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The short-term picture is now clear: Jacob Trouba will earn $5.5 million next season after an arbitrator broke a contract stalemate Sunday between the Winnipeg Jets and their top-pairing defenceman.
But the future is cloudier than ever after the two parties were unable to agree on a long-term extension and needed outside help to settle their differences.
Spin it any way you want, but there’s no getting around the fact there appears to be a major divide here. Not to mention a rocky history that likely has only gotten more contentious. And sure, everyone has bought themselves some more time by kicking the problem down the road. But it isn’t going away, and this most recent development may simply be delaying the inevitable breakup.
After all, Trouba and his camp reportedly asked for $7 million in arbitration filings, while the Jets countered with just $4 million. No doubt this wide disparity was all part of the bargaining process, but neither side opted to blink as the standoff went to arbitration last Friday morning in Toronto.
And it was marathon hearing that began at 9 a.m. local time and didn’t wrap up until close to 2:30 p.m. One in which each side had a chance to present their case and argue why the other side was wrong. Not exactly morale-boosting stuff, which is why arbitration hearings are so rare and considered a last resort.
But even when it wrapped, there was still a window of opportunity. The arbitrator had up to 48 hours to render a decision. During that time, Trouba and the Jets could continue to talk in the hopes of arriving at a last-minute resolution.
But there was no deal to be made as the Sunday afternoon deadline loomed large. In the end, the arbitrator met the player and team at exactly the halfway point. Trouba is now tied with Tyler Myers as the second-highest paid defenceman on the team in terms of cap hit, behind veteran Dustin Byfuglien who makes a team-high $7.6 million.
“It’s been a long several weeks,” Trouba’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, told the Free Press Sunday evening. He declined any further comment.
Winnipeg has 48 hours now to accept the ruling (they will), or decline it and render Trouba an unrestricted free agent (they won’t).
In a way, this may actually help the Jets with their salary cap situation for next season. Had Trouba been signed to a long-term extension, there’s a good chance his annual cap hit would have come in higher than $5.5 million and brought the Jets even closer to the ceiling than they likely will be.
And Trouba, by not going beyond a one year deal, is betting on himself and the belief he will get an even bigger payoff down the road — but whether that’s in Winnipeg or another NHL city is the multi-million dollar question.
He will once again be a restricted free agent next summer, meaning this whole process could repeat itself again. However, the Jets would only control his services for one more season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020.
As a result, Sunday’s decision will certainly accelerate talks of a potential trade, given that the team likely won’t want to risk losing the talented blue-liner for nothing.
There’s no urgency to do it immediately, especially since Trouba remains a key part of a team that went to the Western Conference final last year and is hoping to make another big run this coming season. But the closer Trouba gets to UFA status and getting to sign wherever he choose, the less value he has to the Jets and the less they’d be likely to get in return.
Jan. 1, 2019 is the earliest date the two sides could strike a new deal between them under terms of the salary arbitration process.
Trouba, 24, was coming off a two-year bridge deal with an annual cap hit of $3 million. That was signed during the 2017-16 season in which the Michigan product demanded a trade, sat out training camp and missed the first 15 regular-season games.
At the time, the main issue was his desire to log top minutes on the right side of the ice, where he was stuck on the depth chart behind Byfuglien and Myers. That’s no longer a concern, as Trouba has developed into that exact role, even while his offensive numbers likely hold him back from an even bigger payday.
Trouba was selected ninth-overall by the Jets in the 2012 NHL draft. He has 34 goals and 95 assists in 326 regular-season games. Last season, Trouba had three goals and 21 assists in 55 games while also battling a concussion and ankle injury. He also had a pair of goals and three points in 17 playoff contests.
Winnipeg entered this off-season with a slew of restricted free agents, including five who filed for salary arbitration. They locked up goalie Connor Hellebuyck (six years, $37-million) and centre Adam Lowry (three years, $8.75 million) prior to their hearings but couldn’t do the same with Trouba.
“Forward Brandon Tanev was set to have his arbitration hearing on Wednesday, but inked a one-year, $1.15 million contract Sunday evening.
Playing his third pro season since being signed as an undrafted free agent out of college, Tanev set career highs last year with 8 goals and 10 assists in 61 games. The 26-year-old energy winger was rewarded with a healthy raise, coming off a $700,000 deal that expired this summer. “
Trouba’s first-pairing partner, Josh Morrissey, is also a restricted free agent and needs a new deal. So does defenceman Tucker Poolman, along with a handful of depth players including forwards Nic Petan, JC Lipon, Nic Kerdiles and goalie Eric Comrie. None of these players have arbitration rights.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.