Truth? You want the truth? Trouba wants to defend someone else’s blue line

Jacob Trouba is the Winnipeg Jets’ solution on the ice and the Winnipeg Jets’ problem off it.

It’s been that way for a while now. And it’s most likely going to remain that way for a while still.

Trouba made history Friday morning in Toronto when he became the first player in franchise history to drag his employer to a salary arbitration hearing.

Many before him have threatened to do so — five of his teammates filed for arbitration this year alone. But no one had ever taken a seat opposite the club’s management team at a hearing.

How rare is what’s happened on Friday? Consider: in 2016 and 2017, a combined total of 55 NHL players filed for arbitration; 54 of them settled before their scheduled hearings.

And so the mere fact the Jets and Trouba found themselves in that room Friday is a big problem.

Because whatever happens now — whether the two parties settle this weekend and put on a happy face or they wait 48 hours and let the arbitrator do it for them — the damage has already been done.

What was already a history of bad blood between Trouba and the Jets just got worse the moment the hearing started. Because no one wins in arbitration, no matter what the final ruling is.

Trouba’s Friday morning was spent listening to management describing all his shortcomings as the team made a spirited case for why they think he’s the worst defenceman in the NHL.

Jets management spent the morning listening to Trouba’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, describe how hard done by Trouba is and how the Jets are the cheapest and most unreasonable franchise in the NHL for dragging this fine young man through the mud.

But hey, nothing personal, right?

Now, we live in a world in which all things are possible and so I suppose, as I write this Friday afternoon, that those infinite possibilities would have to include the unlikely scenario in which the Jets and Trouba get back to the bargaining table and hammer out a long-term contract in advance of the arbitrator’s ruling.

The rules under the collective bargaining agreement allow for that possibility and if it happens, you can expect Trouba and Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to look straight into the camera and pledge to a hastily called news conference to live happily ever after for the duration of a five- or six- or seven- or eight-year deal.

A shot by Winnipeg Jets' Jacob Trouba (8) beats Minnesota Wild's goaltender Devan Dubnyk (40) during first action in game 5 of their playoff series, Friday, April 20, 2018.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

A shot by Winnipeg Jets’ Jacob Trouba (8) beats Minnesota Wild’s goaltender Devan Dubnyk (40) during first action in game 5 of their playoff series, Friday, April 20, 2018.

And maybe they will, but I personally doubt the happily ever after part. They will say the right things, but make no mistake, this episode is going to leave a lasting scar.

It’s worth remembering Evander Kane signed a long-term deal with the Jets, too — and then spent every year thereafter demanding to be traded. We all know how that turned out.

Not personal? It’s all personal between Trouba and the Jets, and it has been since he sat out the first 15 games of the 2016-17 season to back his demand for a trade.

At that time, Overhardt told anyone who would listen that Trouba had nothing against the Jets and certainly had nothing against Winnipeg — ‘Heavens no! He loves Winnipeg! Especially the airport!’

It was just, Overhardt insisted with a straight face at the time, that Trouba wanted to play on the right side, not the left, where he’d mostly been playing for the Jets until that time.

That was a laughable smokescreen back then and it’s even more laughable now. Because since Trouba returned from that ill-advised standoff, he has played almost nothing but the right side.

So what is it this time? He wants to play goalie?

Now, the current dispute is being framed as one about money — the Jets have reportedly tabled a laughably low, one-year offer of $4 million to the arbitrator, while Trouba has tabled a laughably high, one-year offer of $7 million.

And maybe that is all it’s about — money. If that’s the case, that would be the best possible news for Jets fans, because that’s a problem that can and will be solved, sooner or later.

But you have to wonder after a while if Trouba simply doesn’t want to play in Winnipeg at all.

Because let’s face it, it’s always something with this guy. And, really, it’s only with this guy that it’s always something.

Dustin Byfuglien? Delighted to sign a five-year, $38-million extension with the Jets.

Mark Scheifele? He was only too happy to sign an eight-year, $49-million contract extension.

Nikolaj Ehlers? “Why yes, I would like to sign a seven-year, $42-million extension.”

Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) shakes hands with Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros (74), of Finland, after Game 7 of an NHL hockey second-round playoff series Thursday, May 10, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. The Jets won 5-1, and moved on to the conference final.

MARK HUMPHREY / AP

Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) shakes hands with Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros (74), of Finland, after Game 7 of an NHL hockey second-round playoff series Thursday, May 10, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. The Jets won 5-1, and moved on to the conference final.

Connor Hellebuyck? “Hell yeah, I’ll drop my arbitration hearing and sign instead for my number, $37 million over six years.”

On Thursday, Adam Lowry cancelled his arbitration hearing and signed for a very respectable $8.75 million over three years.

My point is, the Jets have demonstrated over and over again that they’re more than willing to pay big dollars and give long terms to the players they judge to be a long-term part of the team’s future.

This might be a small-market team, but the Jets have repeatedly paid big-city prices for the players they believe form the foundation of this franchise’s future.

Trouba clearly fits that description, by any measure you’d care to use. And so, I cannot imagine the Jets haven’t offered, over and over again these last couple of years, to make Trouba a similar long-term offer that would allow him to join the club’s other six-million dollar (plus) men.

So what gives? The only conclusion I can draw is that Trouba hopes it’s the Jets who will finally give him what he wanted in 2016 — out.

Which would be fine, really, if that’s what’s going on here. And if that is what’s going on here, the Jets should sign Trouba for another year to whatever contract an arbitrator deems reasonable and then trade him for what would be considerable return for a coveted top-pairing right-handed defenceman.

But if that is what’s going on, I just wish Trouba would get honest about it. It’d be a lot easier to take.

Because the fact is, a lot of people don’t want to live and work in Winnipeg, including a lot of lifelong Winnipeggers.

Heck, I’m one of them, for about six months every year. And then May rolls around and I feel a lot better about my deeply flawed hometown.

But as recently as May, Trouba went on and on in a post-season news conference about how much he loved it here and how much he wanted to stay here and how much he hoped, this time around, a deal could get done quickly.

So why hasn’t that happened? Well, if you accept that there is no good reason why the Jets wouldn’t have made Trouba the same kind of lavish, multi-year offer they’ve made to so many other top players in recent years, there are only two possibilities: the offer still isn’t lavish enough; or, more likely in my view, the problem this time around is the same as the problem last time around — Trouba doesn’t want to be here.

And if that’s the case, the clock is ticking for the Jets. Because two years from now, Trouba will become an unrestricted free agent. And if you think he’d stick around when he didn’t have to, after everything that’s gone on the last two years, you’re delusional.

Trouba is a solution for the Jets on the ice. That’s not up for debate.

But he’s a problem off it; one that only got bigger Friday.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press — 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets — long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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