After sitting out training camp and the Winnipeg Jets' first 13 games of the season amid a trade demand, restricted free-agent defenseman Jacob Trouba has re-signed with the club. Trouba inked a two-year bridge deal with an annual average of $3 million.
Trouba and agent Kurt Overhardt had been adamant that they would hold firm to the trade demand, citing the team's plans to have the right-handed Trouba play on the left side. His desire was to play on the right, but Winnipeg already has Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers, who is currently injured, on the right in their top four. This appeared to be the key sticking point in any negotiations.
By signing the two-year bridge deal at a lower annual average, Trouba has a contract that would be easier to move, in theory. That said, the Jets have maintained all along that they see Trouba as an important part of their future and had no desire to trade him. They played the waiting game, didn't make any moves and used the leverage every team gets with restricted free agents to hang on to a key asset. We'll see how long this lasts, though.
Overhardt has had two clients in similar situations that eventually ended up being traded after ending a contract dispute. Kyle Turris signed a very similar two-year deal with the Arizona Coyotes after sitting out the first six weeks of the 2011-12 season. He played in six games with the team before being traded to the Ottawa Senators in a deal that ended up working out far better for the Sens.
A similar situation played out between Ryan Johansen and the Columbus Blue Jackets ahead of the 2014-15 season. He ended a contract stalemate by signing a three-year, $12 million deal. Despite the signed deal, things never really seemed to get settled between the two sides. Johansen played all of the 2014-15 season with the club and posted a career year, but he was traded to the Nashville Predators for Seth Jones midseason the following year.
Will the Jets and Trouba reach a similar end?
There's little doubt that Trouba is signing a deal well below market value and well below the expected terms for a player with his track record and potential. Just this summer, defensemen coming off of their entry-level contracts were awarded lucrative long-term deals. Among them: Seth Jones (six years, $32.4 million with the Columbus Blue Jackets), Rasmus Ristolainen (six years, $32.4 million with the Buffalo Sabres), Hampus Lindholm (six years, $31.5 million with the Anaheim Ducks) are among comparables. The latter two had some contentious negotiations to get to their deals, with Lindholm even missing games this season.
Like the others, Trouba has top-pairing potential, which is why the Jets weren't going to let him go very easily. He has 72 points in 211 NHL games, while averaging 22:34 of ice time per game. The former No. 9 overall pick was also part of Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey, which featured the top American and Canadian players aged 23 and under.
By signing Trouba to the bridge deal, the team still has the option of moving him. On a deal like this, it could entice some more intriguing offers for the Jets. However, even if they really don't want to move him, this contract buys them time.
Trouba was facing a deadline of having to sign by Dec. 1 or he would be ineligible to play the rest of the season, per the collective bargaining agreement. Neither side would have wanted that. Now the Jets can try to patch up the relationship with the player and vice versa, if that's what they ultimately want to do. Whether that happens or not will not change the fact that Trouba's name is going to be frequently brought up when it comes to trade rumors.
This is a situation that will have the entire league's attention as it moves into the next steps, whatever they may be.