With free agency now behind them, the Winnipeg Jets should turn their attention to one of their best in-house players: Jacob Trouba.
Trouba represents the second head of Winnipeg’s two-headed monster from their first cluster of promising prospects. Both were taken at key positions in order to solidify the Jets there for years to come.
The first head, Mark Scheifele, signed a massive extension last offseason that ensured his position with the team at center for the next eight years. He’s done nothing but vindicate the Jets since they went off the board to take him seventh overall in 2011.
Trouba, taken ninth overall a year later to shore up the defense, looked like he, too, would vindicate the Jets in a hurry after strong post-draft and rookie seasons. He faltered offensively after that, but came back strong last year and had his best offensive season.
Now it’s his turn to get paid.
Trouba’s advanced metrics have been strong for most of his young NHL career, especially when you consider how much of that career he’s spent paired with Mark Stuart. Last year his offense caught up, and he had a career season with eight goals and 33 points in just 60 games.
If you’re wondering, that puts him on pace for 11 goals and 45 points over an 82-game season. Based on his offense alone, that would put him in the same category as Drew Doughty and Rasmus Ristolainen, among others.
Trouba Proves a Point
Last year, during his contract holdout, the one thing that kept popping up was Trouba’s usage. He didn’t want to play on the left side and he certainly didn’t want to play on the bottom pair. Last season he earned what he wanted.
Trouba’s offense took a major step forward and seems to be only trending up. His puck moving and advanced stats have always been impressive, and his physical game, a hallmark of his style since his draft year, wasn’t in any way diminished. He was, in short, an all-around defender.
Trouba’s incredible rise last season means he is going to get paid. A lot. Make your minds up to it, Jets fans, because he’s going to hit pay dirt one way or another, and no way do the Jets want to see that be with another team.
Now or Never?
If Trouba has a season next year to rival the one he had this year, he’s going to be that much more expensive for the Jets. Next offseason is already going to be expensive and insanely busy as they need to re-sign Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Adam Lowry, and Joel Armia, all of whom will be due for raises. That’s without even mentioning Bryan Little.
The Jets will have no choice but to re-sign Trouba, as not to do so would be disastrous for an organization that prides itself on its draft-and-develop approach. But next offseason would be the wrong time. Trouba will have more leverage, and the Jets will have multiple other crucial contracts to hash out.
The Jets were smart last year, locking up Scheifele long-term before they had to. Can you imagine what he would cost them now if they had to re-sign him after last season?
As with Scheifele, they would be wise to sign Trouba sooner than later because, also as with Scheifele, his offense is improving.
With the salary cap looming a little closer to their heads now after their pricey but necessary UFA signings, they need to start being fiscally smart as well as hockey-smart. Re-signing Trouba right now would be both.
There’s a different sense of expectation around the Jets right now. Their foray into the UFA market, which was the largest the team has undertaken since returning to Winnipeg, shows management is feeling that shift in expectations too. Playoffs are now not a fantasy for the Jets, but an anticipated goal. To miss would be a disappointment.
If the Jets want to see another Winnipeg Whiteout this year and for years afterward, they need to be at their best, and you can’t be at your best without your best defenseman. The heightened expectations around the Jets are at least partially because of Trouba.
Trouba’s play with Morrissey last year proved two things: one, the Jets’ draft-and-develop strategy is working (albeit slowly). Two, he is a top-flight defenseman when given the chance to be one. Ask the Nashville Predators, who are experts on the subject, what it costs to sign a top-flight defenseman.
As it is, Trouba is going to be expensive. Expect his extension to be equal to or greater than that of Scheifele in dollar value and roughly the same term. Even that may be optimistic.
But wait a year, and not only does that put some serious strain on the Jets’ time, it puts a bigger strain on their cap space as well. And two years from now that cap space is going to get very valuable when a certain Finnish winger is owed a new contract.
Sooner or later Trouba will get paid. Sooner is better in every way.
Sooner is easier. Sooner is cheaper. And sooner is a show of faith in a defenseman who did everything in his power last season to earn that faith.