Of the 14 remaining restricted free agents this offseason, Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba is one of the more notable ones. He is undoubtedly among the most talented players left to sign but what makes his case a bit more intriguing are the amount of questions that need to be answered.
After his rookie season in 2013-14, Trouba was looking like a cornerstone top pairing blueliner of the future. While his numbers dropped a little bit the following year, the projections of him never really changed that much; sophomore jinxes happen to many players and it was expected that he would take a big step forward last season.
Unfortunately for Trouba and the Jets, that didn’t happen in 2015-16. His numbers once again took a dip – despite playing in 16 more games than he had in each of his first two years – while his ice time was cut by 1:15 per game to 22:04. He finished the season with six goals and 15 assists in 81 contests. While there’s no disputing that he’s still a very important player for Winnipeg, there are some questions about what his overall ceiling may be now.
Is he a top pairing rearguard in the near future? If the Jets think so, then it stands to reason that they should be amenable to working out a long-term deal. If GM Kevin Cheveldayoff isn’t set on that though, then a shorter-termed bridge deal is likely their preference. We pegged Trouba for a two year, $8MM contract if they wind up going the bridge route.
Earlier this offseason, a report surfaced that the two sides are apart on term, money, and even usage so suffice it to say, there’s a lot more at play than simply negotiating a salary for this coming year and beyond. It also implies that only one side – likely Trouba’s – is open to a long-term pact at this point.
From a salary cap perspective, the Jets have the flexibility to go either short-term or long-term with the 22 year old. They have slightly more than $9.3MM in cap space according to Cap Friendly with only Trouba still to re-sign. However, Winnipeg hasn’t spent right up to the cap with regularity every year so there may be budgetary restrictions at play as well.
The fact that there is a debate on his ideal usage is worth noting. Winnipeg is deep on the back end, particularly on the right side where Trouba plays. Dustin Byfuglien (who begins a new five year deal with a $7.6MM cap hit in 2016-17) and Tyler Myers (who was the centerpiece of the Evander Kane-to-Buffalo trade in 2015) are the others on that side. In Myers’ case, he signed a long-term contract coming off his entry-level deal with the Sabres and hasn’t lived up to his $5.5MM cap hit which would only give Cheveldayoff pause as another question surfaces: Do they want to risk having two young blueliners on potentially bloated long-term deals if Trouba’s step back last season wasn’t just a one-time thing?
[Related: Jets’ Depth Chart]
With the upcoming World Cup of Hockey still a couple of weeks away and training camps starting slightly after that, there’s still no imminent rush to lock down a new contract. But there are a lot of questions still to answer when it comes to Trouba’s contract which means that a new deal may yet still take a little while to get done.