The Jonathan Drouin saga has reached a fever pitch, and it seems the forward’s time with the Tampa Bay Lightning has come to an end.
Drouin’s 2015-16 campaign took a drastic turn earlier this month when his agent, Allan Walsh, made public the fact that the former third-overall draft pick had requested a trade from the Lightning back in November.
While it seemed Drouin and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman were moving steadily in the direction of a somewhat amicable separation, the situation ramped up significantly yesterday when Drouin was suspended indefinitely by the organization for failing to report to one of the Syracuse Crunch’s games. The ban was handed down after Drouin–who’s played the past seven games for the Crunch–opted to sit out of the recent tilt to avoid potential injury, believing that Yzerman was close to making a deal.
As things currently stand, Drouin’s agent has stated the wing will no longer continue with the Lightning “in any capacity”, while Yzerman is reportedly “actively and aggressively” seeking a trade.
The demand for Drouin seems significant. While the 2o-year-old has racked up only 40 points in 89 career NHL games, he reigned as one of the top offensive forces in his draft class after dominating the QMJHL for the Halifax Mooseheads, posting 213 points in only 95 games over the course of his last two seasons of junior hockey.
It’s clear to all that as soon as Drouin is finally able to earn a regular spot in the NHL and put it all together, he could become one of the most lethal scorers in the league. It isn’t often that a prospect of this calibre hits the trade market, and plenty of General Managers are making a serious push for the future star.
The Calgary Flames are one club that would be wise to prepare an offer for Drouin, as there seem to be plenty of reasons the two would be an excellent fit.
The Flames’ offensive style plays to Drouin’s strengths, as the team has no qualms with allowing their young players to flex their creative offensive muscle. The success of star Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau has made that clear, as has the recent play of the Flames’ own third-overall draft pick, Sam Bennett.
Drouin’s flashy offensive style would fit right in with the likes of Gaudreau and Bennett. And the addition would be significant, as–even with a strong young forward core of Gaudreau, Bennett, and Sean Monahan–the Flames certainly don’t look like an offensive powerhouse, long-term. There is still room to grow their top-six and Drouin would be a significant step forward in this regard.
The Flames’ culture would be a much better fit in terms of Drouin’s development as well, as head coach Bob Hartley hasn’t been shy about giving big roles to young players early on. That has been the case with Monahan, Gaudreau, and Bennett in each of the forwards’ rookie seasons, but also with other young players like hard-nosed winger Micheal Ferland.
One key fact to consider: the Flames could look to beef up their long-term offensive success just to ensure they’ll be able to stay afloat against the Edmonton Oilers. The rival Albertan club has been stockpiling offensive weapons over the past half decade–a group which now includes two full lines-worth of elite young forwards.
Edmonton will likely add to that crop at the upcoming draft as well, as the Oilers currently rank last in the Western Conference. That being the case, the club could bring in an elite young scorer like Auston Matthews, Jesse Puljujarvi or Patrik Laine in the near future.
The Flames’ current offensive trio could arguably contend with the Oilers’ original young group, but adding Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl into the mix has begun to turn the tides. While Calgary’s defensive depth is already miles past the Oilers’, the Flames may look to add some more young forward pieces to ensure they can compete with Edmonton down the line, when all of these young stars are in their primes.
Flames GM Brad Treliving hasn’t been shy about making deals for marquee players when they become available. He did so last summer when the Flames seemingly came out of nowhere to snag Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins. Sportsnet’s Mark Spector even reported earlier this season that Treliving had reached out to Yzerman to discuss a potential deal for captain Steven Stamkos.
Should Treliving wade into the Drouin debacle, the Flames have plenty of pieces to work with.
The team’s core–Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett, Hamilton, Mark Giordano, and T.J. Brodie–are likely off the table. However, everyone else on the roster would seem to be fair game for a prospect of Drouin’s calibre. Defenders Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell are the two names most often thrown around when the Flames are involved in trade rumours.
Wideman had a resurgent 2014-15 season, scoring a career-high 15 goals and 56 points, while Russell became one of the heroes of Calgary’s 2015 postseason run, establishing himself as one of the game’s premier shot-blockers.
But the duo’s play this season, paired with Wideman’s less than stellar contract (his cap hit sits at $5.25 million for this season and the next), has likely limited their value. Not to mention the fact that the Lightning have a fairly strong defensive group already, and aren’t in need of much help in this area. They currently rank seventh in the league in terms of the fewest number of goals allowed per game (2.35).
There is one other name that could draw interest from Yzerman, however: Jiri Hudler.
The veteran Flames winger posted a phenomenal 2014-15 campaign, posting 76 points to not only lead Calgary in scoring, but also finish eighth in the league’s overall scoring race. He reigned as the league’s leading scorer at even strength, tallying 60 of his 76 points during 5-on-5 play. While some chalked up Hudler’s success to a byproduct of playing with Gaudreau and Monahan, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest this is not the case.
But Hudler’s 2015-16 season has had a different look. The combination of dealing with injuries and being tasked with mentoring the young Bennett (as Hudler did last season with Monahan and Gaudreau) has led to a decreased role for the veteran scorer. The result has been a drop in his average ice-time from over 18 minutes to 16:34 – his lowest in four seasons with the Flames.
This decreased role means Hudler is more expendable for the Flames than he seemed to be last season. Also playing a role is the fact that the 32-year-old will be an unrestricted free-agent next season, and Treliving likely won’t be able to send much money his way with Monahan and Gaudreau in need of extensions. Hudler’s pending UFA status does mean that the Flames would have to add more to a potential deal, however, as the veteran would have to be re-signed.
But Hudler could be an excellent fit with the Lightning for a number of reasons. His 2014-15 total ranked higher than any forward on the Lightning’s roster, including Stamkos (who scored four less points than Hudler, despite playing four more games). As well, the Lightning’s offense this season hasn’t been the prolific group that led the league last year.
They currently rank 11th in the league in goals per game, and 16th in the league in terms of powerplay effectiveness–excellent rankings, but still a step back from 2014-15. With Lightning young guns Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat still struggling to find their footing after each dealt with missed time due to injury, the Lightning could certainly use a bit of steady help in the offensive department.
Hudler has managed to post 22 points in 37 games this season despite his diminished role–a total that would rank fifth among all Lightning skaters.
There’s one other key connection that could be a significant boost for Hudler’s chances of winding up in Tampa Bay. The Czech native has a history with Lightning centreman Valtteri Filppula, as the pair played together with the Detroit Red Wings. They weren’t simply two names listed together on a roster either. Hudler and Filppula were exceptional together during their time in Detroit, serving as the driving force behind the Red Wings’ offense on a number of occasions.
It isn’t difficult to find a slew of highlight reel goals that involve the two talented forwards connecting for the Red Wings. The above clip was from the 2011-12 season, when Hudler and Filppula both finished among the Red Wings’ top five scorers, while each topped the 20-goal plateau.
Bringing in Hudler could allow Yzerman to recreate a bit of that prior magic, while also allowing Hudler a good chance at meshing with the group quickly due to this familiarity.
It’s unclear what exactly the Lightning are looking for in terms of a return for Drouin, though Yzerman has been adamant that he won’t make a deal that doesn’t benefit the Lightning long-term. Tampa Bay has been on a roll as of late, winning their last six consecutive games, so the former General Manager of the Year certainly isn’t going to rush to shake things up.
However, should the Lightning decide to move on from the Drouin distraction and add some secondary scoring heading into the playoffs, Treliving could be the one to call.