Over the past weekend, there were two news items in the hockey world that caught our attention. The confirmation of John Scott as one of the four all-star game captains was one and enough has been said about that.1www.morethanafan.net “The NHL’s Latest Black Eye” December 23/15 A black eye for the NHL and a “thumbs down” to the league for not having a Plan B in place in case something hideous like this occurred. The second newsworthy item came out of Tampa Bay.
For the third time in two years Steve Yzerman has found himself in a tight spot as it relates to one of his high potential players. For an executive who has exhumed class as an executive, just as he did as a player I think we have all been puzzled by the fact that once again one of the Lightning’s top players has given some indication that he wants out of the Sunshine State. We have already examined the stories of Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos.
In early 2014, St. Louis, then captain of the Lightning was miffed at Yzerman, then doubling as GM of Canada’s 2014 Olympic Hockey team when Yzerman initially passed him over for a spot on the Olympic team. St. Louis subsequently insisted on a trade, using his “no-trade” clause to orchestrate a move to the one team he was willing to play for; the New York Rangers. Yzerman got good value from the Rangers in that trade, with Ryan Callahan, the key player heading to Tampa Bay still with the Lightning while St. Louis called it a career this past summer. More recently, he has been faced with the Stamkos situation, where it seems less and less likely that the current Lightning captain will re-sign with the team once his current contract expires this coming July.2www.moretnafan.net “The Stamkos Dilemma” December 17/15
While that has yet to be resolved one way or the other, indirectly it has a bearing on the latest problem facing Yzerman. On Sunday it became public knowledge that Jonathan Drouin, the Lightning’s first pick (third overall) in 2013 had requested a trade. Apparently Drouin and his agent Allan Walsh had requested a trade sometime in November, but the matter didn’t become public until it was confirmed by Walsh as a result of the Lightning sending Drouin to the team’s top farm club, the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. The crux of the matter is that Drouin feels he should be playing at the NHL level, as are almost all of his contemporaries from that 2013 draft, whereas Yzerman and his staff feel differently.
Perhaps Yzerman’s lengthy stay with the Detroit Red Wings as both a player and in their front office taught him patience in terms of bringing young players along. For most of Yzerman’s later years as a player and through all of his time in the front office the Red Wings were a good team, allowing most of their young prospects to mature in the AHL, gradually moving up to the big team filling holes created through trades and retirements. In addition, as a result of their on-ice success, the Red Wings had almost no high draft picks during that period so they were dealing with young prospects much less “high profile” than Drouin.
Drouin’s entry level contract will expire this coming July, which will allow him to become a restricted free-agent. Unless he plays some NHL games between now and the end of the season, it will be hard for any other team to justify signing him to a contract and providing the Lightning with mutually agreeable compensation. On that front, the Lightning hold the hammer. However, Yzerman also needs to consider his options.
He can play hard ball and take advantage of the team’s control over Drouin and either keep him in the AHL, bring him up to the Lightning or perhaps seek a trade now. The difficulty in seeking a trade now is obtaining sufficient compensation. With St. Louis, the unhappy player had a track record from which potential teams (in that case just the Rangers) could offer a package of players/draft picks to the Lightning for a proven player. Any trade involving Drouin would have to be made strictly on potential. That can be dangerous for both sides.
If the traded player goes on to be a star with his new team, the chances are that the team giving up on him won’t get adequate players in return for their young asset. A team looking to give Drouin a chance would not likely want to give up anything of substance for an unproven player. Two deals where a young player was traded and the trading team got nothing close to sufficient return come to mind.
In 1986 the Vancouver Canucks wanted Barry Pederson, a young player with the Boston Bruins who had enjoyed five good seasons in Beantown and had played junior hockey in Nanaimo, British Columbia. As well as being a good player, Pederson would add a “local” flavour to the Canucks roster. Pederson would play parts of four seasons with the Canucks, scoring 60 of his 238 career NHL goals for Vancouver, but the Bruins were the big winners in the trade. After scoring 51 goals for the Canucks over three seasons, Cam Neely went to Boston in that trade and evolved into one of the game’s premier power forwards and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
More recently we can consider the case of Kyle Turris. Turris was the third player chosen (ironically just like Drouin) in the 2007 NHL entry draft by the then Phoenix Coyotes. By December 2011, Turris felt that the Coyotes weren’t giving him much of a chance, just as Drouin feels today about the Lightning. Turris requested a trade and the Coyotes decided to trade him for the best offer they could get. That came from the Ottawa Senators, who offered defenseman David Rundblad and a 2012 second round draft pick3This pick was subsequently traded by the Coyotes to Columbus and then to Philadelphia who used it to select Anthony Stolarz.
Rundblad did very little for the Coyotes, moving to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014 and while he was part of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship last year, he was strictly a role player as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Only a serious injury to Michal Rozsival allowed Rundblad into the Blackhawks lineup. Rundblad’s star has fallen so low that this past week he was “loaned” to the Zurich Lions of the Swiss League, his NHL career apparently over at the age of 25.
Meanwhile, Turris has established himself as the Senators number one centre. Based on those two scenarios, it is easy to see why Yzerman would be extremely hesitant to trade Drouin. On top of that, with the Stamkos situation still very much in the air, if Stamkos was to leave at the end of his contract, it is very likely that the Lightning would want to give Drouin a long look as their next building block before giving up on him. Drouin was a huge talent as a junior, playing with the Halifax Mooseheads alongside current Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon but whether he isn’t cut out to be an NHL star or simply hasn’t had the opportunity in Tampa Bay no one really knows at this point.
On the surface, Yzerman’s hands appear to be tied. Again. If Stamkos decides to leave, the Lightning’s needs are far different than if Stamkos stays. So until Yzerman knows how the Stamkos situation ends, he really can’t make any decisions, which leaves Drouin essentially helpless at this point. His best bet is to go to the AHL, keep quiet, play at the levels expected from him as a top draft choice and either force the Lightning to call him up or at least play well enough in the AHL that another team will give him an offer this summer.
Yzerman has responded to the public request for a trade by saying that “I’ll do what’s best for the hockey team. Any potential trade is going to make our hockey team better, not to appease a player”. We would expect nothing less from any NHL GM, but it does raise the question as to why marquee players/prospects keep wanting out of Tampa Bay.
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|1.||↑||www.morethanafan.net “The NHL’s Latest Black Eye” December 23/15|
|2.||↑||www.moretnafan.net “The Stamkos Dilemma” December 17/15|
|3.||↑||This pick was subsequently traded by the Coyotes to Columbus and then to Philadelphia who used it to select Anthony Stolarz|