Monday night the Winnipeg Jets dealt restricted free agent defenseman Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers for the 20th overall pick and nice young defenseman Neal Pionk. The trade followed weeks of speculation that Winnipeg could not re-sign Trouba and Pittsburgh Penguins trade rumors linking him to black and gold. The New York offer was not earth-shattering, so how did the Penguins miss?
New York gave their first round pick (20th) which was just one spot ahead of the Penguins (21st), and a defenseman who projects as bottom pairing rearguard who can contribute 20 points.
The Penguins could have and should have beat that offer for Trouba who is a 25-year-old shutdown defender with offensive upside and heavy shot from the point. The 6-foot-3, 202-pound defenseman would be a premier second pairing defenseman and the Penguins would have been justified in offering a significant haul, including their first-round pick.
Obviously, the Penguins and GM Jim Rutherford missed out. But by how much did they miss out? Nearly every pair of boots on the ground listed the Penguins as a Trouba suitor, including beat writer Ken Weibe of the Winnipeg Sun.
Monday night, another reporter linked the Penguins to Trouba. Listeners reported TSN Insider Darren Dreger told SiriusXM NHL radio the Penguins were involved before New York won the bidding.
This is where the speculation begins. Monday morning Pittsburgh Hockey Now reported the Penguins first-round pick was “100% in play.” In this case, does two plus two equal four? Did the Penguins offer their first round pick and but not the right other pieces to the tightly salary capped Winnipeg?
If Rutherford didn’t, that was an error. Trouba is a premier second-pair defenseman in his mid-20s, who could also be a top pairing defenseman if his offensive outburst this season carries into future campaigns.
This season (or is it now last season), Trouba posted a career-high 50 points (8g, 42a) and played all 82 games. He was credited with only 112 hits but a bruising 171 blocked shots.
Surely the Penguins could have offered a higher price than Neal Pionk and a first? Yes. Even if that meant dumping another defenseman or forward for salary relief to sign the RFA defenseman. The Penguins would then have had more than one month to shed salary before things got tense with Trouba’s contract.
“He’s a big defenseman, he’s 25-years-old, he can play against the best players, he has offense, he can kill penalties, he’s in the prime of his career…we jumped on it,” New York GM Jeff Gorton said.
Yes, and the Penguins should have jumped at the chance to acquire him.
Trouba is right-handed and would have greatly improved the Penguins solid but unspectacular blue line. Trouba would have displaced Justin Schultz on the second pairing and perhaps the roster. Schultz is about to enter the final year of his three-year, $16.5 million deal and could have been an easy player to move, thus giving the Penguins the ability to ink Trouba to a healthy deal.
Schultz has talent but lacks Trouba’s physical nature and defensive zone abilities. Shultz’ annual $5.5 million salary and good offensive upside with only one year left on his contract mean he has some trade value. The Penguins might have landed an asset or two beyond simply shedding salary.
Starting with the Kessel rejection and the Trouba deal elsewhere, another Penguins summer, and Rutherford’s summer are not off to a good start. This is a big opportunity missed.