Jonathan Drouin wasn’t looking to get paid, he simply wanted to play in the NHL.
Drouin requested a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning last season after being demoted to the AHL, citing his lack of proper development as reasoning for the request. From Drouin’s agent Allan Walsh:
On behalf of Jonathan Drouin, I formally requested a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning back in November. We have not said one word about this untenable situation publicly until today. It’s in everyone’s best interests that Jonathan be allowed to move on and play hockey.
Drouin’s saga would extend for many months, coming to a surprising end when the young forward took the spot of the injured Steven Stamkos. Drouin impressed beyond expectations after gaining the confidence of Jon Cooper and company, earning the playing time he wanted. He competed in the Eastern Conference Final with the Lightning, and the rumors have disintegrated completely.
Drouin may have unknowingly started a trend. Since his request, the youth of the NHL have been more demanding. Agents have been more willing to speak out, and players have grown to realize that they have options outside of simply doing what’s expected.
Take Jacob Trouba. Trouba’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, released the following statement (condensed):
There has been no negotiation regarding the terms of a contract between our client and the Jets over the course of the last several months. The situation is not about money; it is solely about our client having the opportunity to realize his potential as a right shot NHL defenseman.
To the Jets credit, the club has two outstanding right shot veteran defensemen and our client simply wants the opportunity to have a greater role. As a consequence of the Jets depth on the right side, we believe it is in both parties’ best interest to facilitate a mutually advantageous trade.
Our client has nothing but respect for the people and City of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Jets, its fans, management and ownership – our desire to get him moved has everything to do with opportunity. We will continue to work with the Jets in good faith to achieve this end.”
Trouba’s request has been rumored to be about money more than Overhardt is letting on, but it is reminiscent of Drouin’s in the sense that a major concern is playing time.
Rather than skating the path of many of his colleagues and taking whatever hits his organization throws at him, Trouba is requesting he be given a better opportunity because he is a better player. Drouin was vilified for his request, but in the end, he got what he wanted, and that has to boost Trouba’s confidence. Both players suited up for Team North America at the World Cup, indicating they’re among the best talent for their age.
Another couple of young players, Stefan Elliott and Valeri Nichushkin, bolted to the KHL. Elliott and Nichushkin each wanted bigger bridge deals than the Predators or Stars would offer, so they attempted to leverage the ability to leave for the KHL. Both teams called their bluffs, but neither were empty threats. It remains to be seen what the fallout will be, but the process certainly intrigues.
While Trouba’s agent may be willing to negotiate in the media, Tobias Rieder’s agent, Darren Ferris, took a different route with his client. Rieder, a restricted free agent that would like to stay in the NHL but is willing to move to the KHL, represents a mix between the two situations.
“I think it would be best for both parties if they just traded him,” Ferris wrote. “He is really disappointed with them.”
Ferris’ language is a bit different, prioritizing his client’s needs without making a definitive statement. Rieder, like Elliott and Nichushkin, is able to go to the KHL, but overall he appears more disappointed than upset.
Perhaps it is all semantics, but there is a difference, and it seems Rieder would prefer to stay, but the Arizona Coyotes are not making a strong effort to keep him. More than anything, Rieder appears like he would like to stay in Arizona, making the small gap between asks — one year in term, and $300,000 — rather perplexing.
Ferris’ comments take the usual trade request and twist it into being a trade suggestion, allowing for the Coyotes to give him the deal he feels he deserves, or trade him without Rieder getting Drouin-like backlash.
It remains to be seen what will happen with Tobias Rieder, much like it remains to be seen where Stefan Elliott, Valeri Nichushkin, and Jacob Trouba’s careers go. Regardless, Drouin’s request seems to have been the first in a rising tide of young players trying to take control of their destiny.
One is an anomaly, two is interesting, but three is the start of a trend. NHL organizations should be on notice that the youth are more confident than ever.