What if Jonathan Drouin playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning right now is more than just a marriage of convenience until he can be dealt this summer? What if, even after demanding a trade and temporarily being suspended in the AHL when he refused to play for a stretch prior to the trade deadline, Drouin’s relationship with the Lightning can still be repaired?
After all that regular season drama, Drouin is back with the Lightning and playing a significant role in the absence of Steven Stamkos. While that’s happening, Drouin seems both open and interested in improving his relationship with the team, as he told NHL.com:
“I have a lot of stuff to prove to myself but to the staff and the team here,” Drouin said. “Some things I did maybe [were] not [in] the right, but it’s up to me to prove that and be sure I have their back and playing the right way.”
Can this be salvaged?
“Yeah, definitely,” Drouin said. “It’s hard to say right now. I’m putting that stuff aside. I don’t even want to talk about it. Right now I’m just focusing on my play, helping this team, and I’m sure everything’s going to figure itself out at one point.”
That’s part of a much longer piece that goes into the improvements Drouin has shown since being called up and provides more history and context about his situation, which is worth reading. But to focus in on that one section, as implausible at it seems that Drouin would remain with Tampa Bay after everything’s that has happened, in a way it’s very realistic.
This is a business that sometimes sees restricted free agents sign with another club only to have their contract match and other young players hold out to the point of missing part of training camp or even some regular season games as a negotiating tactic. While neither of those scenarios are the same as what Drouin did, at the end of the day franchises will act in their best interests and if the Lightning feel that they’re best served by keeping Drouin rather than trading him then they will be open to that.
The bigger question is if Drouin changes his mind about his trade demand. If he feels like he’s at a point where he’s earned a bigger role with the team, maybe he will.
This is all speculation and at the very least both sides are expected to get along for this playoff run, so we really won’t know what the future holds until after that’s over. As long as we’re discussing a what if scenario though, here’s one other wrinkle: If Stamkos’ injury is what’s contributing to Drouin’s current role, then consider that Stamkos still hasn’t signed a new contract. That doesn’t mean he won’t re-sign with Tampa Bay, but there certainly are a lot of variables at play with the Lightning.
And keep in mind, the story has already changed dramatically. As recently as late February, it looked like the ship had sailed on Drouin’s return to the Lightning.