The NHL has been abuzz over the last several days with the news of a young potential star possibly being on the trading block. News broke this weekend that Jonathan Drouin, via his agent Allan Walsh, formally requested a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning, potentially making the 2013 third-overall pick in the NHL Draft available just two and a half years after he was selected. The relationship between Drouin and the Lightning has seemingly been strained from the start and, on Sunday, this public announcement brought things to an explosive head. With a now-publicly unhappy young potential star, the question becomes whether Tampa will seek to salvage their relationship with the talented forward or cut ties and try to move him for the best possible return.
The Devils, as we all know, are a team with major shortcomings on offense. Their prospect pipeline is limited up front and the current roster is paper thin at forward. Finding big time talents for your top-six is a difficult task in the NHL and the Devils could use a young star forward as much as any team in the NHL. Ray Shero has already shown that he is striving to build a strong core for this team and will try to make smart acquisitions of young talent where he can. With a major talent Jonathan Drouin, who is only 20 years old, perhaps now being available, one has to imagine the Devils would take a look at making a run at him. The question ultimately is what the Lightning will want out of the deal.
Situations like this are very rare in the NHL. Sure, players' and teams' relationships go sour sometimes but a player publicly asking for a trade like this isn't a common occurrence, let alone a player who was drafted in the top-5 less than three years ago. You'll see young stars moved from time-to-time around the league (often from the Boston Bruins) but most of the time, you'll only hear murmurs or leaks about the reasoning behind the trades. Sometimes it's a cap crunch, sometimes it's a perceived conduct issue, but it's hard to recall an agent putting out a press release like this where a player this young plainly states they want out.
It's a surprising move by Drouin, in part, because being in just the second year of his ELC (it slid in 2013-14 as he spent the year in juniors), he's still ostensibly under team control for the next 5 years. He won't even be arbitration eligible when his current contract expires after next season, so his leverage, despite the public trade request, remains limited. This is why I'm still a little skeptical on whether Tampa Bay would go through with trading him. Essentially, unless he wants to tank his own career, he's stuck with Tampa until they decide they're on board with him leaving. Perhaps he can convince some team to sign him to an offer sheet in 2017, but that doesn't guarantee his exit either, if the Lightning choose to match.
For the foreseeable future, he only way he ends up leaving is if Steve Yzerman and company decide he isn't worth the headache and want to flip him for some valuable assets in return. They've already demonstrated that they aren't super high on his play by often limiting his playing time and then sending him back to their AHL affiliate in Syracuse this weekend. This is a bit interesting, given that Drouin is 4th on the team in 5v5 points/60 (minimum 500 minutes) over the past two seasons, behind only the "triplets" of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov and ahead of names like Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan. It's possible that other factors are at play, though. Maybe he butts heads with the coach or maybe they have some issue with his conduct or work ethic but, either way, it seems like he is a player with the ability to be a standout in the league.
Even if Tampa Bay doesn't think he's worth the trouble though, Yzerman has demonstrated enough skill with asset management that it seems likely that he recognizes the seller's market he has with Drouin. What I'm saying is: even if Tampa internally considers themselves out of the Jonathan Drouin business, I would not expect the price tag on the young winger to be cheap. Even when Martin St. Louis panted them into a corner by demanding a trade and restricting the partner to one team, the Bolts still got a pretty nice return for themselves, so I don't really expect a fleecing on the horizon.
What that means, is that if Shero and the Devils want to acquire Jonathan Drouin, they are likely going to have to part with some pieces that will be at least a little painful to let go of. So the standard "Merrill or Gelinas and a 2nd rounder" HF Boards proposal probably won't yield you much more than some laughter followed by a dial tone out of the Tampa Bay end of the phone. Tampa is going to want impactful assets in return for Drouin, so the Devils will probably need to put one of their better young players and/or a first-round pick on the table to get Tampa talking to them. So instead of talking Gelinas or Merrill, we're probably looking at an Adam Larsson or Damon Severson going the other way, if we're talking defense.
It's probable that any deal going Tampa's way would have to include at least one roster player who can help them now. They are a team whose goal coming into this season was a Cup, but they've struggled to find their footing and sit two points out of the final playoff spot in the East. Would they want a player like Kyle Palmieri or Adam Henrique in return? The forward-for-forward swap seems to have less upside for the Devils, though, so they might have to get a little more creative with the return if Tampa wants a forward. Maybe they can send a rental like Stempniak to help right now and include one of their better forward prospects like John Quenneville and a protected first-rounder as the future sweeteners. No matter what the Devils propose in terms of picks, it think they would be wise to lottery-protect any first-rounders. The last thing you'd want is to make this trade and then end up losing a top-three pick along with other assets.
So what is a package that works for Tampa that the Devils can stomach to make this happen. Perhaps Severson and a first can bring back Drouin and maybe a third from Tampa. Does John Quenneville move the needle at all in a potential package for Drouin? Does Stempniak, Quenneville, and a first get you Drouin back? I think I could pull the trigger on either of those two packages, the question is just whether Tampa would take them. I think the Devils need to be cautious about giving away too many future assets, but I think at minimum they will probably have to be including a first in any palatable package that brings Drouin to New Jersey, unless you are including a big-time now-and-future asset like Larsson or Palmieri.
So what do you think about the possibility of the Devils getting in on the Drouin sweepstakes? Do you think he still has potential to be a star in the NHL? Is he a player that you want to see the Devils go after? Would you pull the trigger on one of the couple trades I threw against the wall above? Do you have your own idea of what type of package is needed to get Drouin in black and red? Sound off with your thoughts below in the comments and thanks for reading.