Time is of the essence for defenseman Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets.
The 22-year-old restricted free agent blueliner asked for a trade from the team, citing a want for top-four minutes, but behind fellow right-hand shots Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers on the Jets’ depth chart. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has shown himself patient when in these situations and will wait for the right deal, however, if Trouba doesn't suit up before Dec. 1, otherwise he becomes ineligible to play in the 2016-17 season.
What comes next for Trouba, Cheveldayoff and the Jets? SI’s NHL crew give their take on the situation.
When in doubt, it’s never a bad bet to assume inaction from Cheveldayoff, but in Trouba’s case the Jets GM has every reason to be very, very picky when fielding calls. Big-bodied, hard-driving, high-ceiling defensemen in their early 20s just don’t get moved in the first two months of the season. It seems unlikely the Jets would accept a player-for-player trade that didn’t make a giant splash (to take one example: it’s hard to picture the Jets signing off on a one-for-one deal with Detroit for any player that isn’t Dylan Larkin), and just as unlikely that another suitor would shake up their roster by building a package with multiple established players just a few weeks into the campaign.
The next time Trouba plays, it will be in a Jets sweater. I’ll give it until the week of (American) Thanksgiving, right up next to the Dec. 1 deadline for restricted free agents to re-sign or risk missing the whole year, for the sides to mend fences one way or another. Both player and team understand manning a certain side of the ice isn’t a disagreement worth killing an entire season over.
Trouba wants Rasmus Ristolainen money: six years, $32.4 million. Both are top-four, right-handed defenseman. Both are big bodies who can shoot.
At this point, however, Trouba is the better player. Trouba’s Corsi For percentage last season was 51.3%, Ristolainen was 36.7. And yes, Ristolainen played on a bad Buffalo team.But his Corsi rel was –8.8. Trouba’s was -.3.
Winnipeg has big money locked up in three defenseman—Dustin Byfuglien ($7.6 million cap hit), Tobias Enstrom ($5.75 million), and Tyler Myers ($5.5 million). They will obviously have to pay Patrik Laine big money soon.But there is room, some $9 million in cap space left over, so $5.4 million is not unreasonable for a 22-year-old emerging star. Enstrom’s deal is up in 2018, giving the Jets plenty of time to find room to sign Laine to a long-term deal in 2020.
If Winnipeg trades him, the left-handed top-four defenseman asking price is worth waiting for as the team already has plenty of speed and skill on the front lines.
At 22, Trouba has a whole lotta potential, but it's hard to put a price tag on potential, thanks to the CBA. Every day he sits out, he's costing himself money and I have to think that Cheveldayoff’s propensity to sit back and wait for the right deal—top-four left-handed blueliners don't grow on trees—could force Trouba to accept a short-term deal that's entirely tradable. That fixes one half of the issue, and could open the door to solving the other.
Trouba will be back in a Jets jersey before December hits, but he'll be wearing something different by the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
I think the Jets find a way to keep him around, assuming the two sides can come to terms on a new contract soon. Once there's bad blood, he's as good as gone. But if the Jets and Trouba are willing to put this behind them afterward, I think that's a relationship that both can benefit from. At the end of the day, Winnipeg's defense is better with him than without. There is the matter of the expansion draft, and Cheveldayoff will have to figure out a way to keep Trouba on his untouchable list, but that might be a worthwhile exercise.
Cheveldayoff's five-year stint with the Jets has not exactly been marked by blockbuster deals. Up until the February 2015 deal that shipped Evander Kane out of Winnipeg, Cheveldayoff didn't make a single trade that impacted his club's long-term future. And the two larger trades he has made, including the Kane deal and the Andrew Ladd deal at last season's trade deadline were both done out of necessity, not out of a desire to improve via trade.
So, in short, trading Trouba is not something Cheveldayoff wants to do but something he has to. And if history has taught us anything, he'll get more than fair value. Necessity deals are in Cheveldayoff's wheelhouse. But because of his expertise in the field, don't expect a deal to come anytime soon. Teams around the league are allowing themselves a few weeks to see what they make of the rosters they have. Who wouldn't love a 22-year old right shot defenseman who has shown tremendous signs of improvement in his ability to drive his team's play in his young career? Trouba knows his value, and that's why he's holding out. He will eventually have to get paid handsomely and no team is likely ready to make a play for him until they are in a greater position of need. And Cheveldayoff clearly has no problem waiting either. I predict he'll get moved this season but don't be surprised if it takes until the trade deadline. Even then, he might not perform at his capabilities after so much time off. When he's dealt, it'll be a long-term play for the buyer.