General manager Jeff Gorton has done an exceptional job at building up as many assets as possible as the New York Rangers’ rebuild begins to shape into a reload. With the addition on Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets, the Rangers are quickly building a contender. However, acquiring Trouba’s rights is only half the battle as now Gorton, John Davidson and the rest of the front office must tread through the murky waters of contract negotiation.
Trouba and the Jets were never able to come to terms on an extension that fit both side’s needs. The Jets’ front office seemed wary of awarding Trouba with a long-term contract while Trouba never felt like Winnipeg was the best place for his or his fiancee’s future careers.
The fact that the Rangers traded for Trouba should signify that they are more than confident in their ability to get an extension agreed to. Unfortunately, they aren’t in a position to bargain with Trouba, who could easily remain a restricted free agent (RFA) well into the season. His previous extension talks have soured and led to a broken relationship with the Winnipeg front office. Not to mention Trouba’s immediate impact on the logjam that is the right side of the Rangers’ blue line. A player of Trouba’s caliber is certainly rare, but the Rangers must consider all facets of his value before locking him down as a Blueshirt for long-term.
Trouba’s Value Has Never Been Higher
Trouba couldn’t have asked for a better year to have both a career and a contract year. His 50 points were good for 13th in defenseman scoring this past season. In addition, he had himself the second best season of his career in both Corsi percentage (48.01%) and in secondary assists (26). He took an exponential leap in average production this past season, averaging .61 points-per-game. He’s yet to show that he can maintain those numbers whilst staying healthy for a full 82 games.
The Rangers won’t have many chances to obtain a right-handed, first pairing defenseman, yet overpayment seems inevitable considering Trouba’s past history and the current market value for defensemen. The current trend of the NHL signing market has younger players wishing to be awarded their potential future production rather than what they’ve already accomplished.
With just over $18 million in cap space, the Rangers have all the room to reward Trouba with a hefty contract. However, this is still a team that’s headed into the offseason with $23.7 million committed to the blue line for at least the next two years. That number could easily jump to well over $30 million following the extensions to Anthony DeAngelo and Trouba.
Inflated Market Value of Defensemen
The current market for free agent defenseman has reached exponential heights in recent years. The trade came just says after Erik Karlsson signed his league-high, eight-year, $92 million extension with the San Jose Sharks. Just a year ago, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and John Carlson both signed eight-year contracts that paid them $8+ million annually. We’re just a year removed from Ryan McDonagh signing his massive extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 2019-20 season will be Ryan Ellis’ first year of his eight-year, $50 million extension. Even Alexander Edler managed to re-sign in Vancouver to a $12 million deal for the next two years. Less and less premier defensive talents are reaching free agency as they’re guaranteed long-term contracts with their original teams.
Ekman-Larson was awarded his contract despite a 42-point campaign. Trouba’s 50 points should warrant a similar contract just by going by numbers alone, yet Trouba still lacks the 200-foot game that Ekman-Larsson excels in.
Ellis’ contract is a likely candidate for what the Rangers should be considering as a comparable the Trouba. After three consecutive seasons of 30+ points, including a 16-goal campaign in 2017-18, the Nashville Predators solidified Ellis’ future with an eight-year contract. Both Trouba and Ellis had near identical point-per-game averages in the three seasons prior to their signing year. The biggest difference between the two is that Ellis was 27-years-old when he signed his contract, while Trouba is still just 25.
If the highest paid defenseman in the league makes $11.5 million a year and a comparable defenseman makes $6.25 million a year, then Trouba falls somewhere between the two. He likely won’t make Ekman-Larsson numbers, but somewhere in the range of $6.5-7.5 million is a reasonable projection for a 25-year-old RFA. He’d swallow up at least 8% of the $81.5-82 million salary cap, but with cap projections now being skewed, that percentage may fluctuate in the next few years.
Trouba has already voiced his interest in remaining in New York for an extended period. With an expansion draft, potential lockout, and buyouts looming, the Rangers should be careful not to overpay their shiny new defenseman.