It is likely right at the very top of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s enormous off-season to-do list; after all, how the Jacob Trouba situation gets resolved will likely impact several other big decisions that will have to be made this summer.
And while Trouba recently stated his goal is to sign a long-term contract and remain a part of the Winnipeg Jets for years to come, his agent tells the Free Press that’s easier said than done.
“I’m sure you’ve put pen to paper,” Kurt Overhardt said Tuesday from Denver. “Winnipeg’s going to have to make some hard decisions in the next couple years, as well. But that’s part of being successful.”
Translation: his client is going to want his perceived share of the pie. As are many of the other hungry young stars on the squad. And there simply may not be enough to feed everyone.
Overhardt declined to give any specifics about how contract negotiations are going, saying he doesn’t want any drama to play out publicly.
“Jacob is sincere in everything that he says and I respect that. I’ve just got to do my job and work on behalf of my client and work with the club just to create a positive situation hopefully for both sides,” the veteran contract negotiator said.
Overhardt said there are no lingering hard feelings for him or Trouba towards the organization following his 2016 holdout and trade demand. Trouba, then just 22, skipped training camp and ultimately did not reach a deal until early November. He signed a two-year, $6-million bridge contract that is now on the verge of expiring. He’s in line for a big raise.
“I know there are a lot of skeptics, which is fine. But I think Jacob’s body of work the last 24 months has pretty much spoken for itself,” Overhardt said.
“I think Jacob, I think it shows a lot of integrity, a lot of players would just sit back and say ‘Well, I’ll just bide my time.’ It wasn’t about him personally, it was about helping the team succeed. Like I said, over the last 24 months he’s played his part in that.”
At the time, Trouba and Overhardt insisted the dispute was all about a logjam on the right side of the blue line. Trouba was essentially behind fellow righties Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers and being asked to play on the left side, which he felt wasn’t the proper fit. Since then, he’s blossomed into a top-pairing role on the right side with Josh Morrissey, forming an effective shutdown unit that was a big part of the Jets’ success this season.
“(The holdout is) all behind everyone now. We have a very positive relationship with Kevin, we have a very positive relationship with the ownership group as well,” Overhardt said.
“Part of my job is to guide my clients and see what their values are and what they want to do. That’s important stuff to do. I think if we had to do it all over again we would do the same thing.”
The NHL salary cap is expected to be in the $78-million to $82-million range next season. As of this moment, Winnipeg has 14 players under contract totalling just over $54 million.
Including Trouba, the Jets have nine roster regulars who are restricted free agents that must be re-signed during the summer. The others are Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev, Joel Armia, Joe Morrow, Marko Dano and Tucker Poolman. Nic Petan, Eric Comrie and a handful of other prospects who finished the season with the Manitoba Moose are also RFAs.
Then there’s also the matter of captain Blake Wheeler entering the final season on his current deal and whether Cheveldayoff will attempt to extend him now. Star sniper Patrik Laine, rookie scoring sensation Kyle Connor and two-way forward Andrew Copp are also one year away from being RFAs and will need new contracts that will have to be factored in.
And where, if at all, could pending unrestricted free agent Paul Stastny fit in to the equation?
Of the nine pending RFAs, all but Morrissey have arbitration rights. That means they can elect to have their cases for raises heard by an independent third-party as long as they file by July 5, if new deals haven’t been struck by then.
Hearings would then be set beginning July 20. If they take this route, the Jets would be able to choose whether a one- or two-year binding award would follow.
Conversely, the Jets could elect arbitration with only two of the players — Trouba and Hellebuyck, and only if those players don’t elect to ask for arbitration first. If the Jets go down that path then such a move would allow the player to then select either a one- or two-year contract.
Cheveldayoff has already hinted that he expects several players to elect for arbitration once the deadline passes, telling media at his year-end availability “Don’t write articles that the sky is falling if we have five or six guys filing for arbitration. We’ve been through that process. It’s about getting contracts in place.”
If they can’t get Trouba locked up long term and arbitration is required, he would become an unrestricted free agent by 2020. Rather than risk losing a key asset for nothing, that’s likely where the Jets would seek out a potential trade partner.
Despite being just 24, Trouba has already played five full seasons in the NHL. His career high of 10 goals was set in his rookie season, while he put up personal bests in assists (25) and points (33) in 2016-17.
Trouba had three goals and 21 assists in 55 games this season for the 52-20-10 Jets. He suffered an ankle sprain that sidelined him for more than a month. He added two goals and an assist in 17 playoff games as Winnipeg reached the Western Conference final for the first time in franchise history.
“You get the sense there’s a little unfinished business, I guess, here with this team. We all have such good relationships on this team, it’s fun to be part of. It’s a special team. You want to play for a contender, and that’s what we have here,” Trouba said when the Jets met with the media a couple of days after the Vegas Golden Knights eliminated them from the playoffs.
“The season just ended. But I’m sure in the next week or two, or couple of days, I’ll meet with my agent and we’ll go over stuff and see where it goes from there and talk to (Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff). I’m sure something will get worked out.”
Trouba was asked if there was a priority in his camp to get the contract situation resolved soon.
“Yeah, been down that road once,” he said. “The quicker the better.”
Cheveldayoff also spoke that day, saying Trouba is a vital part of the team’s core while also admitting the business side of running a hockey club poses its own unique challenges.
“When they have a group they feel comfortable with and a group of people they’ve grown with, they want to be a part of it,” said Cheveldayoff. “So we’ll do our best, sharpen our pencils and do as good a work as we can on the business side of it to make sure everybody feels like they’re a part of it on the fairness of a contract and also build within the constraints.”
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