[HUGE IF TRUE breaks down the plausibility of the week's biggest rumor.]
Well first of all, it's not a rumor. When your agent comes out on a sunny Sunday morning and reveals via a number of media connections that Jonathan Drouin has requested a trade — and in fact, did so back in November — that is pretty much as straightforward as it gets.
That, of course, sparked every blog about an individual team in the league (sans Lightning) writing at least one “Should this team trade for Jonathan Drouin?” post, and the answer was pretty much a resounding “yes.” Any time you, as an NHL GM, get the chance to trade for a kid who is not legally allowed to to drink in 23 of the NHL's markets, who was a third-overall pick in a particularly deep draft year and scored more than 200 points in his last 95 junior games, you start getting your trade proposals together pretty quickly.
This is the kind of chance that, theoretically, doesn't come along too often. You don't get a Jo Drouin requesting a trade at all, let alone publicly, more than once or twice a decade, probably. And that, of course, makes it particularly difficult for anyone to determine what his actual value in a trade would be.
This is clearly a situation where the Lightning know that Drouin is talented but there are reasons that he has not been able to be a regular contributor to the cause over the last two seasons. Players of this skill level, at this age, are generally pulling closer to 20 minutes a night than the 13:25 Drouin has averaged in his 89-game career to date. So the question is whether he's been a bit hard done by in Tampa (he clearly feels he has), and what that means for Steve Yzerman's willingness to move him for such-and-such a price.
Who's Going Where?
Drouin is going to any team that can put together a package for him that tempts Yzerman to risk him turning into Tyler Seguin 2.0 (though it must be said Seguin had a scoring track record of comically good proportions even when he was with Boston; 29 goals and 67 points in his age-20 season is no joke).
The “Maybe He Becomes Seguin” argument was suggested to Elliotte Friedman by an NHL executive earlier this week. Let's put it this way: If Yzerman were in any way a motivated seller, the nearly two months since the trade request was made would have been a good time to move him, yes? The obvious concerns here are that Yzerman would lose Marty St. Louis, Jo Drouin, and Steven Stamkos in short order. Two very real faces of the franchise and one potential one. Again, you aren't often going to be wise to sell a No. 3 pick with Drouin's obvious capabilities. Likewise, you have to wonder if the coaching situation in Tampa is a workable one in terms of Jon Cooper potentially alienating two mega-talented forwards in the space of a few months. Drouin is obviously not a star yet and maybe Tough Love is what he needs, but he sure doesn't seem happy with it.
But something is clearly missing: reasonable trade partners. Again, there are 29 teams in the league that would be wise to trade for Drouin, and another that would be wise to keep him. Tampa may believe heavily in its development plans, and given what the AHL club has churned out in recent years, there's good reason for it. But Yzerman also has to understand that talent like this cannot always be developed. Drouin has inherent abilities that Tyler Johnson or Ondrej Palat, good as they may be, simply do not. Instilling the other stuff can be relatively easy, but even if you're getting pieces back you really like, you can't replace a player who “feels” the game like Drouin seems to.
As Craig Custance points out, the unique qualities here (Drouin's obvious talent, the potential for losing Stamkos, the trade demand, etc.) make it incredibly tough to evaluate just what Drouin costs a trade partner. You obviously need comparable talent back, either collectively through multiple players or in one singular player who's farther along in his development, like a good, middle-of-the-lineup mid-20s veteran. But who's looking to trade those in a league where 27 of 30 teams are within five points of a playoff spot on Jan. 6?
Some teams are more obvious landing destinations — Nashville, St. Louis, etc. — but this is a trade literally 29 other GMs should be calling Yzerman about every single day until he either says, “Not for sale,” or trades Drouin.
Before you start putting together your HFBoards proposals (too late, I guess), there are things to consider. First and foremost, there's the fact that Drouin has only six(!) goals and 40 points in 89 games over a season and a half. None of these numbers are overwhelming, obviously, but teams are certainly going to be sold on the premise of his promise alone.
However, there's data to suggest that he should also carry some supporters based only on his NHL performance so far. To wit, here's some fun data from the last two seasons:
Drouin is producing at an insane rate relative to his usage. Gets more points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 than Steven Stamkos but is playing as much as Cedric Paquette. There is an inherent disconnect there, and it's not as though he's getting badly out-possessed or anything like that. Yeah, the goals number is really troubling but — and this is going to shock you — is 3.8 percent. How many more games do you think a guy with his talent level shoots 3.8 percent?
Frankly, these numbers, and plenty of others suggest that Drouin deserves a larger role than “being assigned to the AHL” Just as a frame of reference, the average NHL player with 2.0 points per 60 minutes is typically going to be on your first line; that's a forward getting about 13.5 minutes a night for about 75 games, and scoring 35 or more points at 5-on-5.
It should therefore not shock you even a little bit to learn that 31 of Drouin's 40 career points have come at 5-on-5. And given how he's used in those situations, it should further come as no surprise that Drouin isn't exactly pulling a lot of power play time. He's eight among Tampa forwards in PP minutes per game over the last two seasons. He gets almost 50 seconds per night fewer than Ryan freakin' Callahan. The mind boggles.
There are, of course, counterarguments here. Jon Cooper is a wise and judicious coach, and perhaps sees that while Drouin is whaling on opponents when he's on the ice, those opponents aren't necessarily the top quality other teams can deploy. When the Triplets and Stamkos can soften the beaches, he gets the chance to succeed. And also, where do you slot Drouin if you accept that you cannot break up the Triplets, or that Stamkos has his own regular linemates?
But the fact that he's scoring this much playing mostly with guys like Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov I think gives him the right to feel like he hasn't been given a fair shake in Tampa.
One cannot imagine that another team would make the same mistake.
This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?
On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least:
Yeah so like, okay, he's requested a trade. Five poops for that. He wants out, no question. Won't discuss it publicly, but he wants out. But the folks over at ESPN, all of whom are smart and plugged-in, seem to think Yzerman stays the course. And that makes plenty of sense to me.
Consequently, as much as I see this as an attempt by a savvy agent to force Yzerman's hand, I think it probably just ends up forcing him to keep Drouin with the big club and maybe (maaaaaaybe) giving him a more generous run-out. As such, I would give the “Drouin Will Be Traded To [Insert Town Here]” rumors:
It could still happen if someone blows Yzerman away with an offer — and as teams such as Nashville or perhaps Winnipeg get more desperate and realize their UFA situations aren't ideal, that becomes marginally more likely — but Tampa must have a contingency plan in place for if (when?) Stamkos bolts. Without Drouin, that becomes significantly harder.
And it's tough to see how anything in that regard makes such a trade “worth it” to Tampa as a result.
(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)
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