Jonathan Drouin’s ugly situation unlike any in history

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TORONTO — You can look back through the history of player-team disputes in the NHL and find some similarities with what is happening between Jonathan Drouin and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But you won’t stumble upon another case exactly like it.

Here we have a player on his entry-level contract — a position that grants Drouin the fewest rights possible under the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement — doing everything in his power to force the hand of the organization that drafted him third overall.

Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray was expressing a widely-held opinion when he mused on the situation the other day: “Entry-level players requesting trades. Amazing.”

It got even more amazing with the Syracuse Crunch visiting Toronto on Wednesday after Drouin took the morning skate at Ricoh Coliseum and failed to show up for the game. The Lightning immediately suspended him indefinitely without pay while Allan Walsh, Drouin's agent who went public with a trade request on Jan. 3, countered by saying his client had decided not to continue on with the organization in "any capacity."

"We will have no further comment as we await the Tampa Bay Lightning to conclude a trade that involves Jonathan," Walsh said in a lengthy statement.

So, about that.

What are the odds this latest twist accelerates a trade?

The biggest issue the Lightning have had all along is getting what general manager Steve Yzerman would term "fair value" for a player with tremendous potential, but one who has produced only modest scoring totals early in his NHL career.

The fact he's now walked out on the organization entirely would only seem to complicate matters -- although a couple executives from rival teams pointed out that it may give Yzerman an avenue to boost Drouin's trade value, albeit one the player would almost certainly challenge vehemently.

Should the 20-year-old forward remain suspended for the rest of the season, the Lightning could seek to have his contract tolled. If successful, that would leave Drouin with two years of entry-level remaining and make him an even more valuable commodity.

Of course, that action would have to be upheld by a partial arbitrator, and with no precedent to lean on, it's impossible to predict what outcome might come from a grievance.

Another potential consequence of this situation is that Drouin won't register an accrued season if he doesn't spend two more games on a NHL roster by mid-April -- which, as GeneralFanager pointed out on Twitter, means that he wouldn't be eligible for unrestricted free agency until July 2022 rather than one year earlier.

In the near term, Yzerman is driving the bus here. Beyond possibly wanting to rid himself of this situation, there's very little compelling him to honour Drouin's trade demand -- especially if he doesn't like what's on the table.

Fortunately for all involved, that may not be the case.

The Lightning recently advised Drouin that a trade was nearing completion, according to Walsh's statement, and at that point the agent suggested his client be held out of American Hockey League games to prevent injury.

The request was denied.

That seems to be what was behind Drouin's decision to skip Wednesday's Crunch-Marlies game -- "Jonathan was not willing to accept the risk," said Walsh -- a move that set off another round of debate about the tact he's chosen to try and force a trade.

Now Drouin isn't being paid and he's got nowhere to play. There's every possibility the Lightning will leave him in limbo beyond the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

We've never seen a player with so little leverage step out on a limb like this before.

And with the stances hardening there's no guarantee that this standoff will end anytime soon.