How Yzerman could still trade Jonathan Drouin in March

The Hockey Central at Noon panel takes another look at the Jonathan Drouin saga in Tampa Bay and why there is a very real chance that the talented forward may not play for the remainder of the season.

Granted, it would’ve been better for everyone involved — the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jonathan Drouin, agent Allan Walsh, fans of what the kids call dangles — if this ugly situation had been settled months ago.

So we certainly believed Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman when he said he preferred to trade Drouin by the NHL’s deadline, which passed Monday at 3 p.m. ET.

The mess could’ve been untangled and given Tampa a fresh set of legs for the playoff push — perhaps its last with Steven Stamkos leading the charge.

Just because 3 p.m. ET slipped by Monday without a Drouin deal, that doesn’t restrict the winger from being dealt during what’s left of the 2015-16 campaign, and it may actually land Yzerman a better haul if he’s negotiating with a non-playoff-bound rival.

And it would definitely be in Drouin and Walsh's best financial interest if he does get moved in-season as opposed to at the draft or in the summer.

"My feeling was, if it's not going to help me now, I'm better off keeping my options this summer," Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times Monday. "What we were looking for wasn't there today. Anything that would involve future draft picks or prospects at this time, it didn't make sense to do that. We'll have more certainty, more clarity on the salary cap and make a decision at that time.

"I wasn't trading Jonathan Drouin for an unrestricted free agent that I couldn't or wouldn't want to resign. That made no sense."

A player accumulates a season toward unrestricted free agency if he is on a team’s active roster for 40 games. Drouin was demoted by the Lightning 38 games into this season, General Fanager's Tom Poraszka points out. No doubt a contributing factor in his camp's irritation.

As a result, instead of becoming a UFA in July of 2021 as scheduled, Drouin — who is skating in Montreal — won't be a UFA until 2022 if he can't get on an NHL roster for two games this year.

The obvious snag for a March trade is that players acquired in post-deadline trades are not eligible for the playoffs.

Yzerman wanted a body that can shore up his defence and/or help his 24th-ranked power play, which is operating at a confounding 17.5 per cent success rate, but not all of the reported 15 or so teams who kicked tires on Drouin are playoff-bound.

He's no rental, and despite the skilled first-rounder's hands, he has yet to consistently wow at the pro level. After such a lengthy holdout, how much of a playoff impact could he make while adjusting to a new set of teammates and a new system?

Several teams wishing to acquire Drouin, like, say, the Flyers or Senators, would be doing so with a long view. Feb. 29 was more of a catalyst for Yzerman or Cup dreamers like the Ducks.

So if the cap-tight Lightning instead targets a return of draft picks or players early in their entry-level deals for Drouin, that deal could still go down post-deadline.

A non-playoff-bound club acquiring Drouin in March would be faced with a decision:

1.) Recall Drouin as a sign of good faith and to give him a look in the big-league lineup allowing him accrue a year of his entry-level deal.

2.) Help its own bottom line and delay the player's free agency by keeping Drouin in the minors.

Yzerman's preference was to ship Drouin out Monday, but that's not his only option. Now it's evident the reigning GM of the Year would rather wait than sell low.