Don’t look now, but Jonathan Drouin could be in limbo with the Lightning once again. The winger is in line for a rich new contract that Tampa Bay might not be able to afford.
Since the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season came to an disappointing end last month, left winger Jonathan Drouin remains a hot topic of trade speculation. The 22-year-old is a restricted free agent coming off his entry-level contract. After netting a career-best 21 goals and 53 points this season, he’s due for a substantial raise.
However, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman must also re-sign restricted free agent forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. He must also acquire a top-four defenseman and add a reliable backup goalie. With over $55 million invested in 13 players, Yzerman will be hard-pressed to find sufficient cap room to address all of these issues.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports “several well-connected sources” claim the Lightning intend to use Drouin as trade bait to bring in a defenseman. Brooks said the Anaheim Ducks appear the most likely trade target.
The Ducks have considerable depth on defense, but could lose a blueliner to the Vegas Golden Knights in the June expansion draft. Rather than lose a quality rearguard for nothing, Anaheim could shop one for a reasonable return. Drouin could be a tempting option for them, especially if they’re unable to re-sign pending UFA left winger Patrick Eaves.
The Lightning’s cap issues could also make Drouin the target for an offer sheet this summer. Le Journal de Montreal’s Yvon Pedneault suggests Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin should consider that option in order to bolster the club’s anemic offense.
Signing Drouin to an offer sheet would be a bold move for any NHL GM. It’s a tactic rarely used, with the last attempt being the Calgary Flames’ unsuccessful effort in 2013 to pry center Ryan O’Reilly away from the Colorado Avalanche. The last time a player was successfully signed to an offer sheet was a decade ago, when the Edmonton Oilers landed Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks.
Bergevin could surprise the hockey world with an offer sheet for Drouin. Pedneault suggests a multi-year deal worth $7 million could go unmatched by the Lightning – but it would also cost the Habs three draft picks (a first, second and third) as compensation.
Given the rarity of offer sheets, Bergevin will likely go the traditional routes of trades or signing unrestricted free agents to improve his offense. As tempting as Drouin may be, he won’t address the Habs need for scoring depth at center. The Lightning’s asking price is likely to include a top-four blueliner, a commodity Bergevin cannot spare.
The Boston Bruins could also pursue Drouin. CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty believes that Boston GM Don Sweeney needs to bring in a left winger to skate alongside center David Krejci. Haggerty didn’t mention Drouin, but the Bolts winger could be a good fit with Krejci. The cost, however, could be a good young defenseman such as Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy. As much as the Bruins need another skilled left winger, Sweeney won’t sacrifice one of his promising blueliners.