Let’s stipulate that the Jets had to trade Jacob Trouba. The 25-year-old defenseman had made it quite clear that he had no intentions of signing an extension in Winnipeg, and the Jets had no intention of paying what it would cost to keep Trouba when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer—likely somewhere north of $7M per over seven years. For the Jets, it was: move him now, or perhaps at the deadline, or lose him for nothing. That necessity dinged the Jets’ leverage a bit, but after trading Trouba to the Rangers on Monday, they sure seem to have gotten robbed even by those low standards.
The Rangers acquired Trouba for 23-year-old blueliner Neal Pionk—like Trouba, a right-handed shot, though a much lesser player—and the 20th overall pick in Friday’s draft. That 20th pick was the Jets’ originally, sent to New York for Kevin Hayes at the deadline, so from one angle, that’s Trouba and Brendan Lemieux for Pionk and two months of Hayes. From either angle, it’s a steal for the Rangers—Trouba, coming off a 50-point season, immediately slots in on their top pairing.
Trouba was the best D-man on the trade market, and at one point not too long ago there were a reported dozen teams interested in his services. With a bidding war like that, the Jets should have been able to get more of a haul. But according to a report from the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, Winnipeg inexplicably torpedoed the market for Trouba.
The Jets, though, refused to give Trouba’s camp permission to talk to interested parties. Absent relative certainty of a contract agreement with the defenseman, who is a year away from unrestricted free agency, clubs dropped out. The price thus went down[.]
Since other teams couldn’t know for sure whether Trouba would sign an extension in a new destination, the Jets self-defeatingly turned him from a cornerstone acquisition into a one-year rental, with a corresponding drop in what teams were willing to offer. But players and agents have ways of conveying their intentions, and the Rangers, smack dab in a rebuild, will have plenty of money and plenty of enthusiasm for signing Trouba long-term. There’s not an observer who thinks that extension won’t get done in New York.
With the bargain they found in Trouba, the Rangers appear to have turned the corner on their rebuild—so publicly announced a year and a half ago—from stockpiling assets to turning them into actual talent. The Rangers still have a lot of assets, including the No. 2 overall pick which will be used on Kaapo Kakko, and a pair of second-rounders, plus a whole host of youngish players that could be pretty attractive in trade packages. GM Jeff Gorton has been praised for collecting assets, but that’s generally the easier half of the equation. Landing Trouba is a heck of a start on the harder part, and a sign that the Rangers’ timeline could be accelerating—it’s not hard to project them contending again as soon as 2021.
As for the Jets? They’re a talented team that, above all, needs to avoid panicking after a first-round loss to the eventual Cup champs. Trouba, regrettably, needed to be moved. But he didn’t need to be moved for this pittance.