When the Montreal Canadiens traded for a then-22-year-old Jonathan Drouin in June of 2017 and signed him to a six-year, $33-million contract, it was clear that they saw him as a big part of their future.
But nearly halfway through that contract, the Canadiens still aren’t quite sure what they have in Drouin.
His first season in Montreal was a bit of a disappointment. Drouin scored just 46 points (13-33-46) in 77 games, a step back from his production with the Tampa Bay lightning in 2016-17 when he recorded 53 points (21-32-53) in just 73 games.
Last year was better, tying his career high with 53 points (18-35-53) in 81 games, but he disappeared down the stretch with the Habs in a fierce battle for a playoff spot, scoring just one goal and two assists over the final 18 games.
Drouin got off to a great start to this season, scoring 15 points (7-8-15) in his first 17 games and earning high praise from his coach.
Claude Julien on Jonathan Drouin: “He’s playing the best hockey he’s played since he got here. It’s him making (linemates) better, not them making him better.”
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) October 13, 2019
But then he suffered a torn tendon in his wrist in a November 15 game against the Washington Capitals that sidelined him for nearly three months. Drouin returned on February 8, was minus-10 with no points in eight games and is now sitting out again with an ankle injury.
A season that started so promisingly has now become another disappointing year for the talented young forward. The question now is where this leaves Drouin’s standing with the team moving forward.
As we wrote about last week, GM Marc Bergevin has a lot of business to attend to this summer. He needs to sign Max Domi to a new contract. He needs to explore extensions for several key players who are set to hit unrestricted free agency after next season.
Oh yeah, and he also needs to figure out how to improve a team that is likely on its way to a third-straight postseason miss, and appease a fan-base that is growing increasingly frustrated with the state of the team and Bergevin’s vision for it.
General managers (and players, for that matter) all around the league received good news earlier this week with the report that the salary cap is set to increase from $81.5 million to somewhere between $84 million and $88.2 million for next season.
The NHL is projecting its salary cap could increase to anywhere between $84-$88.2 million next season.https://t.co/Y0FHoMAuD5
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 4, 2020
The Habs are currently at a little over $77 million on their payroll, with more than $8 million coming off the books, though $3.15 million of that is Domi’s current cap hit, and he’s going to be getting a raise.
Bergevin may already have enough cap space to accomplish what he wants to get done this summer. If not, though, the idea of trading Drouin and his $5.5 million cap hit may come up.
Remember, there were already trade rumours swirling around Drouin heading into this season. He briefly silenced those with his hot start, but with the way things have played out since, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear his name coming up again this offseason.
Drouin is undoubtedly a massive talent — the kind the Habs need more of, not less. The fear would be that they trade him just in time to watch him finally stay healthy and play to his potential for a full season. Trading him is not a decision that should be made lightly, and the return would have to be more than cap relief. And it’s certainly fair to say injuries are the main reason this season derailed the way it did for Drouin.
At some point, though, the Canadiens may just run out of patience with Drouin, and we may not be able to blame them.