Skip to main content
Trade Coverage

Lightning take risk moving Jonathan Drouin due to other issues

Trade forward to Canadiens for defense prospect because of Expansion Draft, salary-cap concerns

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- On the surface, the Tampa Bay Lightning trading forward Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens for defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev on Thursday appears to be a perfect match.

The Lightning needed a cheap, young, talented defenseman, and they got one in Sergachev.

The Canadiens needed a dynamic, game-breaking forward, and they got one in Drouin.

Simple as that? No.

 

[RELATED: Drouin traded to Canadiens by Lightning | Fantasy impact of Drouin trade]

 

There is some risk here, and most of it lies with the Lightning because they are giving up the established NHL player in return for a prospect -- a very promising one, but a prospect nonetheless. It is much more difficult to project what Sergachev will do with the Lightning than it is for Drouin with the Canadiens.

But the Lightning had concerns surrounding the NHL Expansion Draft and the salary cap, so that makes the risk worthwhile because Sergachev addresses each problem in that he does not need to be protected in the expansion draft and is on an entry-level contract.

Drouin signed a six-year contract with the Canadiens within hours of the trade that reportedly is worth $5.5 million per season.

"I think it's pretty safe to say that Mikhail's cap number was going to come in, had we done say a two-year bridge or anything, it would be less than we figured Jonathan's would be for two years or more," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said.

Sergachev had 43 points (10 goals, 33 assists) in 50 regular-season games for Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League this season and helped it win the Memorial Cup, but none of that happened at the NHL level.

Yzerman is confident Sergachev's skills will transfer well to the next level, but that's somewhat obvious considering he just traded for him.

"We think he has a chance to play in all situations in this league," he said. "It's very difficult to find players of that caliber and in this instance a prospect of that caliber. They're difficult to acquire."

Yzerman's optimism comes somewhat from necessity, because the Lightning are in serious need of an infusion of talent on defense. After the top pair of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, the Lightning's depth chart includes Braydon Coburn and Jason Garrison, who each is 32 and struggled at times this season.

Video: Discussing the Drouin-to-Canadiens trade

Andrej Sustr, 26, and Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek, each 23, also are in the mix, but none possess the high ceiling Sergachev does, one that had Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin optimistic he would have made the Canadiens next season.

"It's a decision Tampa will have to make," Bergevin said, "but we were very comfortable to have him here in Montreal next season."

It would be fair to say Bergevin is far more comfortable with the idea of Drouin being in Montreal next season, but again, there is some risk there.

The biggest problem facing the Canadiens is the center position. Drouin, 22, played center in junior but hasn't played much of it in the NHL with the Lightning well-stocked at that position with Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and, up until the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline, Valtteri Filppula.

"In Tampa, I played all over the place, left, right, center," Drouin said. "For me, it's just coming in and I've played a lot of positions. At the end of the day, I'm not going to decide where I'm going to play. Claude will."

"Claude" is Canadiens coach Claude Julien, who came to the conclusion this season that Alex Galchenyuk was not responsible enough defensively to play in the middle, an opinion shared by Bergevin. Julien had somewhat the same situation with Tyler Seguin when he was coaching the Boston Bruins, playing Seguin on the wing for the same reasons.

It took some time for Drouin to gain the trust of Lightning coach Jon Cooper because of deficiencies in his two-way game, so the thought of him proving to Julien that he can play in the middle seems like a long shot.

Video: Arpon Basu discusses the Jonathan Drouin trade

Except the Canadiens kind of need Drouin to do exactly that, because if he's not playing center and Galchenyuk isn't, there is a serious lack of talent down the middle on Montreal's top two lines.

This season, it was Phillip Danault and Tomas Plekanec who filled those roles, two players known for their defensive play but who did not produce offensively.

Danault had an NHL career high of 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists) this season, and Plekanec had a NHL career-low 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists). Drouin had 53 points (21 goals, 32 assists) in 73 games.

Adding to their depth up front came at a cost for the Canadiens because without Sergachev there is no clear successor for defenseman Andrei Markov, who is an unrestricted free agent. He's expected to return but turns 39 on Dec. 20.

But just as the Lightning's risk is mitigated by its circumstances, the Canadiens will be getting the prime years of Drouin's NHL career, one he now will be spending in his home province speaking the language of the Canadiens' largely Francophone fan base.

In Montreal more than any other place, that means something.

"This is an opportunity that doesn't happen often," Drouin said. "When you're young, you walk around in the streets with your Canadiens jersey on, you watch the Canadiens with your family. The call with my dad [about the trade] was a very nice moment and we were both very happy."

View More