One of the biggest internal struggles this summer finally reached a head this weekend, when Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba formally requested a trade due to the two sides still not being close on a contract extension.
Trouba’s formal request has obviously drawn a lot of league attention. For starters he’s just 22-years-old, but his talent and ability goes beyond that. It’s not just that he’s 22, but he’s 22 and is already a top defenseman in the NHL.
The Jets want a huge haul for him, understandably so.
McKenzie: "The Jets seem to be looking for a high-end 1-for-1 deal."— Platinum Seat Ghosts (@3rdPeriodSuits) September 26, 2016
Only here’s the problem: In a vacuum the Jets could easily have asked for pretty much anything in return and have been reasonable. This isn’t a vacuum though, and two enormous things keep the Jets from having as much leverage as they want.
The first is that Trouba is unsigned, and whatever team trades for him has to sign him. Actually negotiating the deal shouldn’t be hard, since Trouba’s agent is apparently reaching out to interested parties to let them know where his client stands with money, but fitting him under the cap at this stage in the season can be a bit of an issue.
According to General Fanager only 12 teams in the NHL have over $5-million in cap space as of this writing. Now, those figures are a little off due to teams being loaded for the preseason -- for example, Adam Clendening is on the Rangers’ cap, but won’t be one the year starts — but they’re close enough to use as a barometer.
So that alone really pulls from the pile of interested parties, because some teams simply can’t make up that much space over the course of a week. And if they could, the Jets don’t want to take salary back for removing a top pairing defenseman from their roster.
However, what type of team is going to trade a comparable defenseman who is already under contract for someone who they have to sign? The Jets are more likely going to get a “sum of its parts” package from teams and try to sift through them. (We’ll get to this in a minute.)
And second: this situation should bring back memories of the Jonathan Drouin mess last year. The difference there, however, was Drouin was signed by Tampa Bay, had yet to make a big name for himself in the NHL and was hurting himself as much as Tampa by sitting out. The Lightning could be patient, knowing that eventually Drouin had to blink or he would risk not playing half a year of hockey and tarnishing his name. Oh, and he had to do all this knowing the Lightning still had his rights and could, you know, do it all over again next year. He had no leverage outside of his own stubbornness — which he did use to its full extent.
Trouba has no such risk. His three years in the NHL are plenty of evidence that he is who everyone thinks he is. Which is another plus for him. Drouin was sitting out because he wasn’t playing; so him sitting out didn’t really hurt Tampa Bay at all because, well, he wasn’t playing before either.
Trouba is an enormous part of Winnipeg’s game plan. For him to sit out and for the Jets to have nothing coming back hurts them a lot more than it hurts him.
Also, the Jets handled this about as badly as they could have. In the event they knew this was possible, they should have started taking offers on Trouba in July when his value was at its highest. Or, at the very least:
@BlueshirtBanter Uh, shouldn't have Winnipeg been all over Chiarelli's phone this summer?— Patrick Cunningham (@cunninghamp220) September 26, 2016
I took a look at what the Rangers could offer and have run through two different types of packages Jeff Gorton can dangle in front of Winnipeg.
Deal 1: J.T. Miller, Dylan McIlrath and Ryan Graves
This deal gives the Jets a budding 20-goal scorer, under contract for two more years at a great cap hit and a guy who I think could be a 30-30 player as soon as this year (if given more power play time and a consistent top-six role). McIlrath is a far more solid defenseman than we thought he’d be when the Rangers drafted him, and was actually one of the most consistent defenseman last year ... when Alain Vigneault actually let him play.
As for Graves, he’s the Rangers top defensive prospect (I’m not counting Brady Skjei as a prospect anymore) and arguably the team’s top prospect overall (I’m not counting Pavel Buchnevich here, either).
When I floated this idea on Twitter I got a few different responses. Rangers fans didn’t want to give up Miller (neither do I, but you have to give to get), Jets fans who called Miller “garbage” or “a spare part” (I have no joke for this) or logical Jets fans who want to see the main piece of the deal be a defenseman to “replace” Trouba.
This deal also works monetarily. Trading Miller and McIlrath gives the Rangers nearly $5-million in cap space, and then sending down Tanner Glass makes up another $900K.
As for the other deal.
Deal 2: Brady Skjei, Ryan Gropp, Sergey Zborovsky
This deal gives the Jets their Trouba replacement, although I’m not saying replacement as in Skjei will be just as good, I more mean a defenseman who can step in next year. McIlrath would be able to as well, but Skjei is unquestionably the better defender. Skjei doesn’t have a slew of professional experience, but his performance in the playoffs last year -- against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins no less -- should be enough proof that he’s going to be a very good defenseman this year.
Because of the age and quality of Skjei, this deal has less NHL components to it. Gropp had a rough Traverse City, but he’s still one of the Rangers top prospects (review Adam’s Top 10 list here if you need a reminder) and Zborovsky is a huge project, but did take a major step forward in the WHL last year.
This deal doesn’t work at all in terms of the dollars. The Rangers would have to do a lot of shedding (Glass and Josh Jooris would save roughly $1.5-million) but they could get it done if they had to.
Neither deal is probably what Winnipeg wants, but they’re also not “here’s my garbage for your best player.” Both of the offers make me uncomfortable (I’m actually more uncomfortable with losing Miller and Graves than Skjei and Gropp) and they do give the Jets young, quality players who can step in next year.
That said, I’m not so sure the Jets need more forwards — they’re pretty loaded up front — but I do think getting Miller and a defenseman who can step in right away and be successful might be a trump card on that deal. Especially since you’re also getting the Rangers top defensive prospect.
Keep in mind that both deals should make you uncomfortable. Trouba and Ryan McDonagh would be the Rangers top pairing for years to come. In the event the Jets like the first offer, Trouba, Skjei, Kevin Klein and McDonagh make an actual top-four that can really propel the Rangers forward. He’s a guy worth gunning for, but he’s not a guy worth unloading your core for -- especially when he wants out.
Dave, from Blue Seat Blogs, proposed the question of whether or not you would trade both Skjei and Miller for Trouba. I’d have to think long and hard about that, and I’ve flip flopped on whether or not I would or wouldn’t.
Honestly, with what little leverage Winnipeg has right now, I would not make the deal. The Jets can hope another team is going to decimate their core for an unsigned Trouba, but more than likely that’s not going to happen. Remember, teams didn’t fall over themselves offering a king’s ransom for Drouin, either.
Or maybe the Jets hold out and get a better offer. Fantastic, the Rangers don’t have the luxury to decimate their core for Trouba. They’re too fragile on the back as is to significantly weaken their forwards to fix a problem they should have fixed a long time ago. If that’s the case, let someone else overpay and get Kevin Shattenkirk for free next year. The Rangers don’t need to rush this.
Also, you never know what deals are out there to be had. Because, well ...
If you want Taylor Hall, be prepared to part with Ryan McDonagh, JT Miller, and Buch. https://t.co/BrvrfEn8jF— Patrick Cunningham (@cunninghamp220) September 26, 2016
Thoughts on this, guys?