In June 2013, Jonathan Drouin was made the third overall pick in the NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, selected ahead of defenseman Seth Jones, who went No. 4 to the Nashville Predators. Al Murray, Tampa Bay's director of amateur scouting, said: "He has a special compete level and a special skill set you very rarely see come along.”
In January 2016, Drouin’s agent Allan Walsh revealed that he has requested a trade from the Lightning for his client, writing:
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.
Let’s be clear: Jonathan loves playing for the fans in Tampa, and he loves his teammates and many people within the Lightning organization have treated him well. It was his sincere intention to play in Tampa for many years.
So what the hell happened here?
Jon Cooper happened, for one thing.
The Lightning coach has pulled the reins back on the 20-year-old winger since he debuted in the NHL last season. As a rookie, Drouin played 70 games and had four goals and 28 assists. His ice time was all over the map, as was his usage. He ended up with 16.7 shifts per game; for comparison’s sake, Brian Boyle had 18.2 shifts per game.
In the playoffs, Cooper showed little-to-no confidence in Drouin’s ability to play a complete game. He appeared six times. His average ice time was 10:02. His zone starts were conservatively managed by Cooper.
It was in the playoffs when word about the fractured relationship between player and coach started leaking. The Toronto Sun wrote about a meeting they had – including only quotes from Cooper, so you get a sense of which side of the conversation leaked it – that indicated that “animosity between the player and management” might lead to a trade.
Drouin has been limited to 19 games this season due to injuries. On Saturday, he was demoted to Syracuse of the AHL by GM Steve Yzerman, with increased and consistent ice time (as a top liner) the apparent motivation. From Joe Smith of the Tampa Tribune:
Drouin, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, has had an admittedly long year. He has two goals and six assists. Yzerman said he was cognizant how this could impact Drouin mentally, driving the key points home in a meeting Saturday.
"We take everything into account," Yzerman said. "But we have reason for doing it and I believe in the reasons for doing it. Jonathan expressed to me he understands the reasons for it. So again, we want our players to succeed and we want them to play well and put t hem in best position to succeed. And I believe this helps that."
And Yzerman made it clear the Lightning still believes in Drouin. "I think he's a tremendous young talent," Yzerman said. "One, he needs to stay healthy and get in the lineup and show what he can do."
But as Walsh mentioned, Drouin had already requested out two months ago. Which brings us to the other part of “what happened?” – Allan Walsh happened.
This is what he does. While he’s toned down his Twitter campaigns for clients – please recall the 2010 controversy as he subtly lobbied for Jaroslav Halak to usurp Carey Price as Montreal Canadiens starter – he’s still willing to go public with gripes from his players.
He railed against the Minnesota Wild for signing Petr Sykora and then not giving him the role they allegedly promised. When Derick Brassard was being healthy scratched by the Columbus Blue Jackets by then-coach Scott Arniel, Walsh told the Columbus Dispatch that Arniel “has a history of burying players and using them as scapegoats to mask his own lack of success on the ice. Derick has been singled out, almost from the very beginning of the season, to be the fall guy in case things don't go well.”
The Drouin trade request is a bit more nuanced, and clearly doesn’t mention either Cooper or Yzerman by name. But it doesn’t take a microscope to read between those lines.
So what do the Lightning do?
Despite being buried on the depth chart, Drouin has a ton of value. He has one more season on his rookie deal, and that next contract isn’t exactly going to break the bank even if he end up somewhere where his stats spike. If this relationship can’t be salvaged, it’s a significant chip to play for Yzerman.
But will they play the chip? Drouin has no leverage, which is why his agent decided to stir this tempest in the public. He’s chained to this franchise through 2017, and then they still have his rights as an RFA. So he can request all the trades he’d like. The Lightning are under no pressure to grant them.
This situation will, of course, eventually circle back to the future of Steven Stamkos with the Lightning, which is inevitably tied to Stamkos’s relationship with Cooper.
An offensive star unhappy with his usage looks to leave because of Jon Cooper?
Gee, haven’t heard that scenario before.
Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
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