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Initial Thoughts on Jacob Trouba’s Contract Extension

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To no one’s surprise — or mostly no one’s since there are always those who are skeptical — the New York Rangers locked up Jacob Trouba to the tune of seven years and $56 million dollars ($8 million a year). And yes, I know at first blush that seems steep, and there were a number of individuals who showed some signs of sticker shock. That part was surprising to me, as it has been reported since the team acquired him that the starting price would be to the tune of $7.5 million.

While the deal came in at about $500,000 more than projected, and the Rangers down the road could be in cap trouble as their rookies need their post-ELC extensions, I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. But I don’t begrudge anyone for feeling differently.

For what it is worth, Dom Luszczyszyn’s model likes the deal, although it does assume Trouba being the No. 1 PP option on defense.

https://theathletic.com/1056028/2019/07/01/by-the-numbers-nhl-free-agency-projected-player-value-tracker/

I also think that as time goes on with the cap rising and more UFA deals being signed, those who feel it is a tad high will have a different opinion. With that said, why did the Rangers sign Trouba to this deal?

For starters:

  • He’s 25, was a year away from UFA status, and coming off a career year in which he tallied 50 points, which helped him from a bargaining standpoint
  • This deal buys out six of those years, and if he were a UFA on July 1, 2020, he would have commanded at least $8 million, if likely more
  • Of the seven defensemen in the NHL who will make $8 million or more next season, Trouba is the youngest. The other six include Erik Karlsson (29 | $11.5 million), Drew Doughty (29 | $11 million), P.K. Subban (30 | $9 million), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (27 | $8.25 million), John Carlson (29 | $8 million), and Brent Burns (34 | $8 million)

This is not to compare Trouba’s abilities to the others, but to simply say that if you are going to sign someone for seven years at a cap hit of $8 million; it makes sense to pick someone with age on their side.

The Rangers traded for Trouba without a contract, making this a unique situation. This was not a negotiation between a club and its own asset, but rather a team acquiring an RFA who was willing to pay a premium for his rights.

With this deal becoming official nearly three weeks after the Blueshirts inked the top UFA Artemi Panarin, there was a resurgence of the sentiment that the Rangers have hastily hit the fast forward button on their rebuild, and that conventional wisdom would have had them be a cellar dweller for another year given the depth of the 2020 draft. I don’t think there was an attitude for that, and you could see toward the end of the season how losing — more specifically how the team was losing — weighed on David Quinn. He expects the team to work hard and continually get better, and I think had the team not made the big moves they did, there would have been other ones that pushed the team out a position to draft in the top 10.

That aside, I think the Rangers took a look at all of their options and realized that something needed to be done with the defense, and that something couldn’t be waiting until some of their top defensive prospects joined the team.

One can also not discount that winning the lottery and lucking into Kaapo Kakko convinced the front office to alter its timeline — to include moves like trading for Trouba and signing Panarin — but there’s also the possibility the team looked forward and didn’t like the options that could have been available.

2019 NHL Draft - Round 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When John Davidson was introduced as the new team president, he referred to the state of the team as a build as opposed to a rebuild. It was clear that there were plans in place to help address the team’s need in the immediate future. Those moves being on top of additions made from within such as the signing of Vitali Kravtsov, Igor Shesterkin, and Yegor Rykov to entry-level deals.

Had the Rangers not traded for Trouba — or if they were unable to agree to terms on a long-term extension — I think the team would have looked to dip into the free agent pool on July 1, 2020. Of the defenders currently slated to be available, there’s a good chance each will get $7 million at a minimum with a few hitting the $8 million threshold, if not more.

These defenders include:

  • Alex Pietrangelo (30) | 41 points
  • Tyson Barrie (28) | 59 points
  • Torey Krug (29) | 53 points
  • Jared Spurgeon (30) | 43 points
  • Roman Josi (31) | 56 points

There’s others, but the common theme with this group revolves around being either over or pretty damn close to 30 years old. This is not to say that these players aren’t going to provide value in the next few years, or that they are going to turn into scrubs, but it is possible that when the team did the math it became clear that they weren’t going to be a fit for the team’s contention window.

