Canadiens & Drouin Have Some Tough Decisions to Make

The Montreal Canadiens’ Jonathan Drouin is at an unfortunate crossroads in his career, which seems too soon for a player only 26 years of age. I won’t speculate or assume what is going on with him, but a young player doesn’t take time off from the sport he loves if it isn’t serious. A lot of pressure was put on Drouin while playing in his native Quebec, and, sometimes, that pressure can be too much. His future needs to be dealt with according to what’s best for both him and the team, whether that means he stays in Montreal, changes teams, or leaves hockey altogether.

Drouin Leaves the Team for Personal Reasons

On April 28, Drouin took a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons and was subsequently placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). He had 23 points in 44 games and was among the team leaders in assists before his departure – he may not have been scoring goals, but he had significantly improved his two-way game, and he was dedicated to all aspects of his game.

Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin
Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

The Canadiens did not go into details about what was going on with him. They told the media that they intended to respect his privacy and would not provide further information on the situation. Drouin has not played or practiced with the team since, and he will not return for the playoffs, no matter how far the Canadiens advance. However, he has been in constant contact with the team, encouraging them, and the players are keeping him up to date and reminding him how important he is to them.

Francophones Have Increased Pressure in Montreal

I won’t dive too deep into this part of the story because my THW colleague Blain Potvin has already written an incredible article detailing this situation. Drouin was traded to the Canadiens from the Tampa Bay Lightning for defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev, with the hope that he could become a francophone star for the team. Instead, Sergachev soared to new heights in Tampa Bay while Drouin didn’t meet the high expectations placed on him by the media and fans.

The lofty expectations coupled with being a native Quebecois meant there was a lot of pressure for Drouin to succeed in Montreal. It was easy to overlook that he improved many different parts of his game in every season since joining the Canadiens. In 2017-18, his first season with the team, Drouin amassed 46 points and then matched his career-high the following season with 53 points. In the 2019-20 season, he had 15 points in his first 19 games but then hurt his wrist and only played eight more games that season without scoring a point – before the injury, he had been on pace for a 46-point season.

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This season, he was on pace for 44 points, a slight dip from his second season, but his Corsi for percentage increased from 57.7% in his first year to 58.2% in 2020-21. Yet, fans and the media expected 70-80 points a season and ignored everything else.

Bergevin Must Do What’s Best for Drouin and the Team

So, what’s next for Drouin? Should he stay in Montreal? Be traded? Retire? It is well known that Drouin is very involved in children’s charities in the Montreal area – he was the Canadiens’ selection for the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. He and general manager Marc Bergevin will need to sit down this offseason and discuss the future.

Marc Bergevin
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Bergevin will have the tough job of doing what’s best for the team while also considering what is best for the player. He will need to find out how much Drouin is worth on the trade market currently – Drouin could be seen as “damaged goods” to some GMs – while considering what Drouin’s needs and priorities are should he stay with the team. This is a complicated situation where the GM hat must be on, and the friend hat is put to the side. The Canadiens are still a business and need to operate as one. Should Drouin decide to stay with the team or retire, the fallout will not be as heavy on Bergevin’s shoulders.

Whats Next for Drouin?

Drouin will have plenty of time to decide his next step. It’s clear that he loves his job, but he must do what’s best for himself and his family. If he still wants to play hockey – which I believe he still does – then his best move might be to play somewhere other than Montreal if pressure is the reason for his leave of absence. He is a very talented young player who can provide offence to any team, but what is his trade value?

Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens
Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If his departure is not related to the pressure of playing in Montreal and he decides to return, Drouin will still be a viable top-six option on the left wing. Tomas Tatar is unlikely to return, and the team has limited depth on the left side – losing both players would force Bergevin to find a left-winger during the offseason when valuable cap space could be spent elsewhere. At 26 years old, retirement shouldn’t even be on Drouin’s mind, but then again, we don’t know the situation – stepping away from the game for a few seasons might be the best thing for him, and there’s no reason he can’t come back.

I expect Drouin to be moved this offseason. Ideally, Bergevin will make a deal with the Seattle Kraken to select him in the expansion draft. This would allow Drouin to play in a new market with lower expectations and help the Canadiens control who they lose at the draft. Right now, the Canadiens and Drouin are focused on the playoffs, but this situation will be a closely watched scenario in the offseason.

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