At first blush, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Professional athletes occasionally switch agents, so the fact Winnipeg Jets forward Jack Roslovic went shopping for a new representative would likely get a collective shoulder shrug from the majority of fans.
A deeper look at the situation reveals there’s more than meets the eye here.
Roslovic is not a happy camper. He made that very clear to his long-time agent, Ken Robinson, in recent conversations I’m told were extremely difficult for both sides. The matter came to a head on May 27 when Roslovic informed Robinson their business relationship was over.
"I’m not upset with Jack. But the only thing he could control was who his agent should be," Robinson first told me on Tuesday as part of an off-season piece I was working on.
Safe to say this one stings a bit for Robinson who, like Roslovic, is from Columbus. They’ve known each other for years and have been good friends. I saw that first-hand while covering a Jets road trip last season which included a stop in Ohio. Robinson was in a private suite with dozens of Roslovic’s family members and friends, all proud of the local boy done good. It was a great scene.
However, sports can be a nasty business, and Robinson said he understands Roslovic wanting to have another voice speak for him, especially considering how this past season played out.
Taking Robinson’s place is Claude Lemieux, the former NHL star turned hard-nosed player agent who happens to be the father of one of Roslovic’s best buddies — yes, that would be former Jets forward Brendan Lemieux, who was sent packing to New York at last February’s trade deadline, along with a first-round draft pick, for Kevin Hayes.
According to Robinson, the main source of Roslovic’s frustration was his role with the Jets last season. Specifically, how he saw his minutes and opportunity shrink shortly after he was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week in early February after scoring five goals and adding an assist in six games, including his first career NHL hat trick.
It was all downhill from there.
You’ll recall, as injured players returned and the Jets bolstered their roster with several trade deadline additions, Roslovic was mostly relegated to the fourth line and taken off the power play, where he’d been so effective. He was even a healthy scratch at one point in favour of 37-year-old Matt Hendricks.
"He wanted off the fourth line," Robinson told me. He had many conversations with general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff along the way, but the situation never really improved.
"I tried my hardest to improve his position on the team, but there isn’t much leverage for a kid on an ELC (entry-level contract) who hasn’t posted ‘Wow’ stats yet," he said.
Of course, Roslovic isn’t blameless in all this, as he didn’t exactly light it up in his reduced role, held without a point for nine games to end the year including all six playoff contests. All told, he had just two goals and six assists in the 32 games he played after his hat trick.
You’ll recall there was a point in the not-so-distant past where both Roslovic and Kyle Connor were considered very similar prospects. The Jets picked both in the 2015 NHL draft (Connor went 17th, Roslovic went 25th) and they followed a similar career arc, turning pro after strong college seasons and then getting some seasoning with the Manitoba Moose.
However, opportunity came knocking early in the 2017-18 season when Connor was called up due to injury, thrown on the top line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, and absolutely took off. He’s scored 65 goals in the past two years and is poised to cash in on a major contract extension this summer as a pending restricted free agent.
And Roslovic? Well, he’s got a grand total of 14 NHL goals to date, with more than 20 per cent of them coming in that one memorable game against Anaheim on Feb. 2. He’ll be an RFA next summer and doesn’t exactly have much power to demand a big raise right now, does he?
'Jack is as solid as they come. He is hard-working, thoughtful, decent and thankful for all of his blessings. He is a terrific role model for young people because of who he has become. He loves his family. He is a good friend. He is charitable. And I am proud my son looks up to him — even after he fired me. I’ll always be a fan of his' – Jack Roslovic's former agent, Ken Robinson
Columbus-based reporter Aaron Portzline, who covers the Blue Jackets for The Athletic, Tweeted on Wednesday night that Roslovic asked the Jets for a trade on "at least once last season." Naturally, social media quickly blew up, especially given the fact we know the Jets, as a whole, weren’t exactly a barrel of laughs and joy when their season ended abruptly in April.
There was talk from Paul Maurice of ruffled feathers, along with plenty of rumblings about dressing room turmoil and in-fighting. There had been that closed-door meeting late in the regular-season. There’s been recent rumours of Patrik Laine being unhappy and wanting out, which I would advise anyone to take with a massive grain of salt given that it’s likely a shrewd bargaining position for the restricted free agent.
And, of course, there’s the ongoing Jacob Trouba drama with plenty of trade speculation, which included ex-NHL player Sean Avery posting a video earlier this week claiming Trouba was on his way to Toronto in exchange for Nazem Kadri. There’s absolutely no truth to that, and Avery appeared to enjoy toying with hockey fans after likely downing a few pints before recording that video.
In any event, the Roslovic trade bombshell was just another log on the fire for the "everything is broken" crowd out there when it comes to the Jets. Just one problem: According to Robinson, it’s false.
Robinson told me on Wednesday night there was no such request made by either him or the player, at any point. He then Tweeted as much to Portzline.
"He was disappointed with his role, but he had every right to be. He wasn’t on the fourth line because he was a fourth line player. It was just a real frustrating situation on the Jets," wrote Robinson, who also wanted to make it crystal clear Roslovic wasn’t some disgruntled, entitled athlete looking for an exit.
"Jack is as solid as they come. He is hard-working, thoughtful, decent and thankful for all of his blessings. He is a terrific role model for young people because of who he has become. He loves his family. He is a good friend. He is charitable. And I am proud my son looks up to him — even after he fired me. I’ll always be a fan of his," he said.
I, and others, previously reported in February the Jets were fielding calls about Roslovic from potential trade partners, with his name surfacing in talks connected to then-Ottawa Senator Mark Stone. But the Jets made it crystal clear Roslovic was not on the market, with both Cheveldayoff and coach Paul Maurice calling him an important part of both the present and the future.
Now that it’s clear he hasn’t asked for a trade, but just more opportunity, I don’t expect him to be moved. He has tons of talent and the type of team-friendly contract ($894,166) which is extremely valuable to the Jets given their salary-cap crunch.
Looking ahead, it would be foolish of the Jets not to put Roslovic in a position to shine this coming season. Hayes is gone. Hendricks is gone. Pending UFAs Brandon Tanev and Par Lindholm may be gone. It’s possible other forward changes are coming, too. Other than perhaps Mason Appleton and Kristian Vesalainen, there’s not a lot on the farm ready to jump into the NHL lineup.
Then it’s up to Roslovic to make the most of the situation, something he’s clearly struggled with at times early in his career. Because regardless of who his agent is, Roslovic can make the loudest statement going forward with his on-ice play.
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.