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Blog: The (Drouin) Magic is Gone

When you watch a magician as a kid, you want to believe the act is 100% real. You’re skeptical, but you want to believe – because if this is stuff is indeed real, it opens up a world you didn’t think was actually possible.

Then your dad tells you the handkerchief was up the guy’s sleeve and that belief is squashed like an East German roach beneath a boot.

I kinda feel like that right now.

From the time of my “YES! YES! YES!” tweet when Drouin was drafted, I had visions of Drouin-to-Stamkos for the next decade, I’ll admit it. Actually, I don’t have to – you already knew that as we went through Drouin vs Seth Jones, Drouinsanity, The Comeback, Drouinsanity 2.0 (is this kid for real!?), now Drouinsanity 3.0 together.

I’d be on the edge of my seat for the foreseeable future. It was going to be hockey entertainment at its finest.

Okay, so why the Drouin love-fest?

As far as player types go, there’s none I like watching more than the elite-level playmaker. The vision, passing, creativity, and ability to drive a line – to me – is the type that makes hockey the most entertaining game on earth. In a league now dominated by coaching structure, it’s still the individual who can create scoring chances on his own that is among the most valuable. Put them with an elite finisher like, say, Steven Stamkos, and watch the magic. Those two had the chance to be the poor man’s Gretzky-Kurri. I wanted to believe.

Players like this are rare, and the Lightning had two – Drouin and Kucherov. No. 86 has the better shot – especially off the pass – but Drouin is the better passer and wants the puck on his stick more than Kucherov. For those reasons, I thought Drouin should be a core piece for years to come. Not over Stamkos or Kucherov, but alongside them. Well… and not over Hedman, either, because No. 1 defensemen are the hardest player types to find (no offense, No. 1 goalie, but it’s true).

It’s time to throw my own words back at me.

I’ve been a weekly guest on Greg Linnelli’s Lightning Power Play Live show all year on Lightning Radio and we’ve talked about almost everything – at least twice. We talked about core pieces not long ago and decided the Lightning had five: Stamkos, Kucherov, Drouin, Hedman, Vasilevskiy. (Brayden Point isn’t there yet, but give him another year or two.)

It’s not often there are three forwards deemed core players. If you’re starting from scratch, you’re going to win more cups if you have 1-2-2 (starting from the net out). I talked about how another core defenseman around the same age as Hedman would be perfect. I just didn’t want it to be at the expense of the elite playmaker. The OTHER elite playmaker.

Yzerman was rumored to be shopping Drouin for a top-4 defenseman and my response to those rumors has always been he’s too valuable to move for a top-4. No one said a top-2 because you can’t get those. Trade Tyler Johnson for a 3-4 instead. There weren’t any defensemen in the NHL available who were top-pair guys and remotely available.

And nothing changed.

I wasn’t looking beyond the NHL, but Yzerman was. Sergachev has the legitimate upside of a top pair defenseman. He can slide in behind Hedman for the next 5-10 years and the Lightning will have the core to challenge for multiple Cups (just like before) over that time.

It’s just the timing that I question in relation to that Cup window.

The Lightning took a small step back Thursday, though they can take two big steps forward in a couple years. But what about the next 2-3 years?

Victor Hedman is an absolute stud, but he didn’t step into the NHL as a stud and neither will Sergachev, who at 18 has to play in either the NHL or juniors next year (sorry, Syracuse).

It took Hedman about 200 games to get up to NHL speed where he could not just survive, but excel, and it will take Sergachev 200-250. It’s just how developmental hockey works, and defensemen don’t have an overly high probability rate to begin with.

And therein lies the issue. The Lightning, despite missing the playoffs by a couple points, are still excitingly close to being a Cup contender again just like they were going into last year before the top-4 crumbled and the hockey gods took over with their favorite Lightning voodoo dolls.

As of this moment, Brayden Coburn has to retain some of his late season success as a second pair guy because the Lightning aren’t adding to their top four right now with this trade. Sergachev – if he makes the team (which Yzerman said is a strong possibility) – will start on the third pair and work his way up slowly. Kind of like they did with Koekkoek before yo-yo-ing him to Syracuse and back two years ago.

To throw my own words back at me again, though, don’t judge an offseason until opening night. Lots can happen to the top-4 between June and October.

The trade benefits the Lightning – barring more deals – in that they can keep both Vladdy and Killorn from being exposed in the expansion draft, but really it’s not much of a benefit. Both are replaceable and getting rid of Killorn’s contract term (six more years) would actually help the Lightning gain flexibility. I don’t buy that “positive.” It does make room for Nikita Gusev when his contract with SKA is over next year (or this year if he buys himself out), but that's another playmaking story.

Tampa Bay remains strong down the middle with Stamkos-Point-Johnson-Vladdy and you win with a strong back and middle. Provided you can score goals, of course, and that just got a little more difficult with Drouin’s chance-creating now in Montreal … making $33 million over the next six years.

There was no way Yzerman was willing to pay Drouin that kind of money with Stamkos and Hedman signing huge deals last year and Kucherov due very soon. Brayden Point makes Johnson expendable so I don’t buy that there’s a major benefit being able to bring him back, but he’s an asset and a center.

It hurts to see the “Drouin Magic” go at a time when a healthy Lightning are capable of making another Cup run next year, but I understand the financial reasons, and perhaps there were still off-ice issues there, too.

A theme has emerged throughout this posting and it’s that of a strong defense and you have to give to get. And you have to really give to get a future top-pair caliber defenseman. I get it.

Sergachev is immediately the Lightning’s top prospect in a group that includes a hoard of high-end forwards. If only there was a way to fast-forward him 200 games.

That’d take some magic.