With that in mind, a more answerable question might be: Should Yzerman trade Drouin before the deadline or wait until the draft? But, again, it's tough to say. There are so many variables to consider. Can the team get fair value (a notoriously subjective thing) for Drouin before deadline? Are they more likely to get a better return at the draft? How long does the GM want to have the Drouin file sitting on his desk? Which side is more likely to blink first? The list of questions goes on and on.
Still, this blogger's opinion is that it is in the Lightning's best interest to deal Drouin sooner rather than later. And if that means dealing him before the deadline, so be it. There are two reasons for this opinion:
- The team has already announced that Steven Stamkos won't be dealt before the deadline, even if he is without a contract extension.
- It's hard for me to believe that Drouin's value will increase if this situation continues to stretch on into the offseason.
The second reason listed there is fairly self-explanatory. My belief is that Drouin's value will remain fairly stagnant regardless of whether he's traded now or at the draft or next Fall. Any team that's dying to add a piece like Drouin is probably already involved in talks. Any team that wants Drouin knows that Yzerman's hands are tied. What's the incentive to drastically increase the offer to Tampa Bay? I don't see it. And, even if Drouin's value would be increased at the draft compared to now... by how much? Probably not a lot.
And that's where the first (seemingly unrelated) reason comes into play. Steven Stamkos isn't going anywhere for the time being, as discussed in this blog post. The team announced that he will be sticking around through the trade deadline even if he doesn't have a contract extension in place. That decision is a huge gamble for the Lightning, as there's a very good chance the team Captain walks on July 1st for nothing.
What's the message, then? The message from Steve Yzerman is that he wants this team to compete right now. He thinks Steven Stamkos can help this team make a deep playoff run. Instead of managing the Stamkos asset in a conservative way (i.e. trading him for a guaranteed return rather than facing the possibility that he walks for nothing), he wants to give this ultra-talented roster a shot at doing something special in the postseason. It's hard to blame him. We've all seen what this roster can do when it's firing on all cylinders. The Lightning can be a dominant team, as good as any in the league. Last season's run proved that, and Stamkos is a key piece.
So, how does any of that relate to Drouin? The way I see it, by refusing to deal Stamkos in advance of the deadline, Yzerman has gone 'all in' on the 2015-16 season. He's betting that his team can take a run at the Stanley Cup this year, even if it means Stamkos walks on July 1st. As said, it's a gamble. Having committed to that gamble, Yzerman should seriously consider giving himself the best chance to win. And that means trading Jonathan Drouin before the trade deadline.
Consider the following: Drouin is sitting at home right now, far away from anything happening on the ice for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He's not helping the team by scoring goals. He's not helping the team by eating minutes. He's not even helping the team by serving popcorn to folks in the press box. For all intents and purposes, Drouin isn't connected to the Lightning. Yzerman has the opportunity to deal him for someone(s) that could help the Lightning on the ice this season. We often hear that it's impossible to make something out of nothing, but that's exactly what trading Drouin would do. Away from the team, Drouin is effectively nothing. Turning him into NHL-ready help would be a big boost to Yzerman's Cup hopes. The GM can have Drouin sitting at home, or he can have someone who makes the team better and more ready for the postseason. It doesn't seem like a difficult decision.
Even if waiting until the draft or beyond to deal Drouin results in a slightly better return (an idea on which I'm not yet sold), what's the result? You get a slightly better return for Drouin, but Stamkos is likely gone and thus the team's chances at a Cup in 2016-17 look bleak anyways.
The bottom line: Unless you believe that the return for Drouin later is going to be substantially better than it would be now, what's the point in waiting? Yzerman has already pushed all his chips to the center of the table for 2015-16 by deciding to gamble on Stamkos. He might as well give himself the best chance to win the pot, which means dealing Jonathan Drouin for young, NHL-ready help before the clock strikes deadline time on February 29th.
As always, thanks for reading.