extending offer sheets to rising talent. They also fear that they are opening themselves up to having their own players hijacked via an offer sheet somewhere down the line.
It’s easy to poke holes in these lines of thinking, however.
General managers around the league have multiple layers to their job, but their end game is pretty simple: win as many hockey games as possible.
Some folks have to operate under an internal budget, while others have to try to lure high-end players to smaller markets. It’s all in the name of putting tickmarks in the “W” column, though.
Which is what makes the lack of offer sheets so disturbing. Especially in situations like this, where the lack of progress in negotiations seems to be more philosophical than material. Cheveldayoff and Trouba are both acutely aware of the kinds of deals young former first-round defenseman have been landing in the past two offseasons.
A good example would be Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He’s a former fourth-overall pick, is 21, and has played in 240 NHL games while compiling 82 points. Trouba is a former ninth-overall selection, will turn 23 in February and has scored 72 points in 211 NHL games.
Pretty close, right? Jones landed a six-year commitment from the Blue Jackets and will hit the cap for $5,400,000. If you’re a team in need of help on the blue line, there’s virtually no reason to not offer Trouba a six-year contract worth around $32 million.
That cap hit would fall inside the $3,755,233 to $5,632,847 range, meaning that the team signing the defender to an offer sheet would need to give up a first- and third-round draft pick.
There are 22 teams in the NHL who have the selections available to make an offer sheet happen. You’re telling me that none of those franchises are willing to put themselves out there a bit for help on the blue line? Because of optics?
Turnover in NHL front offices happens pretty quickly. The Florida Panthers won 47 games and the Atlantic Division last season and they still underwent a slew of changes. Nineteen of the 30 general managers have been on the job for less than three seasons. It’s a thankless gig (unless you win the Stanley Cup) where you’re one of the first people out the door when things go south.
That’s why trying to win now is so important to so many general managers.
Sometimes that drive can lead to destructive choices, but signing Trouba to a six-year, $31 million offer sheet wouldn’t be one of them. Even if he doesn’t pan out to be a true No. 1 defender, there’s no doubt that he’s going to be a No. 2 or 3 defenseman in the NHL for years to come.
He’s already a minute-munching player and could potentially start scoring in the 30-40 point range. Turning lotto tickets (or draft picks) into established players isn’t a bad route for teams looking to add more talent at the toughest position in the sport — defenseman.
The Jets are timid about signing Trouba to a long-term deal because they already have Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers on expensive, lengthy contracts. It’s a problem that another NHL general manager would be wise to take advantage of while the window of opportunity is still there.
The potential positives far outweigh the potential negatives, as “revenge” offer sheets almost never happen and landing a player of Trouba’s caliber for two draft picks would likely be an increase in asset value.
Winnipeg still has a bit of time to work with Trouba, but as training camps draw closer and teams start getting serious about filling holes in their lineups, don’t be surprised if some forward-thinking GM swoops in and improves the blue line.