Why Trouba's Deal Won't Stop Trade Speculation

Phil Kocher
@ me

Phil Kocher

Managing Editor at Cleared for Contact
I believe in Nate Silver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, and hockey analytics.
Blogging between diaper changes.
Phil Kocher
@ me

Trouba-watch is officially over. For now.

Earlier yesterday afternoon the Winnipeg Jets announced they had reached a two-year contract agreement worth $6M ($3M AAV) to end a months-long stalemate with the 22-year old rearguard.

Back in September, on behalf of Trouba, his agent, KO Sports CEO and founder Kurt Overhardt formally requested a trade from the organization via a statement declaring “the situation is not about money; it is solely about our client having the opportunity to realize his potential as a right shot NHL defenseman.” The declaration came as a shock to the hockey world as Overhardt continued, citing “to the Jets credit, the club has two outstanding right shot veteran defensemen and our client simply wants the opportunity to have a greater role. As a consequence of the Jets depth on the right side, we believe it is in both parties’ best interest to facilitate a mutually advantageous trade.”

That trade never formulated despite a number of potential suitors, including the Rangers, who Bob McKenzie reported “would be right at the front of the line of any team that would be having interest in Jacob Trouba”. Partly because, as was also reported, the Jets never received a serious enough offer to consider it, but also largely because they could ill afford to do so in the first place. Not only were the Jets likely to be losing the best player in any trade of Trouba, but the message that dealing a player who decided to sit out after making his formal trade request public would have been a tough one for Kevin Cheveldrayoff to deliver. The only rights Trouba held under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was the right to withhold his services. He lacked arbitration rights or the threat of Unrestricted Free Agency. Had the Jets bent on this the organization would likely have appeared powerless to the rest of the league’s general managers. For a market that already faces an uphill battle enticing UFA players to sign with them imagine the struggle they would endure with their own RFAs going forward had this precedent been set. It’s not difficult to see why it was important for the Jets to come out of this looking strong.

Trouba was playing a dangerous game of chicken with the Jets. His biggest hurdle was staring down a looming December 1st deadline in which, according to the CBA, he’d have to sign a contract with the Jets (or with a team who acquired his rights) or forfeit playing in the NHL for the rest of this season. Despite the apparent strength of his desire to leave Winnipeg, signing with the Jets ultimately made the most sense given how little leverage he had in the process. Winnipeg, after all, held the ultimate trump card here with that deadline — a deadline that could have shelved him for the remaining NHL calendar year had both sides held their ground as it passed.

In spite of all of this, Trouba and the Jets still haven’t done quite enough to completely quell the rumors of his departure. If anything, they’ve actually exacerbated them given the short-term nature of his contract and how much more valuable he likely now appears to the list of teams reportedly interested in acquiring him. He’s now a contracted commodity and signed to a very reasonable deal. One of the biggest concerns for interested teams this summer were the reports that Trouba was seeking a long-term deal worth around $5.5M per season. Few clubs, especially those most interested in him like New York, Boston, and Detroit, could afford to sign him to such a deal without moving out significant salary in exchange or in ancillary trades to clear enough cap room to accommodate his asking price. At $3M per season for the next two years, however, those same teams would have far less trouble making room to fit his new pact. Furthermore, if the Jets were to trade him at some point this season, not only would the acquiring team benefit from seeing him in NHL action with their club prior to offering him a big-money deal, but they would be eligible to re-sign him to an extension as soon as July 1st, 2017 — an aspect of this situation that Chris Johnston of Sportsnet astutely pointed out:

This, in effect, would give any team dealing for him a little more breathing room before committing to a long-term deal with a player who has the makings of a first-pairing defenseman, but who has yet to comfortably prove he is one. That’s especially valuable moving forward in any potential trade negotiations.

I have little doubt that as this season develops the Rangers will continue to monitor the situation with Trouba and the Jets. While trade talks may subside for the time being as Trouba’s focus shifts to mending fences in the Jets’ dressing room and getting back to business on the ice, the trade deadline will be of particular interest given the hot start the Rangers are off to this season with their league-leading team scoring. If they expect to make a serious run in the postseason, addressing the need for a puck-moving right-handed right side defenseman should be at the top of their mind and according to Bob McKenzie, it already is.

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