The New York Rangers have signed their guy; now it’s just a matter of clearing the deck to get under the salary cap. Defenseman Jacob Trouba has inked a seven-year contract worth $56 million, for an average annual value of $8 million. The price is tough but fair and allows the two sides to avoid an arbitration hearing.
Now comes the harder part. New York is completely capped out right now, with restricted free agents Brendan Lemieux, Pavel Buchnevich, Vinni Lettieri and Anthony DeAngelo still in need of contracts. Though the Rangers are built for the near future, there are high-priced holdovers from the past complicating matters. Trouba becomes doubly relevant here.
Acquired in a big trade with the Winnipeg Jets for defenseman Neal Pionk and a 2019 first-rounder (Winnipeg took blueliner Ville Heinola), the 25-year-old is in his prime and ready to make a bigger impact after being caught in a logjam of right-handed defenders with the Jets over the years. Trouba has proven himself to be a minute-muncher in the past, playing nearly 25 minutes a night for Winnipeg back in 2016-17. This past season, he logged nearly 23 minutes per game.
In New York, he should be The Guy, though the Rangers still have veterans such as Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal and Brendan Smith under contract for the next two seasons - and none of them come cheap.
Ideally, GM Jeff Gorton can move out at least one of those defensemen to clear up his team’s cap situation, but it won’t be simple: all three veterans have some sort of no-move or no-trade clause in their deals. But anything is possible with the right deal and the right finessing and New York must do something in order to sign their remaining RFAs (or trade the kids, I suppose).
This will be a fascinating season for the Rangers, who have been on a hot streak under Gorton’s watch. While second overall pick Kaapo Kakko and free agent coup Artemi Panarin will be the new guys to watch up front, rookie Adam Fox can’t be forgotten on the blueline. Fox, who was originally drafted by Calgary, then traded to Carolina, decided not to sign with the Hurricanes after leaving Harvard. He inked a deal with the Rangers after they acquired the New York native’s rights from Carolina.
Fox, like Trouba, is a right-handed shot, but plays more of a pure offensive game than the more well-rounded Trouba. Fox can be that power-play quarterback on the back end and since Trouba can also help out with the man advantage, the Rangers are set. That would seem to make Shattenkirk - who, at his peak was a very good offensive defenseman - the most expendable of the veterans. With a cap hit of $6.6 million however, Shattenkirk also carries the heftiest price tag over Staal and Smith.
The future looks nicely laid out for the Rangers blueline right now. Trouba has the size, skating and skill to be a No. 1, while Fox and K’Andre Miller (currently at the University of Wisconsin) are excellent prospects with top-four skills. Toss in veteran Brady Skjei and another on-the-cusp kid in Libor Hajek, and you’ve got a nice crew that will be good for years together.
Trouba’s new ticket is expensive, but it gives him a great chance to live up to the contract. The potential in the erstwhile Jets D-man has been obvious for years and his 50 points last season represented a career-high that he can probably surpass with more opportunities - which he will get in New York.
Gorton still has work to do in order to get under the cap, but the roster he has assembled is very exciting. He has rebuilt New York in record time (signing Panarin certainly bumped things up) and now it’s a matter of making the numbers work. With a deep prospect pool, New York can afford to surrender an asset if it means ditching a big veteran contract. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but there are options. For now, the Rangers can enjoy the fact they have Trouba under contract long-term. Let the fun begin.