Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said “the door is open” if suspended winger Jonathan Drouin wants to return to the team.
The comments came when Yzerman met with reporters after Monday’s trade deadline to discuss the day and why he didn’t trade the young forward.
The week before the deadline Yzerman said he wanted to deal Drouin, who has been suspended by the team since mid-January, “sooner than later.”
Yzerman appears to be taking a patient approach with the 20-year-old Drouin.
"At this time, my feeling was, if it's not going to help me now, I'm better off keeping my options this summer," Yzerman said according to the Tampa Bay Times. "What we were looking for wasn't there today. Anything that would involve future draft picks or prospects at this time, it didn't make sense to do that. We'll have more certainty, more clarity on the salary cap and make a decision at that time."
Yzerman said he had not spoken to Drouin's representative Allan Walsh about a possible reconciliation with the forward.
Drouin demanded a trade from the Lightning in November. The team sent him to their AHL affiliate in Syracuse in early January. Eventually Tampa suspended Drouin on Jan. 20 for a failure to report to play for Syracuse.
Walsh released a statement saying his client wouldn’t play until he was traded.
Tampa used the No. 3 pick in the uber-talented 2013 NHL Draft on Drouin, selecting him over the likes of Seth Jones and Sean Monahan. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the offensively minded Drouin has garnered a fair amount interest from much of the league since his trade request. His last year in junior, Drouin had 108 points in 46 games played for the Halifax Mooseheads. With the Lightning, Drouin had eight points in 19 games this year. A year ago he had 32 points in 70 games played.
There was some thought that Yzerman would trade Drouin in order to go ‘all-in’ on this season. The team hasn’t re-signed captain, and pending unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos. After making the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, the Lightning are within their window of opportunity for this season, especially if Stamkos signs elsewhere for next season.
"I wasn't trading Jonathan Drouin for an unrestricted free agent that I couldn't or wouldn't want to re-sign, that made no sense," Yzerman said.
While it’s unlikely Drouin will return to the Lightning, it’s not impossible. The longer he sits, the longer his perception as a player is damaged. Drouin has been practicing at home but hasn’t seen game competition at any level since January.
There's also a possibility Drouin's value will increase by the 2016 NHL Draft if he doesn't play the rest of the season.
Article 10.1(a) of the CBA provides that in order to qualify as an unrestricted free agent, a player must have seven “accrued seasons”. An “accrued season” is defined as a minimum of 40 games on the active roster for a player. Drouin was on the active roster for 38 games (playing in 19 games), which means he’s two games short of an “accrued season”. So if Drouin doesn’t play again this season, his UFA status will be delayed one year. That means that Yzerman can offer a team an additional year of club control, which would certainly be attractive to potential suitors.
Yzerman also addressed Stamkos' contract situation, acknowledging Tampa could lose the former 60 goal man for nothing, but still had hope that wouldn't be the case. Before the deadline, Yzerman released a statement saying the team would not trade Stamkos.
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