Amid the most dramatic holdout in recent NHL history, general manager Steve Yzerman is trying to find a solution that works for him.
In a bold and costly effort to hasten a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning, forward Jonathan Drouin has decided not to report to the AHL-affiliate Syracuse Crunch, to which he was assigned on Jan. 2.
“It’s obviously not the position we envisioned,” Yzerman told reporters in Tampa Thursday, the morning after he suspended Drouin without pay for his failure to report to the Crunch’s game in Toronto Wednesday night.
Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh, went public with his client’s trade request earlier this month, after Drouin was demoted to the AHL.
Walsh released a statement Wednesday night that indicated Drouin would not play until a trade was finalized, lest the winger get injured:
Yzerman said he never told Walsh or Drouin that any deal was close but did say the Lightning is “actively and aggressively” trying to strike a trade that makes sense for Tampa and that there has been “significant” interest from other teams.
Riding a six-game winning streak, the defending Eastern Conference champions have every reason to believe they can contend for a Stanley Cup this spring.
The general consensus is that Drouin — a 20-year-old with a total of 40 points and 89 NHL games on his resume — has little leverage and is acting like a stubborn child determined to get his way.
“Even if he’s not the most popular player in the league, there’s at least seven to 12 teams that want him,” TVA insider Renaud Lavoie told Jeff Blair on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Thursday morning. “People are saying, teams are not going to want him because he’s a holdout and that’s a big red flag. Well, that’s not the reality. The reality is there’s a lot of teams interested in having him.”
Drouin debated whether to even report to Syracuse earlier this month but did so to prove to prospective trade partners that he was healthy. According to Lavoie, one of the scenarios on the table was for Drouin to just play one weekend with the Crunch.
“Steve Yzerman has all rights not to trade him,” Lavoie said. “[But] if Jonathan Drouin is not traded by the deadline, I’ll be surprised.”
Both Lavoie and Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos report that Yzerman had multiple trade offers for Drouin on his desk late last week.
“I have good information that the St. Louis Blues were close,” said Lavoie. “Now, I know there are more teams involved. One of those teams is the Hurricanes, who are playing tonight in Toronto.”
Lavoie mentioned the Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks also expressed interest, but he’s not sure who the front-runner is. The slumping and goal-starved Minnesota Wild and Montreal Canadiens are two other clubs that have reportedly kicked tires here.
“We know he’s there, but there’s a few others out there, too, that haven’t requested trades,” Ducks GM Bob Murray said on the weekend. “Entry-level players requesting trades. Amazing.”
That Drouin has only played 38 NHL games this season is key. If the Ste-Agathe, Que., native does not reach 40 games played, it will delay his unrestricted free agency another year.
Yzerman said when Drouin went public with his trade demand, which was made back in November, that changed everything. The player would still like to practise with the Crunch, but Yzerman said the best thing would be for Drouin to play and play well in the AHL games. Impress the scouts.
LISTEN: Steve Yzerman addresses Drouin suspension
Drouin was not pleased with the ice time he was receiving under Tampa coach Jon Cooper.
“In a situation like this, everybody’s got to accept a little responsibility, myself included,” Cooper told beat reporter Bryan Burns on Thursday.
Yzerman said he is open to the possibility of salvaging the team’s relationship with Drouin and that there is no timetable for a trade. Drouin is under contract with the Lightning through 2016-17.