The last time the Montreal Canadiens traded a first-round defense prospect for immediate help down the middle, it turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Anyone remember Ryan McDonagh for Scott Gomez?
This, of course, is much different. Jonathan Drouin, who was dealt to the Canadiens in exchange for 2016 first-round pick Mikhail Sergachev, is 22 years old, not 30. But there’s still a certain amount of risk for the Canadiens in this trade, one that will work out for them if Drouin can indeed develop into the No. 1 center they so desperately need. The only problem with that is Drouin has not been a center for most of his NHL career and nobody really knows whether he has the chops to take on that role. And, as they’ve displayed with their deployment of Alexander Galchenyuk, the Canadiens aren’t exactly known for their patience in developing young players in that pivotal spot.
The Canadiens have apparently made signing Drouin a priority. A source told THN.com that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin and Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh, are “intensely” working on a deal for Drouin, with all possible concepts between a two-year bridge deal to an eight-year contract on the table. And this almost certainly means the end of the line in Montreal for Galchenyuk, who is “actively being shopped,” according to a source.
But this remains a very interesting trade from both sides of the ledger, largely because it is loaded with promise and risk for both the Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning. There’s little doubt that as of today, Montreal got the better player in the deal. Even if he doesn’t play center, Drouin brings the kind of creativeness to the Canadiens that they haven’t had in a very long time. The way this kid can rag the puck and the passes he can make are often breathtaking. The fact that he grew up about an hour outside of Montreal and understands the pressure of playing in that market will also serve him well.
For the Lightning, this was a hockey trade that also wasn’t a hockey trade. After all the work and turmoil they put into developing Drouin into an NHL player, the Lightning probably didn’t want to part with him. But trading a player who will be looking for a long-term, big-money deal and exchanging him for a promising player who will be on an entry-level deal the next three seasons was a good exchange, especially since the cap-challenged Lightning face the prospect of re-signing both Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson over the summer.
And again, it all comes back to risk. Losing Drouin, the third overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft, and watching him potentially develop into a star player in Montreal is a real possibility. Both Johnson and Palat are very good players, but they absolutely do not have the same upside potential that Drouin possesses. In Sergachev, the ninth overall pick in 2016, they get a left-shooting defenseman that they don’t have to rush along. He looks very ready to play in the NHL and almost certainly will next season, but with Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn already there, Sergachev will not be asked to take on any role he won’t be able to handle. And with Sergachev there, the Lightning are shaping up to have one of the best defense corps in the NHL.
And the defense corps is where the biggest risk for the Canadiens lies. Once an organizational strength, the ‘D’ corps took a hit on the youth front when Habs GM Marc Bergevin dealt P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators last summer for Shea Weber. The Canadiens have an average to below-average defense corps now, one that would have had their fans salivating for the future with the likes of Subban and Sergachev anchoring it.
But after making a bunch of really questionable moves that have set the Canadiens back more than moved the needle forward, Bergevin is still in the win-now mindset. This trade could be enhanced if it is part of a strategy for the Canadiens to get a good young defenseman, something they might have a better chance of doing by trading Alex Galchenyuk.
But clearly the Canadiens have to supplement their roster here. And there’s a good reason for that. They’ll be trying to sign goalie Carey Price to a contract extension this summer in the hopes of avoiding a season-long soap opera à la Steven Stamkos. If you thought that was a distraction in Tampa Bay, wait until you see the frenzy it creates in Montreal. And a deal like this, along with another for a young defenseman for Galchenyuk, might give Price good reason to consider staying and having a reasonable chance to win with this organization.
In a perfect world, Drouin would fill the No. 1 center spot in Montreal and become the kind of playmaking center who thrives at home and moves the Canadiens forward, while Sergachev would come to Tampa and establish himself as an elite NHL defenseman in time. Both of those things could very well happen. If only one of them does, somebody’s going to have some explaining to do.