If you were presented with a 24-year-old, right-handed defenceman who carried the offensive play from the D-zone, suppressed opposing teams’ offences at a high rate, and never had to play a single shift in the American Hockey League to get to the NHL, most of you would jump at the chance to sign him long-term and look to build your D-corps around him.
However, when you hear that the player’s name is Jacob Trouba, about a third of Jets fans respond with:
“We don’t need him! He’s trash anyway! He hates Winnipeg!”
I’m going to do my best to reassure you that all three of those statements are undeniably false.
Let’s take a closer look at that last exclamation, as this is the one that really seeps into most conversations regarding Trouba.
Back in the fall of 2016, news came out that emerging blueliner Jacob Trouba had requested a trade from the Winnipeg Jets. He cited his desire to be a top-pairing right-sided defenceman as his main motivation in asking for a trade. At the time, The Jets were loaded with big talent and big contracts on the right side and Trouba had spent the majority of his first three seasons on the third-pairing, carrying an increasingly aging Mark Stuart around. Once he was finally moved off the bottom-pairing to the top-pairing, it was to be on the left side with Dustin Byfuglien.
“I want to play on the right side to realize my potential,” Trouba, 22 at the time, told TSN. “That’s not going to happen in Winnipeg. This has nothing to do with Winnipeg as a city. This is about me getting the chance to be the best player I can be. I’ve worked hard to get this far. I don’t want to look back in 20 years and wish I hadn’t just gone with the flow. Sometimes you have to put yourself first. This isn’t an easy decision. But I want to play on the right side.”
When his agent, Kurt Overhardt of KO sports, was asked about his client’s situation with the Jets, he had this to say: “To the Jets’ credit, the club has two outstanding right-shot veteran defensemen (Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers) and our client simply wants the opportunity to have a greater role. As a consequence of the Jets’ depth on the right side, we believe it is in both parties’ best interest to facilitate a mutually advantageous trade.”
His request to be traded lasted into the beginning of the season, with Trouba and the team unable to come to an agreement on a new contract. Trouba’s camp wanted assurance that he would be moved before signing a new deal, and the team would not agree to those terms.
To give General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff a heaping spoonful of credit, he never once wavered in his determination to have Trouba sign a new deal and rejoin his teammates. He reportedly went as far as meeting with Trouba directly in Jake’s home state of Michigan (in a Tim Hortons no less) and convinced him to sign a new contract.
This entire “fiasco”, as some fans have so lovingly put it, only lasted about two months, as in November of that year Trouba agreed to a new two-year deal and officially rescinded his trade request.
“I think that all goes out the window when I signed that piece of paper,” said Trouba, who made $2.5 million last season and $3.5 million this year. “It’s about this team now and what I can do to help this team and whatever I’m asked to do is what I’m willing to do.”
Trouba missed a grand total of 14games and was able to suit up for 60 games in 2016-2017. Even having missed those games, he was still 4th in total games played on defence that year. He scored 8 goals and 25 assists for a total of 33 points, both of which had him ranked second among Jets defenders (behind only Dustin Byfuglien).
For a subset of fans, the events of these two months weigh heavier than the nearly two years of solid hockey and comradery that has followed. Not once throughout this process or since after did Trouba express any disdain for Winnipeg or Jets fans. On the contrary, he was very vocal that it was strictly about his future and what he felt was best for his career.
To fault a 22-year-old kid for using the rights granted to him by the collective bargaining agreement (bargained in good faith by the NHLPA and the league) because our feelings were hurt is short-sighted and a bit hypocritical when you consider the journey that our beloved captain, Blake Wheeler, took to get to the NHL.
Wheeler refused to sign his entry-level contract with the Phoenix Coyotes when he was 21 and instead elected for Free Agency. Do we still sit around and talk about Wheeler being “ungrateful” to the team who drafted him? No, we chalked it up to an athlete doing what’s in their best interest and we moved on.
Pro-athletes only have a short window of time to play the game at a high enough level to be able to maximize their earnings and be in a position to succeed long term. In my opinion, that’s all this was about.
