Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS
Last night, the hockey world was stunned to hear that Winnipeg Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba’s contract situation had even more to it than what met the eye. What was believed to be yet another case of a restricted free agent being played in a game of chicken by his rightsholders turned out to be something a big bigger, as the 22-year-old defenceman had requested a trade months prior.
Here’s the official statement from his agent Kurt Overhardt:
“Our client, Jacob Trouba, will not be attending the Winnipeg Jets NHL training camp. Since May, we have been working with the Jets management in an effort to facilitate a trade of Jacob’s rights. Both parties continue to work on this matter.
There has been no negotiation regarding the terms of a contract between our client and the Jets over the course of the last several months. 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.
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.
Our client has nothing but respect for the people and City of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Jets, its fans, management and ownership – our desire to get him moved has everything to do with opportunity. We will continue to work with the Jets in good faith to achieve this end.”
In short, Trouba is a victim of circumstance. Thanks to the presences of Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers, he stands to either see a severe decrease of minutes, or a shift to his off-handed side. The consequences of off-handed play for defencemen have been talked about at length, including on this site, but it’s very rare to see a top-notch right-handed shot be the victim. Righties are rare, good righties are rarer, and a team having an abundance of them is practically a black swan event.
Now, it could be argued that Trouba is more deserving of an increased minute share than Myers, who generates a bit more on the scoresheet but doesn’t generate possession to the same degree. But that’s a decision that the team has made, has no plans of changing, and with three years remaining on his contract, is unlikely they’ll change in the near future.
Trouba further spoke with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman regarding the situation, and in doing so, noted that his issues have nothing to do with management, coaches, or the City of Winnipeg. He further noted that he doesn’t have much of a geographical preference for his new destination and is simply looking for a team that will give him minutes, and Friedman noted that in a similar situation, fellow Overhardt client Kyle Turris was quick to sign after finding a new home in Ottawa a few years prior.
So, we know where Trouba stands. But what does that have to do with the Leafs?
Well, it’s difficult to imagine that Toronto wouldn’t be an ideal situation for him from a playing perspective. I’m a bit more optimistic than most about the Leafs’ options on the right side; I think Nikita Zaitsev has proven himself to be capable in his KHL career, that Connor Carrick is probably at the over-ripened stage of his development, and that a healthy Frank Corrado is a good one. Certainly, Zaitsev’s World Cup performance has met the eye test for many and the latter two impressed late in the 2015/16 season.
But even with that in mind, it’s easy to be a bit skeptical that all three will fall into close-to-best case scenarios. After all, they have a combined total of 110 NHL games under their belts; hardly enough to make safe bets with. Trouba, on the other hand, is younger than both Zaitsev and Corrado, just weeks older than Carrick, and already has 211 games under his belt through three seasons. He’s had at least 65 games and 20 points in each of those years, and only in his rookie year did he post negative relative possession numbers (-0.91%). All signs point to the native of Rochester, Michigan being a genuinely good NHL defenceman, both now and in the future.
As such, it makes a lot of sense for the Leafs to be interested in him. The bigger question becomes whether they can pull off a trade, which is where this becomes much more complicated. The Jets, like the Leafs, are a team on the climbing stage of a rebuild, and might just be the only other team in the league with a prospect pool that keeps up to the one the blue and white currently possesses.
Perhaps what might interest the Jets more is some immediate help, and it’s not like the team can’t afford to take on some of it. General Fanager projects the Jets at $6.92 million in remaining cap space heading into the start of the season, with 18 forwards and 7 defencemen signed and considered. Most of those forwards will head to the American Hockey League or be placed on waivers, meaning that the actual amount of room that the team has is likely higher.
The fact that the Jets have so many forwards to play with makes a deal complicated, given that the Leafs are best suited to moving a bunch of them. Presently, they have so many useful but not game breaking attackers signed to contracts that line projects are leaving legitimate NHL prospects in the ECHL, leaving some people wondering if the team is preparing a trade similar to the Michael Grabner deal last September.
To make a deal like this work, you would likely have to start with a left-handed defenceman, a useful young forward, and some combination of prospects and picks. I’m not going to go all HFBoards on the situation, but I’d imagine Martin Marincin would be your starting point on left defence, someone of at least Brendan Leipsic’s pedigree (as far as age, potential upside, and pro-readiness) would be your forward, and the additional picks and prospects would have to be worked out from there. Again, exact proposals aren’t my strong point, and I imagine that the actual names would be more substantial. This is just a general idea of where I think a negotiation would go.
If a trade were to be done, the next step would be to get him signed. Some gossip has come about that Trouba wants upwards of $7 million, but that might be more to make it worth his while to stay on a team that isn’t set up for him to blossom. Morgan Rielly’s $5 million contract and Tyson Barrie’s $5.5 million deal are probably fairer comparables in this situation. Toronto presently has an overage of $694,000, but that’s with 14 forwards, 7 defencemen, no triggering of Nathan Horton’s LTIR, and the assumption of a loss in the Jared Cowen arbitration case. Swinging one more big deal is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
It’s just a matter of whether they think Trouba is the big deal they’re looking for. However, with his combination of age, pedigree, and ability to fill a perceived weakness, he just might be.