Photo Credit: Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
Could the Winnipeg Jets find themselves over a barrel when the market opens at weeks end? If the Jets weren’t feeling the pressure before, they probably should be now, especially in light of CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty’s report that the Boston Bruins are considering tendering a lucrative offer sheet to defenseman Jacob Trouba.
Let’s unpack and analyze the extent of this threat from Winnipeg’s perspective and try to handicap how they might wriggle their way out of this.
Let’s begin with what Boston is reportedly considering. The Bruins own no second-round or third-round picks in the 2017 NHL entry draft, so the only way they can make this work is if they tender Trouba an offer sheet with an annual average value beyond $9,333,080 – in which case the Jets would be due four first-round picks as compensation.
That $9 million-plus figure seems exorbitant, but the way annual average value is calculated for an offer sheet is different than the way it’s calculated for a standard player contract. As its set out in Article 10.4 of the NHL-NHLPA collective bargaining agreement (CBA):
The number and quality of draft choices due to the Prior Club shall be based on the average annual value of the compensation contained in the Principal Terms… of the New Club’s Offer Sheet (determined by dividing such compensation by the lesser number of years of the Offer Sheet or five).
So in other words, the Bruins could make Trouba a $7 million per year offer over seven seasons, but because the total amount would be $49 million, you’d divide that total contract value by five to determine the annual average value for the purposes of determining ‘the number and quality of draft choices’ due to Winnipeg ($49 million/5 = $9.8 million, or four first-round draft picks).
And the Bruins are, reportedly, considering an offer of that size:
Now it appears the Bruins may be willing to put their money, and their assets, where their interest is, and come up with an offer sheet that totals a minimum of $47 million for Trouba’s services…
Example: a 7 year offer sheet worth $49 million total, would be considered an AAV of $9.8 million ($49 million divided by 5) for offer sheet compensation purposes. That means the Bruins could make an offer sheet to Trouba in the $7-8 million per season neighborhood on a seven year deal, a reasonable contract if Trouba turns into the No. 1 defenseman that the B’s are envisioning.
So what, exactly, should Winnipeg do here if the Bruins do in fact use a predatory offer sheet in an attempt to extract Trouba out of Winnipeg?
To start with, Trouba, 22, is an excellent two-way defenseman who is well-suited to the way the NHL game is being played today – with an emphasis on speed and an ability to attack and defend in transition. His two-way results have been stellar for a defenseman his age and relative to the group of players in his cohort – Matt Dumba, Seth Jones, Morgan Rielly, Rasmus Ristolainen, Hampus Lindholm – his physical game is the most imposing and well developed.
Though Trouba’s offensive game has fallen off in recent seasons, he’s already a well-above-average top-four defenseman at the NHL level and has room to improve. He’s an enormously valuable asset.
Its been clear for a while though that Trouba may not be a long-term fit in Winnipeg. The young American-born defender was on the final year of his entry-level contract this past season and its been apparent for a while that the two sides have been nowhere close on an extension.
When Trouba and his agent Kurt Overhardt made their initial ask in extension talks with the Winnipeg Jets, it was reported that they were looking for $56 million over eight years; a massive deal that would carry a $7 million cap hit. The reaction to that number from many in the hockey world when it leaked was to suggest that while that ask wasn’t an explicit trade request, it seemed possible that it might have the same effect.
And now it seems that the Jets are staring down the barrel at an offer sheet.
While the offer sheet tool has only successfully worked to acquire one player in the salary cap era (Dustin Penner, which didn’t work out at all for Kevin Lowe and the Edmonton Oilers), in recent season, the threat of an offer sheet has served to motivate a variety of teams to move quickly to trade quality young pieces before July 1. When the Chicago Blackhawks dealt Brandon Saad and the Boston Bruins sent Dougie Hamilton to the Western Conference before the market opened last year, it suggested that the offer sheet threat – if not the tool itself – was beginning to seriously impact player movement.
The threat factor could be part of this news leaking at the moment and we should mention that Winnipeg has a few days yet to try and craft their own deal. Saad, for example, moved on July 1 of last season. And of course Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff indicated at length prior to the draft last week that he’d match any offer sheet that Trouba signed.
His words might be tested yet.
On some level, I’d expect the Jets to match just to protect their market place. For Kevin Cheveldayoff’s management team and the Jets’ True North ownership group, this has to represent something of a ‘worst-nightmare’-type scenario.
Though the Jets have done well to retain their players throughout Cheveldayoff’s tenure – from Dustin Byfuglien, to Blake Wheeler and so on and so forth – the notion of teams with deeper pockets located in bigger markets picking off key assets repeatedly is a manifestation of the lingering doubts concerning the ability of a Winnipeg-based NHL team to ice a durable, contender…
That’s a philosophical stand that’s easier to take before you’re actually looking at the money involved in backing it up. And we can expect that any offer sheet will be structured in such a way so as to make the prospect of matching unpalatable in the extreme.
Say, for example, that the Bruins structured the deal to pay Trouba $10 million in year one and two (90 percent of it in signing bonuses), and then $5.8 million over the last five years of the theoretical seven-year, $49 million contract.
In that scenario, Trouba would be due $18 million in combined signing bonuses at the start of the 2016-17 and 2017-18 League Year (whenever the deal is signed, and again July 1, 2017). Combine the salary involved ($1 million per year), and we’re talking about nearly $25 million in Canadian dollars for Winnipeg to swallow over a twelve month period.
For a club that’s been very careful about how they spend, that’s a tough hit to take if you’re intent on matching. And there’s still Mark Schiefele’s contract to work out too.
If a potential Trouba offer sheet is structured so as to maximize its ‘poison pill’ impact, I’d have to think just accepting the compensation involved would be tempting for the Jets. And betting against the Bruins over the next four years isn’t the worst spot to be in, considering the age of their top players and some of the mystifying decisions that management group has made over the past 13 months.
One final thing to consider here is that the Jets are relatively deep on the back end, which leaves them somewhat vulnerable to being pilfered by expansion (the club can only protect three defenseman if they opt to protect seven forwards, which seems likely).
Complicating matters further is that Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom have full no-movement clauses and would have to consent to being made available in an expansion draft. Tyler Myers’ no-movement clause was probably vaporized when he was dealt as part of the Evander Kane package, but he’s too good (and on too good of a contract, now that most of his salary has been paid out) to lose for nothing.
Considering how limited Winnipeg’s options will be when the expansion draft comes around next year, the compensation that would be attached to a Trouba offer sheet – especially one as lucrative as Boston is reportedly considering – might not be the worst way to iron out that bind.
We’ll have to wait and see what the Bruins decide to do here and how the Jets opt to react, but Haggerty’s report has put into stark relief the fact that Cheveldayoff and company are facing some extraordinarily difficult decisions in the lead up to July 1. And the time for deliberation is almost over.