March 20, 2019

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Opinion

Trouba gets off-ice reality check

Jets win with youngsters, holdout defenceman loses

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The Winnipeg Jets celebrate winning their game against the Carolina Hurricanes' 5-4 in overtime at MTS Centre.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Winnipeg Jets celebrate winning their game against the Carolina Hurricanes' 5-4 in overtime at MTS Centre.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/10/2016 (887 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There were a lot of winners Thursday night at the MTS Centre: a youthful Winnipeg Jets team that found all kinds of energy in the third period when the grown-ups on the other team ran out of gas; a delirious capacity crowd that loved what it saw in a new lineup it had heard about all summer long; and a True North Sports & Entertainment company that sold a lot of beer on a night fans were primed for an opening-night party and the home team delivered.

But there was also one big loser — and I’m not talking about a Carolina Hurricanes team that surrendered a 4-1 third-period lead to lose 5-4 to the Jets in overtime.

The biggest loser this night wasn’t even in the building.

That’s because for reasons that still seem hard to believe, defenceman Jacob Trouba was nowhere to be found as his teammates opened their 2016-17 NHL season with a wild win at Winnipeg’s downtown barn.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/10/2016 (887 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There were a lot of winners Thursday night at the MTS Centre: a youthful Winnipeg Jets team that found all kinds of energy in the third period when the grown-ups on the other team ran out of gas; a delirious capacity crowd that loved what it saw in a new lineup it had heard about all summer long; and a True North Sports & Entertainment company that sold a lot of beer on a night fans were primed for an opening-night party and the home team delivered.

But there was also one big loser — and I’m not talking about a Carolina Hurricanes team that surrendered a 4-1 third-period lead to lose 5-4 to the Jets in overtime.

The biggest loser this night wasn’t even in the building.

That’s because for reasons that still seem hard to believe, defenceman Jacob Trouba was nowhere to be found as his teammates opened their 2016-17 NHL season with a wild win at Winnipeg’s downtown barn.

Trouba also wasn’t on the ice this week in Detroit or Toronto or New York or Buffalo or any of the other NHL cities where the hockey media intelligentsia had predicted the 22-year-old defenceman would be playing by opening night.

The delusion — shared by Trouba, his agent and a handful of media sycophants — Jets management was simply going to roll over in the face of Trouba’s trade demand and ship him off for whatever they could get was revealed Thursday to be exactly what it always was: delusional.

Jacob Trouba isn’t going anywhere until the Jets get an offer they cannot refuse — and that moment never seemed further away than it did this week as hockey got underway across North America.

That is bad news for Trouba, who is coming to stark terms with the serious consequences of a trade demand that has never looked more reckless.

Until the Jets opened the regular season Thursday, Trouba had a pretty good thing going. No hockey player is ever sad to miss training camp; pre-season hockey is a nightmare with lots more downside than upside for any veteran player.

But with the season and the fun now underway, Trouba is losing big money with each passing day and whatever limited negotiating power he had — which wasn’t much to begin with, given he’s a restricted free agent — has also slowly begun to further evaporate.

The single worst thing that could happen to Trouba’s negotiating position is if the Jets continue to do exactly what they did Thursday — play winning hockey without him.

Two things happen if the Jets prove they can win with youngster Josh Morrissey in place of Trouba as the left-handed defenceman opposite Dustin Byfuglien on the Jets’ top pairing.

First, the negotiating position of general manager Kevin Chevaldayoff with both Trouba and Cheveldayoff’s fellow NHL GMs gets stronger. There is no urgency for Chevaldayoff to capitulate or cut a bad deal if the Jets are winning.

Second, Trouba’s position gets weaker as the league gets closer to the Dec. 1 deadline when he would either have to re-sign with the Jets or sit out the remainder of the season.

A lost season would hurt Trouba a lot more than it would hurt the Jets.

Trouba’s window to play pro hockey is a short one. The three Avco Cup banners the Jets hung in the MTS Centre rafters for this season date back to 1975. Enough said.

Is Morrissey as good as Trouba? Of course not — at least not yet.

Playing in just the second game of his NHL career on a pairing with one of the most complicated defensive partners in the league, the Jets were asking a lot of Morrissey.

He turned over the puck in the first period, leading to Carolina’s first goal, although I’d argue the fact Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner was left unchecked on the play had more to do with it than Morrissey’s giveaway.

Aside from that lapse, Morrissey put in a solid performance on a night when not even Jets head coach Paul Maurice was sure what to expect of the 20-year-old.

"We’re going to find that out," the coach replied Thursday morning when asked whether the Jets were perhaps asking too much of the youngster. And then Maurice added something that tells you a lot about how far removed Trouba’s demands right now are from the reality of playing on this team.

"He’s going to end up playing left and right, in multiple pairings here," Maurice said of Morrissey. "He’s going to get moved around."

Imagine that? Asking a defenceman to play wherever he is needed and the defenceman doing so without demanding to be traded? Crazy, I know.

The only thing more inexplicable than Trouba’s trade demand is the way he and his agent have portrayed it as purely a function of the desire to play only on his natural right-hand side instead of the left side where the Jets wanted him to play this season with Byfuglien.

If this was just about money or even a desire to be out of Winnipeg, I’d actually have a lot more sympathy for Trouba. Everyone wants more money, and any Winnipegger who says he hasn’t at some point woke up on a -35 C January morning and wondered what the heck he is doing here is a liar.

A kid who wants to get paid millions to play pro hockey, but only if it’s on his preferred side? I will take an occasional turnover from Morrissey — as long as they’re only occasional — before I acquiesce to that petulance.

Make no mistake: what Trouba has done poses nothing less than an existential threat to the Jets’ draft-and-develop plan.

Draft and develop simply doesn’t work if — after you develop a player such as Trouba or Morrissey or Patrik Laine (who had a wildly entertaining two-point NHL debut Thursday) — they can simply demand to be traded.

Morrissey wants to play and do it wherever he is asked. Trouba doesn’t.

I’m OK with that. Judging by Thursday night, so are the Jets.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter

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.

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