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Disagreement between Drouin, Lightning reaches point of no return

Despite Jonathan Drouin’s refusal to suit up with AHL Syracuse, the Lightning hold all the cards for his future.

In casual conversation ahead of the 2013 NHL draft, Jonathan Drouin revealed that his favorite time killer was Scrabble. “It’s fun,” he said. “I like the challenge.”

Looks like he’ll have plenty of time to take up that challenge now.

Just two weeks after a surprising trade demand went public, Drouin escalated his dispute with the Tampa Bay Lightning by refusing to play for their AHL farm team on Wednesday night.

Lightning suspend Jonathan Drouin indefinitely

“A few days ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning advised that a trade involving Jonathan was moving closer to completion,” Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh, explained in a statement. “We proposed to Tampa that Jonathan not play in the next few AHL games but continue practicing with the club to avoid any potential injury from preventing an imminent trade. Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay Lightning refused this reasonable request, however, Jonathan was not willing to accept this risk...

“We will have no further comment as we await the Tampa Bay Lightning to conclude a trade that involves Jonathan.”

The team responded swiftly, suspending the 20-year-old indefinitely, without pay.

And that’s the sound of a pointless disagreement reaching the point of no return.

• MUIR: Lightning have options in dealing with frustrated Drouin

At this point it seems inconceivable that Drouin will ever play for the team again, ending a relationship that began when the Lightning selected the flashy winger with the third pick in 2013. He’d just scored 41 goals and 105 points in only 49 games for the Halifax Mooseheads and was considered a can’t-miss prospect, a future All-Star.

But while other players from his class made the jump directly to the NHL, the Lightning decided Drouin would benefit from another year in juniors. He was not happy with that decision. And when he finally joined the Bolts for the 2014-15 season, he was used sporadically by coach Jon Cooper, who clearly didn’t trust the player in his system. 

Drouin}s hardly the first high pick who’s been asked to pay his dues before being handed a job, but he wasn’t happy with that decision, either. He wanted to cut in line.

So now he’s headed home to Quebec, trusting that his stand will expedite the process and get him out of Tampa.

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Instead, he’s almost certainly narrowed the field of teams who might be interested in him.

It will be easy to understand their hesitation. It’s one thing to take a chance on an unproven talent. It’s something else to take a chance on an unproven talent loaded down with bags full of entitlement.

At least one team rumored to be in on the bidding had already cooled on Drouin.

“We know he’s there,” Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray said earlier this week. “But there’s a few others out there, too, that haven’t requested trades. [That's] something new for you and I… Entry-level players requesting trades. Amazing.”

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If he was amazed before the holdout, there’s no telling what Murray thinks now.

Who knows, though. Maybe this will work out for Drouin. Maybe Yzerman will quickly cash in his chips just so he can wash his hands of the situation and focus on players who want to wear the bolt.

If that’s the way it plays out, then congrats to Drouin.

It’s more likely, though, that Yzerman will take a big picture approach to this, no matter the effect on his team. Remember, this is a man who, as GM of Team Canada, passed on selecting Martin St. Louis for the Sochi Olympics, even though he knew it would alienate one of the most popular players in Lightning franchise history. And this is the man who hasn’t given in to the contract demands of pending UFA Steven Stamkos, even though the player could walk away for nothing on July 1.

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That’s no surprise. Yzerman doesn’t do what’s easy. He does what’s right.

Meanwhile, the Lighting are playing their best hockey of the season, winning six straight games to move into a tie for second in the Atlantic Division, only three points back of division-leading Florida. He’s got all the leverage.

And Drouin? He’s got Scrabble.