Drouin saga compounds drama surrounding Lightning

Jonathan Drouin's departure to the AHL has been anything but a quiet one as news revealed that the once highly touted prospect wished to be traded. But don't expect GM Steve Yzerman to move quickly to appease the young forward.

CALGARY — Steven Stamkos still doesn’t have a contract, and now Jonathan Drouin is publicly asking for a trade not even 90 games into his National Hockey League career.

Each of these developments greeted the Tampa Bay Lightning with its own set of circumstances, but it can not be denied: that’s a lot of drama for one organization in one season.

“One has nothing to do with the other,” Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman told Sportsnet on Monday. “One player has played (89) games in the NHL. They’re completely different situations for completely different reasons. It is completely unfair to lump them together.”

On Sunday, upon being assigned to Syracuse of the American Hockey League, Drouin (through agent Allan Walsh) issued a press release stating that Drouin wished to be traded. It was perceived by Drouin’s camp that a private trade demand back in November was not being acted upon, so going public was the next step.

As Drouin has very few rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement — he has one year remaining on his Entry Level Contract — it is a rare from a 20-year-old to take on his organization this way. It comes with a stigma, one that will follow Drouin through his career.

“I’ll do what’s best for the hockey team,” Yzerman said over the phone Monday. “Any potential trade is going to made to make our hockey team better, not to (appease) a player.”

Neither Drouin nor Walsh were talking on Monday.

Let’s dig into a Drouin trade first. Frankly, it seems impossible for Yzerman get value for Drouin, or make a trade where it does not appear his hand was forced. The relatively low salary of Drouin ($925,000) will help teams accepting him, but Tampa’s cap space may not allow the Bolts to take on an established player making more money. So it would likely have to be a young player for a young player.

Drouin was drafted at No. 3 overall in 2013, but would Calgary give up the sixth pick in the ’13 draft (Sean Monahan) for Drouin? No chance the Flames would do that.

Would Nashville give up No. 4 (Seth Jones)? Would Buffalo give Yzerman the No. 8 pick (Rasmus Ristolainen)? Would Phoenix give you No. 12 (Max Domi)? Not a chance any of them would take on an unhappy, undeveloped Drouin, deemed a future top-6 forward but now with baggage.

In the meantime Drouin will report to Syracuse, where he’ll likely play well enough to earn another call up to Tampa. There, we predict he will reunite with Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, the man that Drouin clearly feels has stunted his career growth by not making a centreman fast enough, or playing him as much as the 20-year-old feels he deserves.

“You never want to be in a situation where someone wants out. It’s too bad,” Cooper said Monday in Calgary. “In the time we’ve had Jonathan … you wouldn’t see this coming. It was (as big) a surprise to all of the guys in our room and myself just as much as it was to the media.”

If you are looking for a common thread between Stamkos heading towards unrestricted free agency and the Drouin issue, Cooper may be that thread. It’s clear that Drouin has had his fill of the Lightning head coach, and some believe that Stamkos has too.

Others will swear that Stamkos and the coach are fine — and that group includes Stamkos himself. So whom do we believe?

“I learned pretty quickly coming into the league (under head coach Barry Melrose), that it doesn’t always happen right away. It’s a process, and some take longer than others. The ones who … persevere can have great careers. I think Jonathan will have that,” Stamkos said.

“I can attest to coming in at that age, hoping for the best right away and wanting certain things that you’re accustomed to getting right away, whether you deserve it… Those first two years, it sucked at the time but it … made me a better player and a better person. We’re all hoping that’s the case with (Drouin).”

You can blame Cooper for this two-headed monster that greets the Lightning this season, or you can blame an impatient player and a notorious agent. There’s a GM and owner who should have had the Stamkos deal signed up long ago, but they’ve got the Godfather of agents to deal with in Stamkos’ representative Don Meehan, and an NHL Players Association who will be very hands on with an extension for the biggest UFA of the calendar year in 2016.

It’s complicated and dramatic.

Not what the Tampa Bay Lightning thought would greet them when they opened the season as the defending Eastern Conference champs.