By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When assessing the teams around them in the Atlantic Division, the Bruins had to be hoping the Tampa Bay Lightning would eventually trade Jonathan Drouin somewhere out of the conference to clear up their salary-cap crunch and prevent the sniper from making Boston’s life miserable for years to come.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Lightning instead dealt the dynamic 22-year-old to Boston’s archrival Montreal on Thursday in a trade that will benefit both teams for years to come.
The Lightning traded Drouin to the Canadiens in exchange for 2016 first-round pick defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, along with a swap of conditional draft picks.
Upon initial judgement, the Canadiens got the better end of this trade by adding a left wing that had 53 points (22 goals, 32 assists) in 73 games last season and was a staple of the highlight reels with his penchant for taking on two or three defenders and scoring the type of goals that bring people out of their seats. Although Sergachev could be a future star, the Canadiens didn’t touch their current NHL roster, which won the division last season, to make this deal. They capped their glorious transaction by signing Drouin to a six-year contract that’s worth $5.5 million per season and buys one of Drouin’s unrestricted free agent seasons (according to CapFriendly.com).
“The chance to put your hands on a player like that, at that age, and a guy from here, I can’t pass that up. We gave up a lot but I’m convinced we got back a big piece,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin told the media Thursday.
Drouin will have a unique opportunity to round out his game and blossom under coach Claude Julien in the manner of Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Milan Lucic, only with more natural skill than any of those Julien tutored in Boston.
With Alexander Radulov, an unrestricted free agent and Alex Galchenyuk’s career in free fall, the already offensively challenged Canadiens (15th in scoring last season) had to do something to improve their forward corps. And the scary part is that Bergevin may just be getting started in remaking the Canadiens. He could still re-sign Radulov and he could use Galchenyuk as a trade chip to upgrade the still shallow pool of center Montreal possesses. Almost every championship team has proved depth down the middle is paramount to winning, and the Canadiens are far off in that department. There was even talk of Drouin moving to center.
“At the end of the day, Claude will sit down with Jonathan and a decision will be made on what is best for the organization. But we definitely took that into consideration,” Bergevin said.
Those are the words of a GM who doesn’t want to close off any options in June, but is obviously shopping for natural centers to feed his improved wing corps. Perhaps Montreal wins the bidding for Colorado’s Matt Duchene or grabs someone that becomes available during the wheeling-and-dealing around Vegas’ expansion draft. One thing that can’t be questioned is Bergevin’s aggressiveness in the summer after he made the biggest splash of the summer of 2016 by trading P.K. Subban.
In the aftermath of the Drouin trade, the inevitable questions about the Bruins’ inability to match the Canadiens’ offer came up. Considering Sergachev was basically Montreal’s Charlie McAvoy, it would’ve been difficult for the Bruins to get involved. And also consider that the Bruins have to get restricted free agent David Pastrnak re-signed – and having another $5 million a year forward would’ve made that virtually impossible.
The news around this trade only got worse for the Bruins because of what it meant for Tampa Bay, which landed a young defenseman that could be in its top four for years. Even if Drouin goes on to a Hall of Fame career, the Lightning can’t be blamed for trading him, considering the salary cap implications had they kept him and attempted to improve their team after missing the playoffs last season. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman are in the fold as the core, but forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, and defenseman Andrej Sustr need new contracts as restricted free agents. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has created flexibility without decimating his team.
The expansion draft trade/signing freeze begins Saturday at 3 p.m. EST, and we’re one week from the annual transaction festival that is the NHL Draft. There’s plenty of time for the balance of power to shift in the Atlantic Division, but the Canadiens and Lightning have gotten an early jump on the Bruins.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.