A Bolt Of Lightning: Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin Dilemma

You can’t quite call it a problem, but it’s certainly something.

You can’t call it a problem, because a majority of teams in the NHL would love to have the young man on their team, but it’s certainly something because a young man like him shouldn’t ever be a healthy scratch. How about calling it a dilemma?

As the Tampa Bay Lightning made their run to game six of the Stanley Cup Final, Jonathan Drouin played, as we pointed it out here, the waiting game. The team was rolling, and head coach Jon Cooper had little to no incentive to thrust a struggling young player into his lineup; so Drouin only suited up for six playoff games. It made sense and, for the most part, we all agreed at the time that we would do the same if we had been in Cooper’s shoes. (We’ll never be, because he is awesome and we are not.)

But, they say, that was then and this is now. And now? Now is the off-season, and Cooper and general manager Steve Yzerman face a dilemma—namely, what will they do with the 20-year-old next season? Because, oh yes, the vultures/John Doe managers are already circling the team.

What are the options?

Trading Drouin is the first option; it’s also the wrong one—but not for the reason you think. You trade a young player like him if your team is one major piece away, say, one veteran, from a championship. It may still not be the right move, but it’s at least then a rational one. But the Lightning aren’t a piece away; the team was one game away. For that reason, I agree with this Twitter user. (Though I disagree with his grammar—“too”, not “to”.) 

If you don’t trade Drouin, then you keep him (#expertanalysis, I know, but bear with me), but you still have two remaining options then. Maybe you stay put and expect the native of Sainte-Adèle, Qc., to improve after his rookie season. If you’re Yzerman—and you’re not, but play along—you don’t change anything: last season, your team was great and advanced statistics back it up (i.e. here’s the Corsi and the Fenwick). So you enter the next with the same lineup as this past year and hope for a repeat, only with the fairytale ending. Because if you’re Yzerman, time is on your side.

Why rock the boat?

But because time is a fickle mistress, then maybe you rely on your former No. 3 pick sooner than later. Maybe you push him a little to see what he has. To see what comes next for the left wing, who torched the QMJHL for 213 points in 95 games, and scored a point per game over two World Junior Hockey Championships.

(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)
Will Valtteri Filppula go for Jonathan Drouin? (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Of course, a greater role for Drouin means a smaller one for someone else. The youngster projects as a Top 6 forward, but who do the Lightning then give up on? The “Triplettes of Belleville” line is set in stone and Steven Stamkos is Steven Stamkos. Do they trade Alex Killorn, another left wing? No, because he plays so well with his captain and he’s a restricted free agent after the season and RFAs never leave. That leaves 31-year-old Valtteri Filppula and his onerous contract. His limited production limits any potential return, but you don’t trade him to get much in return but to make room for Drouin and his potential.

The right answer lies somewhere there, and it is Yzerman’s job to figure this out. Another GM of the year award could be his next year if he does; or he could be looking for work. You know, no pressure.