You may have heard that the Tampa Bay Lightning's Jonathan Drouin requested a trade back in November, a fact which his agent Allan Walsh leaked to the media yesterday. Intriguingly, The Score listed Ottawa as a prime candidate to land him if he was traded. The 6th Sens had a great breakdown of the benefits and worries about a trade for Drouin. For a little bit more perspective from the Lightning side, we reached out to John Fontana of Raw Charge who gave a bit more insight. (For a more in-depth piece from John on the Drouin trade request, check out this solid piece from yesterday.)
Q: From an outside perspective, Drouin seems to have gotten a raw deal having been scratched a bunch and played very little in the games in which he's been in the lineup. Is this the perspective of Lightning fans?
I’m going to start off this reply with a question of my own: Does draft position alone set as a fact a player as a good player, or do they have to actually play well and earn a spot up high and good ice time?
The Lightning have a very deliberate development process that’s bred success, and they also have a roster full of capable NHL players (to say the least) who’ve shown a well rounded game. Drouin being selected by Tampa Bay had the outright challenge to top one roster player or high end prospect slated for NHL time in 2013-14 in camp. He didn’t pull that off and was returned to Halifax (Counterpoint: he’d have stayed in Tampa if the club knew Steven Stamkos was going to be lost to a broken leg). Last season, he earned a roster spot in part because the team knew he couldn’t improve any more at the junior level, yet he struggled to hone his game. It’s what relegated him to 3rd and 4th line duties. The fact others were more fitting for role play in the bottom-6 is what led to Drouin’s scratching in the 2015 playoffs.
This season, Drouin’s had opportunities playing with Steven Stamkos on the top line but hit a lull shortly after, gave way to injury – twice. When Drouin has played without hurt, he hasn’t shown he should be n a higher line, he’s just been there. By status and what’s been expected of him from a third-party tier, that’s a raw deal. From watching it all play out, it’s a guy not living up to a reputation that he’d be an elite star and who expects to be handed a chance on a team where he’s failed to earn it.
Q: Was it a surprise to see Drouin demoted to the AHL?
Not really. Drouin was the only waiver ineligible player on the roster. The club is very serious about getting player playing time to work on their game, and the fact Tampa Bay was carry 14 forwards now that everyone is healthy means there’s going to be a juggling act.
I know some fans and teams treat the AHL as nothing, just a place for spare parts. Tampa Bay has been making it seriously known these guys are going to contribute. There’s a moniker that’s been earned with the Syracuse Crunch / Tampa Bay development pipeline, "Tampacuse". Many of the Lightning’s starters at forward (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette, J.T. Brown, Jonathan Marchessault, Vladislav Namestnikov) have spent time down there honing their skills and proving themselves. In fact it’s Marchessault becoming waiver eligible (and him contributing at the NHL level) while Drouin was hurt that forced the Drouin to be the one sent down.
Q: Lots of the NHL seems to see Drouin as blue chip prospect. Do you think this is still true, or are people overvaluing his draft pedigree?
It’s sort of odd that blue-chip status is being applied now when certain media types had been throwing out dud-status or failure / bust critiques for Drouin missing the NHL and struggling to earn ice time in ’14-15. Skill wise and what flashes he’s shown, the kid has some great talent. Mentally and emotionally, his status isn’t as a blue-chipper but more of a project.
Q: One name thrown around in a trade from Ottawa is Mike Hoffman, likely partnered with a 2nd-round pick for Drouin. The most likely reason for Ottawa to trade Hoffman is that he will price himself out of Ottawa's budget range after another strong season. With the Bolts likely to be up against the cap soon, Hoffman seems like a strange fit. Do you think the Lightning would be interested in a 25-year-old pending RFA who could demand $5-million or more per season?
While Hoffman fits the range and scope of a player that would be on the want list and complementing the Bolts' roster, that price-out applies here too. Tampa Bay is up against the cap as-is. Some recent recalls from Syracuse were dictated by cap hit more than how deserving the talent was. Plus factor in the Steven Stamkos contract situation and you have another obstacle that impends that deal from happening. If Ottawa was willing to pick up a contract from Tampa Bay (I’ve tossed around Valtteri Filppula among the forward corps and Matt Carle as a defenseman option), there’s more of a chance a deal could be hashed out. But not at current, not with our cap situation going forward.
Q: What kind of assets do you think the Lightning are looking for in exchange for Drouin? Sens fans have talked about packages built around Curtis Lazar (young forward) or Cody Ceci (young defenceman). Would either of those work for the team? Both of those? Or would even more be expected?
This comes off like I’m a killjoy on open speculation but I’m not sure, not from the Senators or anyone. I’m not even sure Yzerman is playing to Drouin and Walsh’s request to be moved. There’s also the factor that we’re direct competitors (Atlantic Division, FTW!) that makes me wonder if Yzerman would (if he does move Drouin) want to deal in-division. Then again, we (the Senators and the Lightning) have done it before in the Ben Bishop trade.
While Lazar does pique interest, he’s also playing center where the Lightning have a great deal of depth. Ceci also interests, but defense needs a purge of players if anyone else were to be taken on. Any package deal gets complex because of shuffling assets to deal with the cap.