Following a six-game first-round loss to the St. Louis Blues, the Winnipeg Jets will head into the summer facing a salary-cap crunch that will lead to some difficult roster decisions.
Much has been made about what both Patrik Laine and two-time 30-goal scorer Kyle Connor will earn on their first post-entry-level contracts. Both stars are up for new deals this off-season and their new contracts will kick in at the same time as Blake Wheeler’s five-year extension with an $8.25 million cap hit commences.
But Winnipeg’s cap maneuvering is about much more than just those two. Trade-deadline acquisition Kevin Hayes is scheduled to be a UFA, as is top-four defenceman Tyler Myers. Depth players such as Brandon Tanev, Par Lindholm and Ben Chiarot are also UFAs, while backup goalie Laurent Brossoit, who posted an excellent .925 save percentage in 25 games, is an RFA in need of a new deal.
But there’s also 25-year-old defenceman Jacob Trouba, who asked to be traded out of Winnipeg prior to the 2016-17 season and later rescinded it. Trouba was an RFA last summer and it was reported that his arbitration hearing was a “marathon” as the two sides were as much as $3 million apart, with Trouba seeking upwards of $7 million per season.
Generally speaking, most NHL arbitration cases get settled before an arbiter’s ruling, with two sides coming to agreement on a new contract. But Trouba went the distance and was awarded a one-year, $5.5-million deal. That contract followed a two-year bridge deal and now, heading into the summer of 2019, Trouba is a year away from being UFA-eligible.
Asked on Monday if he wanted to be a Winnipeg Jet for the long-term, Trouba was non-committal.
“Same answer as always,” he said to the familiar question. “We’ll figure it out once things get going in the summer, what’s best, and move forward from there. We gotta sit down, have a meeting and figure out what to do moving forward. I haven’t really thought about it. I tried to put it in the back of my mind as much as I could this year.”
Trouba was the only Jets defenceman to play all 82 regular-season games this season and set a new personal best with 50 points. He averaged 22:53 per game, which was a minute more than last season and the third-highest mark of his career. He was used in all situations and was the only Jet to be top-two on the team in even strength, power play and shorthanded ice time, while still serving as Winnipeg’s top shutdown option, starting 31.75 per cent of the time in the defensive zone, which was second on the team to Nathan Beaulieu.
When he headed into last summer facing many of the same questions about staying for the long haul in Winnipeg, Trouba said he was open to it.
“You get the sense there’s a little unfinished business, I guess, here with this team,” he told reporters. “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.”
Taken ninth overall in the 2012 draft, part of Trouba’s original reason for asking out was that he was being used on the left side despite being a right-shot and preferring to play on that side. That has since been rectified, as Trouba now regularly plays on his side of choice.
But his next contract does figure to be a big one. Assuming the Jets do not wish to enter another one-year deal and walk Trouba to unrestricted free agency, a long-term deal would buy some UFA years. He could potentially push to become the team’s highest-paid defenceman at $8 million or more, which, with everything else, would put a strain on Winnipeg’s cap ceiling.
The Jets head into the summer with a projected $23.872 million in cap room, with just four defenceman, one goalie and seven forwards signed.