While Trouba technically could have been available next summer, the most likely scenario is the one playing out in that the blueliner inked an extension with the team that acquired him from Winnipeg.

But hypotheticals are just that. The reality is New York acquired and then extended Trouba until he turns 32. By the time his deal is expiring — if all goes to plan — the rest of the defense group could feature current prospects such as Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist, Rykov, Matthew Robertson, Tarmo Reunanen, and Zac Jones.

With that said, the odds of all those players listed being in New York together is unlikely at best, but the Rangers have done a good job of packing the pipeline with options and potential. If several of those players develop well, they can be used in deals to address other needs when the time comes..

But most of those names are years into the future, and the signing of Trouba means the team will need to make a decision involving players on the roster to free up cap space and roster spots.

One of those decisions involves Brady Skjei, who has two seasons left on his contract before a no-trade clause kicks in for the 2021-22 season.

New York Rangers v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Another is more immediate, as the second buyout window opens up once the team takes care of business with Pavel Buchnevich. He’s currently scheduled to go to arbitration on July 29, but if the team were to agree to terms before hand, the window would open three days afterwards giving the Rangers a 48-hour window to buy a player out.

Many have been banging the buyout drum for Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith. But as I pointed out, the odd-man out should be Marc Staal for both performance and financial reasons.

With that said, I won’t be shocked when Staal isn’t bought out, but I still feel it was a conversation worth having. A buyout can be avoided if Jeff Gorton were to find a trade partner for one or two of his “problem contracts”, but that seems unlikely at this point.

The Rangers have committed themselves to Trouba, and he’s going to be their top pairing for years to come. Last season he was 13th among all defenders in points, and 10th in assists. He tallied 23 of his 50 points 5v5, and that’s an area where he can help the Blueshirts.

Last season Skjei, the top candidate to skate with Trouba on opening night, led the team with 19 points 5v5, with Tony DeAngelo second with 18 followed by Shattenkirk with 17.

In terms of above replacement stats, Trouba would have ranked second on the Rangers in even strength goals above replacement (6), total goals above replacement (6), and wins above replacement (1.1). DeAngelo’s finished first in each category with 6.1, 7.7, and 1.4 in each respective category. Trouba’s power play goals above replacement of 2.7 was solid, and that would have been second to Neal Pionk’s 3.2.

The one thing that will be interesting is if the Rangers used Trouba to kill penalties, as that’s an area of his game where he struggles. He logged a tick above 200 minutes last season, and had a shorthanded goals above replacement ranking of -1.3, which would have been sixth-worst on the 2018-19 New York Rangers.

Winnipeg Jets v Los Angeles Kings

The only two who were worse were Pionk (-2.2) and Staal (-4.3). The Rangers should use Trouba to his strengths, and once we have a better idea of the opening night roster there will be more than enough time to look at how the team should work the blue line by situation.

It has been an interesting past few months for the Rangers, and this signing is another mile marker in their “build.” Trouba will certainly have big expectations placed on him, and he appears to be a player who can step up to the challenge. He now has a stable home for the next seven years, and he will be comfortable now that he can just play and not be the subject of trade rumors year after year.

It is still wild the Rangers were able to acquire Trouba for just Pionk and Winnipeg’s own 2019 first-round pick. It isn’t often that a young defender like Trouba becomes available in such circumstances, and the Rangers certainly struck when the opportunity arose.

With that said, today is July 20 and the Rangers find themselves in the red from a cap perspective. It is going to be interesting to see what moves come next, and what type of lineup they are able to ice on opening night. There certainly going to be speculation running rampant until they find a way to clear up space, and that should make for an interesting next few weeks during what is usually a quiet part of hockey’s offseason.

Stats via Natural Stat Trick and Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted. Financial data via Cap Friendly.