The most telling comment about the difficulties of Jonathan Drouin’s situation with the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t come from the player or his agent. Nor did it come from Bolts general manager Steve Yzerman.
It came from Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray.
“[W]e're one of the front-runners in that aren't we in that? Every time I turn the page I hear we're making a deal with a certain team on the East Coast,” Murray commented to Los Angeles Times writer Helene Elliott. Then, with the same dry humour, he hinted rather broadly at his opinion of the situation:
There's more than just him that's probably out there and available right now. Let's just leave it at that. We're looking at a whole bunch of things. We know he's there, but there's a few others out there, too, that haven't requested trades. Requesting trades on entry level, that's something new for you and I. ... Entry-level players requesting trades. Amazing.
On paper, the Ducks are pretty much a perfect fit for Drouin. They have a lousy left wing depth chart, a need for young blood up front and the assets necessary to pose a tempting offer to Yzerman. They are in the other conference, too, making a trade easier. And yet Murray is clearly reluctant to make such a move.
Drouin initially requested a trade in November. In January, he and agent Allan Walsh chose to make that request public in a statement released to the media. That statement—seen below courtesy of TSN’s Bob McKenzie—seemed designed to put pressure on the Lightning and made it clear Drouin had a problem with specific unnamed people in the organization:
Bob McKenzie @TSNBobMcKenzie
A statement from Jonathan Drouin's agent Allan Walsh regarding his client's future in TB: https://t.co/Vhwet1IpTW2016-1-3 16:45:37
It’s easy to understand why Murray would think this behavior unbecoming of a player still on a two-way, entry-level deal. It would have been interesting to see his immediate reaction when the Lightning suspended Drouin on Wednesday.
Walsh responded with an even more pointed missive, via TVA’s Renaud Lavoie:
Renaud Lavoie @renlavoietva
Allan Walsh statement on Jonathan Drouin https://t.co/mBA4txQIJN2016-1-21 00:25:21
Walsh takes pains to paint his client’s actions as fair and justified. In his initial statement he stressed that although Drouin had originally requested a trade in November, he kept quiet about it for more than a month.
In this second release he’s pointed to Drouin's putting in two weeks in the AHL and presented the Lightning as unyielding for not accommodating the player’s desire to avoid risking injury by playing more than the seven minor league games he already has.
That’s certainly one way to look at it.
The other is Drouin grew dissatisfied with the organization and demanded out. When it didn’t happen quickly enough, his agent went public with the request as a way to pressure the Lightning. When he still hadn’t been dealt a couple of weeks later, he went even further, unilaterally choosing to disregard his signed contract and refusing to play games at all.
This puts everyone in a bad situation.
If Drouin’s holdout (this is an actual holdout, though the phrase is often misused to describe unsigned restricted free agents) continues and no trade is made, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston writes it’s possible the Lightning could toll his contract. That would mean having to play another year on his two-way, entry-level deal. Johnston also notes the holdout could delay the player’s eligibility for free agency by a year.
The increased public pressure on the Lightning also makes getting good value in a trade more difficult. The other 29 competing general managers will relish the trouble Drouin’s choices are giving their rival. Some will undoubtedly use those choices as leverage to try to get Drouin for pennies on the dollar.
Others, particularly those on the playoff bubble in the East and with no designs on the player, will simply try to take advantage of the Bolts being down a pretty good young player.
Finally, the most troublesome impact could be on people like Murray—NHL general managers who are mulling over whether Drouin is a fit for their team. A private trade request, a public trade demand and now a refusal to play will all be factors considered by those franchises. If Drouin can quit on the Lightning, they’ll have to ask whether it’s possible he’ll take the same strong-arm approach in dealings with their clubs.
Drouin’s actions have put pressure on the Lightning but run a risk of backfiring. He may unwittingly be creating a situation where fewer teams are interested in acquiring him and those that are interested find themselves so only at a steep discount, making it less likely Tampa Bay finds a deal it can stomach. If the team can’t find a reasonable trade, other options—like trying to toll his contract—could become more appealing.
Drouin clearly wants this over. Yzerman undoubtedly wants the same. And there’s no question there are teams out there that could benefit from what Drouin brings to the ice. The challenge now is finding a club willing to take a chance on a holdout—one willing to offer real value in trade and give both the player and the organization an out.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.