Due to their tight cap space both now and in the near future, the Tampa Bay Lightning and general manager Steve Yzerman will have to make a big decision soon about the future of young 22-year-old rising star Jonathan Drouin. There has been talk for much of the offseason already that the team might look to trade the young scorer for a top-four defenseman, which has created some outrage about the team trading a player of Drouin’s potential.
Drouin had a breakout year in 2016-17, scoring 21 goals and adding 32 assists for a 53 point season. And he’s likely to have just scratched the surface of his potential. Yes, Drouin chose to sit out games in 2015-16 and both looked selfish for demanding a trade and caused problems for the Lightning, but Drouin and the organization has moved past that, according to Tampa Bay Times writer Martin Fennelly. The scribe writes that under no circumstances do you trade away a top-talent like Drouin. The former third-overall pick in the 2013 draft has the potential to be one of the best players in the NHL if he plays to his potential.
Many people believe that Drouin could be a point-a-game player. Hall of Famer Phil Esposito, the franchise’s founder, compared Drouin to Wayne Gretzky. And that’s why, according to Fennelly, that you don’t trade a potential star. You don’t have to. The scribe suggests trading Tyler Johnson instead. The 26-year-old scored 19 goals last year and should be able to bring in a solid defenseman – perhaps not a star – but a blueliner that can still improve that defense.
However, there are others factors to consider, writes Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, as the two writers wrote opposing columns. When the team’s disappointing season ended, without a playoff berth, Yzerman didn’t blame all the team’s injuries, but the Lightning’s lack of defense and that is the key to the team’s future success. The team allowed opposing teams too many scoring opportunities due to a weak defense. It’s not like the Lightning can just go out and sign the top free agent defenseman on the market. The team couldn’t afford Kevin Shattenkirk, let alone Karl Alzner. Cap space is the problem.
Smith says the idea of trading Drouin is crazy, but you have to look at all the factors, which includes the defensive problems as well as the cap ramifications. The team must lock up three restricted free agents this year, including Drouin, Ondrej Palat and Johnson (as well as add a back-up goalie) with just $18MM in cap space. That would be a major challenge. The team must also factor in that they must give a big contract to Nikita Kucherov in two years as well.
On top of that, Drouin’s value is at an all-time high. Every team would want to put a package together to get the young scorer. His value would be able to net multiple assets with a top-two or top-four defenseman just the beginning of an offer. The team could net other assets of young talent and/or picks, which could keep Tampa Bay on top for years to come from a trade like this. There are rumors about packages ranging from Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin or Minnesota Wild’s Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella as potential starting points in trades. And if Yzerman waits until just before the expansion protection roster deadline, he may be able to get an even greater package.
However, Fennelly points out that Tampa Bay should be reminded of a similar situation several years ago when the Boston Bruins traded Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars in 2013 for a package of players because the Bruins thought Seguin was a problem-child. Seguin now is one of the best scorers in the league. You don’t want to be the team that traded away a star player.