Until now, it would have been fairly easy to sympathize with Jonathan Drouin in his spat with the Tampa Bay Lightning, even if you didn’t agree with his methods. He’s a very good young player who has been caught in an organization where he’s not able to play a regular role and he feels his development is being stunted. So he asked for a trade. No harm, no foul.
When Drouin has had the chance with the Lightning, he has proved to be a capable NHL player. His possession numbers are very good and you could certainly make the case that injuries and a lack of opportunity have not allowed Drouin to fully showcase himself for a sustained period of time. This is a player, after all, who had six points in the first five games of the season when he had an opportunity to play with top players and log 15 minutes a game in ice time. (Although it’s absurd to suggest that the Lightning has it in for him. If you ever encounter a coach who refuses to play players he thinks can help him win, I’d like to meet him. He does not exist.)
But with his latest stunt, not reporting for an American League game tonight in Toronto, Drouin has frittered away any public goodwill he might have garnered. And in doing so, he’s almost certainly doing more to hurt his ability to be traded than help it. After all, would GMs who were interested in Drouin before the Lightning suspended him be all that eager to give up valuable assets for a player who shuts it down when he doesn’t get his own way?
In a release, Drouin’s agent Allan Walsh said he was informed by the Lightning that a trade involving Drouin was imminent. (Sportsnet analyst Doug MacLean, a former GM himself, said emphatically that no GM would ever tell an agent a trade was imminent until it was all but done.) Walsh and Drouin asked the Lightning that he sit out the next couple of games so as not to risk injury and the Lightning refused. So not only has Drouin withdrawn his services, “there is no reason for Jonathan to continue with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization in any capacity,” according to a statement from Walsh.
It all seems rather shortsighted and very risky for Drouin. He certainly isn’t the first elite player in the world to have a rocky start to his career. Joe Thornton had three goals in his rookie season and would often have to spend time during practices doing drills on his own because coach Pat Burns would tell him the team drills were only for those players who were committed. Pretty harsh treatment. Jason Spezza had to endure his coach telling the world that he wasn’t ready to play in the NHL when he felt he was. “This is a men’s league,” Jacques Martin said, “and he’s still a boy.” Even Drouin’s Tampa Bay teammate, Steven Stamkos, had a rocky start to his career under a coach who had no faith in him.
All three of those players played through their hardships and, the way they turned out, probably were better for having experienced it. That doesn’t mean that Drouin has to go the same route, but it’s something he might want to contemplate.
The best thing for Drouin to do would have been to report to the American League and play his way out of Tampa. He certainly didn’t make things any easier by not lighting up the AHL, but perhaps that can be attributed to the fact that there have been so many stops and starts to his season. But it’s one thing to not produce in the AHL when you’ve made a trade demand. It’s quite another to see yourself as so special and entitled that when you don’t get what you want, you take your puck and go home.
Is Drouin getting bad advice in this situation? Maybe, but the fact remains he’s a 20-year-old adult who is capable of making up his own mind. Everything Walsh has done publicly in this imbroglio has been done with Drouin’s approval. If he’s initiating this and Walsh is carrying out Drouin’s wishes, that’s on Drouin. And if he’s simply following Walsh’s recommendations, that’s still on Drouin.
The interesting thing is that instead of prodding the situation along and speeding up the trade process, he has probably stifled it. This will all get worked out one way or another somewhere along the line and if Drouin establishes himself as an NHLer and enjoys a long career, this will all be forgotten. But in the short term, Drouin is making it increasingly difficult to have a whole lot of sympathy for him.