Jacob Trouba finally got his wish — a one-way ticket out of Winnipeg.
The 25-year-old defenceman is headed to the Big Apple as part of a blockbuster deal Monday night, ending what was, at times, a rocky, six-year tenure with the Jets. In return, the New York Rangers sent defenceman Neal Pionk and the 20th-overall pick in this weekend’s NHL draft.
Trouba had no desire to sign a long-term extension to remain with the team that selected him ninth-overall in 2012. Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff decided it was time to move on rather than risk losing Trouba for nothing as early as next summer.
"It’s been out there that we were discussing the possibility of trading Jacob Trouba. With the opportunity not to get a long-term deal in Winnipeg here, we just felt it was best to open up the door to the possibility of trading him and (Monday) is the day we finalized it," Cheveldayoff said during a mid-evening conference call.
Some fans may be left wondering if this is the best they could do. Cheveldayoff said there were plenty of discussions ahead of the move, and it’s believed there was no shortage of potential suitors.
"We surveyed everything, we talked a lot internally. We have, believe me, had long discussions since we got knocked out (of the playoffs), from pro meetings, amateur meetings, ownership meetings about how we’re going to try to navigate the different steps," said Cheveldayoff.
"I think you take stock of what the opportunities are in front of you. You make your decision and that’s something that over the course of time here, we knew what was out there in the market and this is what we wanted to do."
Trouba and his camp have had no advance discussions with the Rangers about a possible extension, meaning they absorb some degree of risk here. Trouba is a pending restricted free agent (RFA) who went to arbitration last summer and was awarded a one-year, US$5.5-million contract.
He has arbitrator rights again this summer but would be an unrestricted free agent, able to sign with the highest bidder, if a long-term deal isn’t inked by next summer.
Pionk is also an RFA, although he’s likely to command a sliver of what Trouba will fetch. The 23-year-old, who was signed out of college undrafted, just finished up his first full NHL season. He had six goals and 20 assists in 73 regular-season games. He made US$1.775 million this season.
"He’s a young player that we believe has upside that is going to continue to grow. He’s got 100 games in the NHL. He’s someone that we think, given the group of players that we have here in our organization from a forward standpoint, that he’s going to complement very, very well. Obviously, with moving Jacob, a door does open for him here," said Cheveldayoff.
Like Trouba, Pionk is a right-shot blue-liner who spent time on both the power play and penalty kill with the Rangers last season. The move also gives the Jets some relief under the salary cap, as it’s no secret they were going to have to move some money out in order to find ways to give new contracts to pending RFAs Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp.
This move may also open the door to re-sign one, or perhaps both, of pending unrestricted free agent defencemen Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot.
The Jets also won’t be bystanders in the first round of the NHL draft for a second straight year. The 20th pick is the one they sent to the Rangers, along with Brendan Lemieux, in exchange for centre Kevin Hayes in February. The Jets also shipped their first-round pick in the 2018 draft for centre Paul Stastny a year earlier.
"We felt it was important for us to try to get back into the first round if there was an opportunity to do that. The coincidental side of it is its our pick. We wanted to try and get as high as possible as we could. We were looking for something in return that would fit with our needs moving forward," said Cheveldayoff.
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"It’s a really interesting draft. Once you get past the ones everybody’s talking about on the top end, I think it really spreads out. I think there are players we’re going to see at 20 that we’re going to have higher on our list. Given the combines and how the list has fallen out in our own estimation, we feel pretty confident we’re going to get a pretty good player there."
There’s no doubt Trouba will leave a major hole on the Jets’ back end. He was coming off a season where he posted career-high offensive numbers (eight goals, 42 assists) while forming a major part of the shutdown defence pairing with Josh Morrissey.
"He was our second first-round pick, so there’s always that fondness of someone that you drafted in your organization. He’s played hard for our organization for a period of six years. We wish him all the best. He’s someone that we saw grow and develop. Obviously he had some personal things that he wanted to see come to fruition, and obviously with one year to unrestricted free agency, he had that prerogative moving forward," said Cheveldayoff.
Mike McIntyre Reporter
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.