The 2015-16 NHL season has been particularly dreadful when it comes to the trade market. It’s gotten so bad that the Scuderi-for-Daley swap a few weeks ago has become the highlight of this season’s trade activity. General managers have even joked that they can’t even make bad trades right now if they tried – that’s how dry the market has become.
But Jonathan Drouin’s trade-request-gone-public has thrown his name to the forefront – he’s the most promising, talented, sought-after prospect whose name is out there.
A trade out of Tampa is not a guarantee, of course. It will take a lot of negotiating for a GM to pry the prized prospect out of the Lightning organization, especially considering the looming Steven Stamkos contract situation. Tampa GM Steve Yzerman is going to push hard for a significant return if he does choose to trade him. But odds are that Drouin will not remain a member of the Lightning for too much longer – especially considering his agent’s use of the word “untenable” when describing the situation.
Here are three destinations that would be the best fits if Drouin is ultimately traded out of Tampa Bay.
Any Jonathan Drouin trade is going to have to be complementary to the ongoing Stamkos situation, so a potential trade to the Calgary Flames would only take place if the Lightning decide to hold on to their captain for the playoffs – signed or unsigned to a contract extension. The potential deal hinges upon this because the Flames have a big trade chip in Jiri Hudler, who they will likely make available if they fail to make the playoffs.
The hang-up here is that the Flames are currently only one point out of a playoff spot, due to an incredibly weak Pacific Division. Further complicating matters at the moment is the fact that they have won six of their last 10 games, and with such a great possibility of grabbing either second or third place in the Pacific Division (they are just four points behind the second-seed Arizona Coyotes), they may want to wait a while before becoming sellers.
With all that said, if they do decide to sell at or before the trade deadline, they would be foolish not to be all-in on acquiring Drouin. The 20-year-old was selected just three spots before Flames standout forward Sean Monahan in 2013, and he would be joining a young team on the rise.
Hudler, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, had a remarkable 2014-15 campaign in which he scored 76 points (including 31 goals) in 78 games. He hasn’t quite backed it up this season, as he has put up just 20 points in 35 games, but his team has underwhelmed as well, which may have something to do with it.
If Tampa is all-in for a Cup run this year, and the Drouin situation truly is untenable, then it would only make sense for Yzerman to use his top prospect in order to bring in another top-six (or top-nine, when you consider how deep the Lightning roster already is) forward. The cap-strapped Lightning can afford the short-term addition of Hudler only if Calgary retains about half his salary and/or they add a bad contract to send to Southern Alberta along with Drouin. Yzerman may also be able to get a pick and/or prospect in the deal, and the Flames have plenty of each.
It’s highly unlikely that Steve Yzerman will be doing Jonathan Drouin a favor in choosing a destination that will be most beneficial for the 20-year-old like he did for former captain and long-time Lightning forward Marty St. Louis two years ago. While the GM likely could have gotten a much better package from another team at that 2014 trade deadline, he granted the veteran St. Louis’ request to be traded to the New York Rangers.
This time around, any trade involving Drouin is going to be in the best interest of the club, not the player. Regardless, sending him to the Colorado Avalanche – where he would join close friend and former junior line-mate Nathan MacKinnon – makes a lot of sense for both sides.
Colorado has several prospects/players to offer up should GM Joe Sakic decide to pursue Drouin. Unfairly underrated and rarely talked about in the media, defense prospect Chris Bigras has tremendous trade value at the moment, and it’s very likely that several GMs have approached Sakic about acquiring him. The two-way defender scored 71 points in 62 games for the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack last season and has been off to a great rookie campaign with the American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage this year.
The Lightning can definitely use a future top-4 left-handed defenseman to play behind Victor Hedman, and they would even have the leverage to request a second- or third-round pick in addition. They could also add Mikhail Grigorenko to the package, but they may be weary of the young, unproven talent since they have a similar situation with Drouin at the moment.
Of course, Tampa could aim for one of Colorado’s veterans – specifically right-handed defenseman Tyson Barrie – in anticipation of a Cup run. But the upcoming RFA is going to demand big money during free agency, so the Lightning may want to pursue prospects/picks since they will need cap space to re-sign Stamkos.
Toronto Maple Leafs
There has been an overwhelming amount of speculation as to whether Stamkos will sign in Toronto if he hits the open market on July 1, but it could be Drouin who joins the Maple Leafs before the 2016-17 season begins. While it may seem like every potential trade piece has a perceived likelihood of being sent to Toronto, this is a move that would make a whole lot of sense for both the Leafs and Lightning.
The rebuild in Toronto is in full-swing, as management and the coaching staff have shown a total commitment to drafting and developing while stripping away veterans one by one. One veteran who has been consistently impressive is James van Riemsdyk. Currently in his prime, the talented forward does not deserve to be part of a rebuild. Rather, he should be on a Cup contender, where he seems to thrive most (he was fantastic in the playoffs when the Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010).
Sending van Riemsdyk to Tampa in exchange for Drouin would be the best situation for both, as Tampa is currently a contender and Drouin would get a better shot at a top-six role as early as next season in Toronto. The Leafs have top prospects such as William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen and Connor Brown – among others – in the AHL, playing for the Toronto Marlies. Many have even joked that the Marlies are more exciting to watch than the Leafs are this year, due to the abundance of talent they have on the roster and the success they have found as a team.
Drouin was just demoted to the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL the other day, a move that has seemingly prompted his agent to make the trade request – which was originally made in November – public. But he would likely welcome playing for the AHL Marlies for the remainder of this season, since the team is filled with nearly-NHL-ready talent that he would likely be playing with in the NHL as early as this coming October.
If Tampa can convince the Leafs to take on a bad contract, such as Matt Carle or Braydon Coburn (who would need to waive their no-trade clauses) and/or retain some of van Riemsdyk’s salary, they may just have themselves the foundation of a Drouin trade.