Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: Drouin's heel turn a dumb move

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Jonathan Drouin seems like a good kid. And one day he might turn out to be a good NHL player.

But Wednesday, he made a really bad mistake.

He quit on the Lightning.

Well, technically he quit on the Lightning's minor-league affiliate in Syracuse by refusing to show up for a game. He wants to be traded and wants nothing to do with the Lightning ever again.

The third overall pick in the 2013 draft, likely acting on the advice of adults who should know better, messed up big time.

It's one thing to ask for a trade from an organization that you don't think is treating you fairly. It's quite another to take your stick and go home and hold your breath and stomp your feet until you get your way.

Any sympathy Drouin might have had vanished Wednesday night.

No longer is he thought of as a future star who isn't getting his chance, but as a spoiled brat who doesn't want to put in a little sweat. No longer is he the misunderstood youngster who hasn't gotten a fair shake, but a self-entitled high draft pick who wants everything handed to him.

Drouin already had come off as petulant when it was learned he asked for a trade two months ago even though he hasn't done a whole lot at the NHL level to demand anything. But now, with this latest stunt, he comes off much worse.

Quite frankly, if I'm the Lightning, I'm not sure I'd even want him anymore. But at the same time, if I'm the Lightning, I'd think about letting him sit at home just to the send the message that it isn't about to give in to the demands of some snot-nosed hockey player who thinks he should be playing ahead of a bunch of players good enough to reach the Stanley Cup final last season.

The point that Drouin's agent, Allan Walsh, seems to be making is that Drouin doesn't want to risk injury and jeopardize a trade by playing in any more AHL games. But nothing jeopardizes a trade quite like a player who comes off as high maintenance, a player who is considered a head case, a player who now has the reputation of one who would rather whine than go to work. Who wants a player who starts complaining and stops playing the first time a coach gives him a funny eye or scratches him from the lineup?

And there's this: One of the last people you want to get into a spitting match with is Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who is one of the most respected hockey men in the history of the game. Drouin versus Yzerman. Who ya got?

Certainly, teams are out there that are still willing to trade for Drouin. He has a world of potential. But, if anything, Drouin's trade value just went down. Even if Yzerman was ready to give in to Drouin's trade request, his job just got more difficult.

However, unless Yzerman can work some magic, it appears this situation cannot be salvaged and the only solution is to trade Drouin. The problems now run too deep, and at the heart of it is the relationship between Drouin and coach Jon Cooper.

The feeling is that Cooper isn't a fan of what he perceives to be Drouin's one-dimensional game and because of that has been especially hard on Drouin. It would appear that Cooper wants Drouin to play with more grit and, especially, more detail to defense though Drouin has, in spurts, shown elite skills that should make up for his lack of toughness or defensive prowess.

Hey, you don't draft someone third overall to backcheck, right?

Though some might argue that Cooper hasn't done enough to work with Drouin, it also should be noted that Cooper and the Lightning organization do not have a reputation for stifling young players. If anything, their reputation is the opposite when you think of current stars Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Vladislav Namestnikov, just a few of the young players who have thrived in the minors and the NHL under Cooper.

Then again, that's a point of contention, too. The feeling among some is that Cooper favors the young players who, like him, have worked their way up to the NHL after putting in significant minor-league miles, something Drouin has never done. In other words, Drouin isn't one of Cooper's Boys, like Johnson and the rest.

But I just have to believe that Cooper is like any coach, that he would play anyone good enough to help him win games. Has Cooper been extra hard on Drouin? Maybe.

But is it the worst thing in the world to spend some time in the minors developing your game? Drouin went down to the minors and has played seven games. No one expected him to be happy, but everything was moving along just fine. From all accounts, he was doing his job, working hard, getting along with teammates and coaches, doing his best and playing well.

That was the exact way to handle this business, because one of two things was going to eventually happen. He was either going to play well enough to be recalled by the Lightning or he was going to play well enough for another NHL team to trade for him. Either way, he was going to get his way. It was the smart move.

Wednesday was the dumb move.

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