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This article was published 15/9/2016 (1502 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
PITTSBURGH — Yes, Jacob Trouba would like to play a larger role with the Winnipeg Jets.
And yes, Trouba sounds like he does get frustrated with how much he has to play on the left side with the Jets despite having a right-handed shot.
But don’t panic, Jets fans, because Trouba does not sound like a guy readying for an imminent holdout when I ask him the only question that really matters right now: Is there any doubt in his mind he will be in the Jets lineup when they open their regular season next month?
"Not in my mind," Trouba told me here at Consol Energy Center Wednesday night following North America’s 3-2 loss to the Czech Republic in what was the final pre-tournament game for both teams at the World Cup of Hockey.
Now, there’s still lots of wiggle room in that "not in my mind" statement by Trouba. Is he saying, for instance, that he has no doubt he’s going to sign a new contract with the Jets prior to the start of the season? Or, is he saying he can only speak for himself — that he’s got the will, but doesn’t know whether the Jets do, too?
Either way, while it’s hardly definitive, it’s more than either the Jets or Trouba’s agent have said about ongoing contract talks concerning the 22-year-old restricted free agent since those negotiations began last spring.
Trouba’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, declined all comment when asked by the Free Press earlier this month about the state of discussions with the Jets.
And that’s the same thing the Jets told me last week, repeating a stance they’ve had since the very beginning — their contract talks with Trouba aren’t going to play out in the media.
But the one guy who hadn’t weighed in on the state of those talks until now was the guy at the centre of them —Trouba.
And so I chased Trouba across the continent this week, from Montreal to Pittsburgh, to find out where his head is at right now.
A request to interview Trouba following North America’s game against Europe in Montreal Sunday night was declined by the team’s PR people because Trouba was a healthy scratch that night.
But when I followed the team to Pittsburgh and put in the same request Wednesday evening, it was granted despite the fact Trouba was once again a healthy scratch for North America.
You can draw your own conclusions about what changed from one night to the next. I think it was just a simple matter of Trouba accepting that he might as well answer the hard questions now because there was no way he was going to get through this tournament without answering the one question that is on everyone’s mind: Dude, where’s your contract?
Nowhere at the moment, it turns out.
Trouba says he told both the Jets and his agent that he wants no part of contract talks during the World Cup tournament, meaning it will be at least the end of this month before he would even consider signing a new contract with the Jets.
"I’m not too into the contract stuff right now," said Trouba. "I’m here focused on this team and I will let my agent deal with that. And once this tournament is over, we’ll figure that out."
The Jets defenceman added an important caveat, however, and it is one that should be heartening to the team’s fans — while Trouba’s not taking part in contract talks right now, those talks are ongoing between Overhardt and Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.
"They’re dealing with it. Kurt’s talking to Chevy. They’re going back and forth and talking," said Trouba.
"I told them, ‘Leave me out of it for a little while. I’m here focused on this.’ And if there’s anything important, I’m sure he will let me know."
That’s the same stance being taken by fellow North America teammate Johnny Gaudreau — the Calgary Flames phenom who is also an unsigned restricted free agent right now. Gaudreau has also authorized talks to continue during this tournament but insisted he be kept out of the loop.
The fact discussions are at least ongoing between Overhardt and Cheveldayoff is no small point. The Jets open their regular season at home against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 13, meaning there will be barely two weeks between the end of this tournament, which could go as late as Oct. 1 if a best-of-three series final goes the distance, and the start of the Jets season.
There have been reports in recent weeks the Jets and Trouba continue to have differences on money, term and where the Jets see Trouba fitting into their plans going forward.
Trouba said he couldn’t talk specifics on money or term, although the Free Press reported last December Trouba was demanding $7 million a season over the league maximum eight year term.
If those numbers are accurate — or at least were at the time — that would suggest Trouba is already valuing himself in the same class as such elite defencemen as Los Angeles Kings blueliner Drew Doughty.
That would seem a stretch at this point in Trouba’s career and the comparables more commonly cited when Trouba’s name comes up are, on the bottom end, Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta — who signed last winter for $4.1 million per season over six years — to, on the high end, Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton — who signed a deal last year that pays him $5.75 million per season over six years.
Trouba’s offensive production has declined in each of the past two seasons and that is clearly not helping him with the Jets right now. But at the same time his offence has declined, the experts in advanced analytics will tell you the numbers show that his defensive game has improved.
In other words, he’s not scoring as much, but he’s become a very valuable shut-down defenceman.
And he’s been doing that while spending a lot of time playing on either a Jets third pairing with Mark Stuart or on the left side with Dustin Byfuglien.
Add in a shortage of power-play time for Trouba and Overhardt has no doubt made the case to the Jets that part of the problem with Trouba’s offensive numbers the last two seasons has a lot to do with how the Jets have been using him.
Here’s what Trouba had to say on the issue when I asked him about it Wednesday evening. "I want to have a bigger role," said Trouba. "I want to be a force — more productive offensively and defensively.
"I just want to be more involved and take my game to the next level."
And the whole right-side, left-side issue on a team in which both Byfuglien and Tyler Myers are also right-handed shots?
"I’ve played the right-side my whole life," said Trouba. "I’m obviously more comfortable there. But I understand you have to do what’s best for your team."
At the moment, doing what’s best for your team — at least in the mind of Team North America head coach Todd McLellan — is not playing at all. After playing in North America’s first pre-tournament game, Trouba has been a healthy scratch in each of the last two games.
That’s uncharted territory for a guy like Trouba. And whatever designs he and Overhardt had on using this event as a way to showcase Trouba’s full capabilities to the Jets during contract talks isn’t going to happen if he cannot get on the ice.
Early days, says Trouba. "We’ve only been together for a week and we’re all still figuring out what our roles are. We’ll see how it plays out."
Trouba, like other unsigned RFAs in this tournament, is playing under a special insurance policy organizers have taken out for them. He’s covered, in other words, if he gets hurt. But nobody gets hurt sitting in the press box.
For now, Trouba seems optimistic he’s going to play — this month for North America and next month for the Jets.
The man has spoken, finally. But talk is cheap until he actually plays.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
Updated on Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 1:19 PM CDT: Typos fixed.
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