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All signs may be pointing to an eventual, inevitable exit, but Winnipeg Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba isn’t ruling out a long-term future in Winnipeg despite being unable to strike such a deal this summer, requiring an arbitrator to settle a contract stalemate.
Trouba, 24, spoke publicly this past weekend for the first time since he was awarded a one-year, $5.5-million contract in early July. He was specifically asked whether a lengthy extension with the Jets is now unlikely given his rocky history with the club that drafted him ninth overall in 2012.
“No, after this year we’ll sit down and we’ll go over it again. And do the same thing we did, whatever, after every contract. Go back and kind of reassess things and see where you are and make the best decision,” Trouba told reporters Sunday at the Stars and Stripes Showdown in Michigan, a charity event for USA Hockey involving several NHL stars.
Connor Hellebuyck, Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp and Jack Roslovic were other Winnipeg players who participated. The game was held in honour of Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s former assistant executive director. He died unexpectedly last January at age 53.
There’s no question the arbitration process can be a messy one, putting up walls between a player and organization that may be impossible to ever break down. But if Trouba’s recent hearing created any such divide, he’s not offering any hints of that being case.
“It is what it is. I’m fine with it. I don’t know, it’s part of the process,” he said. “You have some idea with what other people tell you, and you’re kind of prepared, but you don’t really know until you go through it. But it was pretty much how I expected it to go, I guess.”
Trouba and his camp reportedly asked for $7 million in arbitration filings, while the Jets countered with just $4 million. The arbitrator split it right down the middle.
Trouba will again be a restricted free agent next summer. However, the Jets would control his services for only one more season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020. That means a potential trade could be on the horizon if he isn’t locked up long-term, as the Jets won’t want to risk losing him for nothing.
Don’t expect an immediate resolution, 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 chooses, the less value he has to the Jets and the less they’d be likely to get in return.
Trouba had previously declined interview requests following the arbitration award.
“We don’t think that there’s anything that needs to be said about the arbitration process. Jacob is just focusing on getting ready for the upcoming season to play his role to hopefully help his team win a Stanley Cup,” his agent, Kurt Overhardt, told the Free Press earlier this month.
Trouba reiterated the same thing Sunday, saying he and his Jets teammates feel like there is some unfinished business.
“The end of last year, it was fun, I guess, where we were but didn’t really end how we wanted to. But we’re excited and ready to get back going,” he said.
“We know there’s more. I think we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what went wrong in that last series that we played. We got over it, moved on and we know we have the ability to get back there. You think about it, you put a lot of time and energy into it. But it was good to get that far. We’re proud of where we got but we know there’s another step.”
Trouba has 34 goals and 95 assists in 326 regular-season games. Last season, he scored three goals and 21 assists in 55 games while also battling a concussion and ankle injury. He also had a pair of goals and an assist in 17 playoff contests.
Trouba 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 he 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 Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers. That’s no longer a concern, as Trouba has developed into the top role. His offensive numbers are likely holding him back from an even bigger payday.
Under terms of the salary arbitration process, Jan. 1 is the earliest date he and the Jets could strike a new deal.
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.