TORONTO — The Jonathan Drouin saga with the Lightning will linger into the summer.
With Steve Yzerman unable to find a deal for Drouin, 20, by Monday's trade deadline that would have immediately helped Tampa Bay's playoff push, the general manager decided to keep his options open and wait to potentially move the suspended wing after the season.
Yzerman had said he preferred to deal Drouin, the No. 3 pick in 2013, "sooner than later," that it'd be "better for everyone." But it's clear Yzerman doesn't feel pressure to make a trade unless it's on his terms.
"I'm not enjoying the situation, it's certainly not how I wanted this to play out," Yzerman said. "I'm not purposely dragging this out for everyone. I'm trying to do what the right thing for the team and when the right thing for the team comes along I'll do that."
Drouin, unhappy with his role and usage in Tampa Bay, requested a trade in November; it became public Jan. 3, the day after he was reassigned to AHL Syracuse. He has been working out at home this past month in Montreal since he didn't show up for a game for Syracuse Jan. 20; agent Allan Walsh claims they were told then a deal was close, but Yzerman said that wasn't true. Yzerman reiterated Monday, however, Drouin would be welcomed back to Syracuse, and he remains on the Crunch roster, eligible for the postseason. But it appears highly unlikely. Yzerman said he hasn't approached Drouin or Walsh about it.
Walsh didn't respond to messages Monday.
"If (Drouin) wants to come back, the door is open," Yzerman said. "That's up to him."
There was significant interest around the league in Drouin, with the Senators, Ducks, Canucks, Wild and Canadiens reportedly among the teams that inquired. It is believed there were several offers. "I tried real hard," Senators GM Bryan Murray told reporters in Ottawa.
But Yzerman said most of his conversations with clubs the past two months have been about future considerations, prospects and draft picks, his preferred return for Drouin, which he can still get before the June's draft.
"I wasn't trading Jonathan Drouin for an unrestricted free agent that I couldn't or wouldn't want to re-sign," Yzerman said. "That made no sense."
Yzerman said some teams were concerned that Drouin hasn't played in more than a month. The decision could hurt Drouin, who needs to be on an active NHL roster for two more games this season to register another year on his contract — otherwise his unrestricted free agency will be delayed a season.
"Obviously not playing didn't help the situation, it didn't make it any easier to trade him," Yzerman said.
But some, including TSN analyst Craig Button, believe Drouin's trade value might be higher by draft time.
"More disappointed teams after playoffs means more change," said Button, a former GM. "Not many teams trying to change makeup of teams right now."
Plus, Yzerman will have a better idea on the makeup of his team and cap. There's the potential of losing Steven Stamkos to unrestricted free agency, though Yzerman said he hopes to sign the captain to a long-term deal.
Yzerman has been "really encouraged" with the Lightning's run — a seven-game winning streak after Monday's 2-1 victory at Toronto — so it wasn't as urgent to make a move. He wanted to bolster the power play, but said that player "wasn't out there."
"We're really pleased with the team," Yzerman said. "And we didn't feel the need to force it."