Canadiens Should Expose Drouin in Expansion Draft

On the ice, the Montreal Canadiens are doing their best to stay alive in the Stanley Cup Final. Management, however, is preparing for the upcoming expansion draft. The Canadiens will need to decide who to protect, and who to risk losing at the draft. I suggest an easy solution that both helps the organization and helps a team member find peace, even providing the opportunity to thrive in a market with less pressure than in Montreal.

The Drouin Situation

On April 28, the Canadiens placed winger Jonathan Drouin on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). Many suspected the reason to be COVID-19, but the team released a statement saying it was for personal reasons and then asked the media to respect his privacy. Since joining the Canadiens, Drouin has long been the focus of intense fan and media scrutiny. Being a francophone, the pressure was at an all-time high from the beginning, especially playing in Montreal.

Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin
Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

The problem with all the negativity surrounding Drouin is that none of it is his fault. General manager Marc Bergevin should take most of the blame: he traded away a top prospect in Mikhail Sergachev – a puck-moving defenceman the Canadiens needed – to acquire Drouin, and then tried to use Drouin as the Habs’ top center when it was clear he wasn’t equipped to play that position. Sergachev became a solid defenseman for the Tampa Bay Lightning while Drouin struggled to meet expectations set way too high for him. Drouin is off due to personal reasons, and we can only speculate what they are, but it’s probably safe to say the pressure in the Montreal market has a lot to do with it.

Bergevin Needs to Protect His Player and His Team

Bergevin is in a tight spot when it comes to Drouin. He needs to ensure Drouin gets the help he needs and provide him with a favourable working environment so Drouin can play at the top of his game. Creating the best environment would be near impossible due to the factors Bergevin cannot control, such as the media and fans. It’s fine to criticize, but to do it relentlessly – as they have done – is unnecessary. Bergevin would have to find a way to shelter Drouin from some of the “bullying” some pass off as criticism.

Marc Bergevin Montreal Canadiens
Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bergevin also has to protect his team, which has surprised everyone and reached the Stanley Cup Final this season. In 2021-22, the Canadiens will need to build on their playoff success and try to have a repeat appearance – to do that, Bergevin must make some tough decisions regarding his lineup, and what to do with Drouin will be a significant one of those. Drouin is a top-six winger with a $5.5 million cap hit, and if he can’t play in Montreal due to his current situation, he must be moved to create room on the team while ensuring his health and well-being are taken care of.

Canadiens and the Expansion Draft

With the expansion draft happening on July 21, the Canadiens need to make their protection list soon. I’ll have to assume they’ll go with the 7-3-1 choice to protect players, meaning they can protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. Carey Price, Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher have no-movement clauses (NMC), so they must be protected. Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Alexander Romanov, Ryan Poehling, and Cayden Primeau are all exempt due to having played two or fewer professional seasons at the end of the 2020-21 season. This still leaves several players that need to be protected.

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Montreal Canadiens

It safe to bet that Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Shea Weber are almost guaranteed to be protected, but then we arrive where callous decisions need to be made. Bergevin could end up keeping all of his players, using prospects and draft picks as bait for the Seattle Kraken to not take any current roster players. Either way, there is still a better solution that would help both Bergevin and Drouin.

Drouin in Seattle Could Be the Answer to the Situation

If the issue with Drouin is the pressure of being a francophone player in Montreal, then a change of scenery could be the best thing for him. The Kraken are a new expansion team with new fans and are in a new city nowhere near the hotbed of Montreal – the pressure for Drouin would be next to nothing. There shouldn’t be any lofty expectations there either. Drouin averages 48 points per 82 games, and no one in Seattle would care if he doesn’t hit 80 points. If he manages to reach the potential everyone sees in him, it would be seen as a bonus to the fans and organization. Drouin playing in an environment where he can focus on hockey and not having to be the next big francophone superstar in Quebec could be wonderful for his career and mental health.

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

On the other hand, Bergevin would be able to free up Drouin’s cap and create a space on the top-six for a better-suited player that can pick up where Drouin left off and help guide the Canadiens back to the Stanley Cup Final. This would also allow Bergevin to keep every member of this season’s Stanley Cup run, including key figures such as both Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson, as well as backup goalie Jake Allen, who was a major factor in the Canadiens qualifying for the playoffs.

Drouin and Bergevin Must Agree to Do the Right Thing

All this, of course, will depend on whether or not the organization and Drouin actually want to part ways. If Drouin needs some time away from the game to get his head straight and come back as the player he has been for parts of the last two seasons, he will still be a great asset to the team. The Canadiens management may also not want to move him for fear that it may seem they have given up on Drouin and shipped him away so they didn’t have to deal with him anymore.

This entire situation is a tough one – nothing either side does will be easy. Still, as long as they work together and do what’s best – mainly for Drouin, but also to fit the organization’s needs – then a solution will present itself. For now, let’s hope Drouin is healing and will be ready to play next season, wherever that may be.

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