Oh, and speaking of playing at a high level, let’s look at the numbers to really see if “He’s trash anyway”.
Since the beginning of 2016-2017, when Trouba signed his bridge contract, 9 Jets D-men have played 600 or more minutes at 5-on-5. In that span, Trouba ranked third in goals, assists and points and his 21 primary points were second to only Dustin Byfuglien (primary points are goals + the first assist. It’s a nice stat because it removes the unpredictability of the second assist).
Maybe you like old-school style defenceman? Well Trouba’s 191 total hits ranked him third in that span and his 1.7 hits per game has him tied for second on the team. Maybe you like your defenceman to get into the lane, putting their body on the line for their team and blocking shots? Well, good thing that Trouba has blocked 218 shots in this span and his 1.9 blocks per game rates first on the Jets.
And for the “we don’t need him” crowd – Trouba carries a 51.58CF% (this means that when he’s on the ice, the Jets are getting well over 50% of the shots.) and a 1.15 P/60 (Points per 60 minutes measures how many points per 60 minutes of ice time a player would get. This allows you to compare players who don’t play the same amount of minutes by averaging out their ice time), which has him ranked third and second respectively on the Jets.
Remarkably, he did all of this while starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone (he only started 48.89% of his shifts in the offensive zone.) To be able to push the offensive play while starting the majority of his shifts in his own end shows you how valuable he is. He is unequivocally a positive force and one of the top contributors for the Jets, tipping the ice in their favour when he’s out there.
While his offensive contributions can be easily identified and then quantified, defensive impact is hard to showcase purely in numbers. This is why I love to use Heat Maps for defenceman, as it gives you a visual representation of the way Trouba impacts the game, night in and night out.
A quick explanation of the heat map – This shows you how many unblocked shot attempts a player (in our case, Trouba) gives up 5-on-5 relative to the rest of the league. White is league average, Red is above league average and Blue is below league average (the darker the colour, the higher the number). Looking at the map you can see that the entire area in front of the net and extending into the high slot is a nice dark shade of blue. This means that Trouba is well above league average when it comes to suppressing offence in the most dangerous area on the ice.
For a young player to have this level of success so early in his career, all while playing against the opposition’s best forwards each and every game is extremely impressive. Simply put, we need him.
As for being someone who “doesn’t want to be here”, Trouba has spent a large amount of time in the Winnipeg community. Whether it was working with the city’s underprivileged as the Jets ambassador for “Hockey is for Everyone” (which is a part of the “You can play” initiative, working for equality in sports, including for LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches and fans), or joining his best friend and teammate, Mark Scheifele, in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s performance of the nutcracker, Trouba has shown that Winnipeg is where he wants to be. This was further underlined when he reportedly purchased a home in the city this past season and is rumored to have been joined there by his long-term American girlfriend as well.
I fully expect to see a long-term deal signed by Trouba and the team this summer. For all the reasons I listed (and so many more) it’s really a no-brainer to have Trouba patrolling the Jets’ blue-line for the next 5+ years. If I’m looking at comparable players and contracts, Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues are two of the closest players to Trouba that I could find in terms of usage, production and age.
Both of those players are on contracts that were signed two and three years ago respectively, when the salary cap was sitting around 69 million. Seth Jones is making 5.4 million AAV and Colton Parayko comes in at 5.5 million AAV. When we adjust those numbers for inflation (the cap will be about 15% higher next year than in 2014-2015) and we include the fact that Trouba is now just two years of arbitration hearings away from UFA status, that means he should slot into the range of 6 years, 39 million dollars (6.5 million AAV). This would be fair market value for both the team and the player.
Look – I can’t make you like Jacob Trouba, I can’t make you want him signed long-term, and I can’t force you to acknowledge that (maybe) he is the key piece of the Jets D going forward.
What I can do is provide you with all of the information that I have available and (hopefully) you’ll swallow your pride a bit and come around on the young man, because like a great Canadian once said:
I can cry, beg and whine
To every rebel I find
Just to give me a line
I could use to describe
They’d say, baby, eat this chicken slow
It’s full of all them little bones
Quotes and stats provided by:
Heat Map via: