As if dealing with the future of superstar Steven Stamkos wasn't enough to keep Steve Yzerman busy, the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning now has to deal with the public revelation that the organization's top prospect wants out.
“On behalf of Jonathan Drouin, I formally requested a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning back in November. We have not said one word about this untenable situation publicly until today,” Drouin's agent Allan Walsh said in a statement released to several media outlets on Sunday. “It's in everyone's best interests that Jonathan be allowed to move on and play hockey.”
Drouin's frustration is understandable. Since being drafted third by the Lightning in 2013, he's dealt with demotions, injuries and inconsistent opportunities under coach Jon Cooper, who has never seemed to trust the 20 year old. Meanwhile, every other player selected in the top-10 of that class is contributing in some meaningful fashion to the team that selected him. No one said hockey is fair, but he clearly feels he hasn't gotten a fair shake, and he isn't likely to get one any time soon.
Maybe a change of scenery is best for him, but he shouldn't expect one any time soon. Yzerman is under no obligation to accommodate his request. Drouin's entry-level contract runs through 2016-17, at which point he becomes a restricted free agent. Essentially, he has about as much leverage here as a five-year-old trying to renegotiate his bed time, something Yzerman made clear in his response to Walsh's statement: "Moving forward, my sole intention is to act in the best interest of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey club. In the meantime, Jonathan has been assigned to our American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, and we expect him to report for practice with the rest of his teammates this Tuesday morning.”
He still believes Drouin can become a contributor to this team. “I think he's a tremendous young talent,” Yzerman said Saturday. “He needs to stay healthy and get in the lineup and show what he can do.” And if he believes the relationship can be repaired, he has the opportunity to direct his energies into doing just that.
But if he decides to accommodate Drouin's request, you'd better believe he'll make the best of this. Remember, Yzerman has proven himself to be an astute manager of his assets. He made a terrific deal under duress in 2014 when captain Martin St. Louis demanded a trade, even after the player used his no-movement clause to ensure he'd land with the Rangers. He won't have any shortage of options this time around. If a deal happens, he'll get one that suits his needs.
There'll be 29 GMs who pick up the phone to inquire what it will take, but most will end there. Drouin might have the name, but with six goals in 89 career games he's not a player who jumps into another lineup and makes it immediately better.
That doesn't rule out the possibility that a contending team would be interested–Montreal always seems to be in the mix when a Francophone player is involved and the Rangers need a shakeup to salvage a season on the brink–but it seems more likely that he'll be pursued by a team with a longer window. That still leaves several clubs in the running.
The Vancouver Canucks are transitioning to a post-Sedin reality in which Bo Horvat, Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen will key their offense. Drouin would fit nicely into that cohort, adding some east-west sizzle to a group that's currently leaning toward north-south play. Drouin might cost them one of those youngsters, though, and that might not be a price that GM Jim Benning, who drafted all three, is willing to pay.
Arizona has been stockpiling young offensive talent. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair already are with the big club, while Dylan Strome, Nick Merkley, Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak and Ryan MacInnis are working their way up the ladder. While the first three are untouchable, that organizational depth would allow the Coyotes to build a package that might address Yzerman's needs, while fast tracking their own rebuild, much the way Tim Murray has done in Buffalo.
New Jersey is currently 27th in goal scoring and relying heavily on graybeards like Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak to light the lamp. Drouin would give the Devils the long-term spark plug they need to revamp their attack, and maybe add a little star power to a team that's been one of the league's worst draws for decades. The Devils have some interesting defense prospects in Steven Santini and Seth Helgeson who might appeal to the Bolts.
Toronto is promising patience with its rebuild, but adding a player who is closer to contributing doesn't exactly take it off course. The Maple Leafs have a number of prospects in a system that suddenly looks fairly promising, along with two first-round picks available to them in their own and Pittsburgh's, acquired in the Phil Kessel trade. A bold move like this would go over well with a fan base that's had little to cheer about this season.
Edmonton, a team loaded with young firepower but struggling to cobble together a viable blueline, might seem like a longshot but there's reason to believe it would be an option. As the Stars and Capitals are proving, you can't have too much offensive skill, and Drouin would fit in nicely behind Taylor Hall on their left wing. They have a couple of interesting assets they could dangle in NHL-ready forward Nail Yakupov or possibly AHL defenseman Griffin Reinhart, so they'd likely be in the mix.
The most intriguing partner might be the Blue Jackets. Like the Oilers, Columbus’s most pressing need is defense, but with rumors swirling about a dysfunctional locker room it could be looking for another kind of change. Ryan Johansen's name has been circulating as a trade option for weeks now. Drouin alone won't land him, and there are cap issues on both sides, but with Stamkos' future TBD, the Bolts might be interested in putting together a package that would bring the big center to the Gulf Coast.
As with the Travis Hamonic situation earlier this season, expect plenty of rumors to make the rounds over the next few days. Action though is likely to take considerably longer.