Baugh: Rangers' Jacob Trouba has the right to follow his own priorities


NEW YORK — Criticizing Jacob Trouba’s performance is more than fair, as is wanting New York Rangers general manager Chris Drury to explore trade options. The Rangers captain struggled in the playoffs, and his $8 million salary cap hit is hefty, especially if he’s bumped to a third-pairing role next year. Professional athletes live in the spotlight. There are ramifications when performance doesn’t meet expectations. They all know that.

But the discourse around Trouba, perhaps amplified by social media, has extended beyond reason. Those angry about him exercising a negotiated right to his contract don’t understand the business side of sports. As for anyone getting mad at Trouba’s wife, Kelly Tyson-Trouba, for having career demands that might make her family hesitant to leave New York? They need to rethink their priorities.

Let’s go back to summer 2019. The Rangers, led by then-general manager Jeff Gorton, acquired Trouba from Winnipeg and signed him to a seven-year, $56 million deal. As is well documented, Kelly’s medical career in the U.S. played a part in Trouba not signing long-term in Winnipeg. When named Rangers captain ahead of the 2022-23 season, Trouba wrote in an open letter on Twitter letter that, “Coming to New York three years ago was not just a great opportunity for me, but it was also a place my wife could chase her dreams and her career as a physician.”

It should come as no surprise that Tyson-Trouba’s career still factors into Trouba’s decision-making, especially now that their family has grown to include a baby boy, Axel, who was born in January. Trouba’s first responsibility should always be to his family, not to what Drury thinks is best for the Rangers’ salary cap sheet. So often, players’ partners have to put personal aspirations on the back burner. When Trouba signed his contract in 2019, he and his agent negotiated so that wouldn’t have to be the case in New York.

This summer, that’s led to a dicey situation that has dominated headlines about the Rangers’ offseason. Though Drury said Monday he was “going to keep any private conversation with (Trouba) or his agent private,” this saga has played out in public as the Rangers front office tries to put the roster over the top before another win-now year.

Drury quickly showed a willingness to make difficult decisions after the Rangers’ season ended in the Eastern Conference final, putting Barclay Goodrow on waivers to clear cap space. That allowed San Jose, a team believed to be on Goodrow’s no-trade list, to claim the veteran. Drury then entered an uncomfortable dance with Trouba, looking to move on from his captain ahead of free agency for extra cap space. There are plenty of hockey reasons that would have made sense. Had a deal gone down, perhaps the Rangers could have been more aggressive in looking at free-agent forwards. They would have also had to spend on someone who could replace Trouba, who averaged more than 21 minutes of ice time per game last regular season.

But as my colleague Arthur Staple wrote this week, “being cutthroat goes both ways sometimes.” Just as Drury has the right to explore trade options, Trouba has the right to limit them. He does not owe the front office any favors. He’s a human being before he’s a hockey player, and family should always take priority. It’s more than fair that he’s not putting what Drury wants ahead of his wife’s career. It’s good. Even if this were just about what he wanted for himself, that’s his right because of the contract New York gave him.

Trouba had a no-movement clause through the first five years of his deal. That shifted to a 15-team no-trade list Monday. The Rangers asked for Trouba’s no-trade list early while exploring moves, as we’ve discussed in past coverage, but Trouba’s camp didn’t oblige. It’s possible that slow play got in the way of the Rangers making a deal, and it certainly didn’t give New York much time to maneuver ahead of free agency, which also opened Monday. Now, if Drury were to try to move Trouba’s contract to open more cap space, there wouldn’t be many available players left to spend on. Almost all of the top free agents are off the board.

None of that blame falls on Trouba, and it certainly doesn’t fall on his wife. The 30-year-old captain never once violated the deal he negotiated. He is exercising the rights in the contract to do what’s best for himself and his family, and that’s beyond acceptable.

(Photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)



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