Canadiens' acquisition of Jonathan Drouin reinforces win-now approach

The NHL Expansion Draft is an opportunity for all teams, not only the one incoming. On Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens became the first to make this a reality.

Montreal has completed another massive offseason trade, acquiring previously embattled, always dynamic forward Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning for former ninth-overall draft selection Mikhail Sergachev and a second-round pick.

Drouin and the Canadiens quickly agreed on a six-year contract worth $33 million through 2022-23, or a $5.5 million cap hit. As Joe Smith of the Tampa Times notes, that contract would have made Drouin the fourth-highest cap hit on the Lightning.

This is essentially a swap of two high-talent players with enormous potential, and who are destined to fill major roles for their respective clubs next season, but there’s an added element for the Lightning, who have been bracing for the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft for some time. While they lose a major talent in Drouin, they gain one of the game’s top defensive prospects — and potentially a comparable talent down the line — instead of losing a valuable asset like Alex Killorn or Vladislav Namestnikov for nothing to Vegas.

The Montreal Canadiens acquired Jonathan Drouin for defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev on Thursday. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

As for Montreal, Drouin fills up a protected slot that would have belonged to a lesser player, but his acquisition will not result in a major talent lost in expansion, as it only further exposes the supporting talent.

Though Drouin had a turbulent run in Tampa Bay, which included a rescinded trade request, the deal was in many ways borne out of necessity for the Lightning. Conversely, with Montreal the swap reveals a persistence to win now, while Carey Price remains cheap, and, well, still with Montreal. Sergachev is one of the best defensive prospects in the game and a player that was supposed to fill the top-four void eventually left by Andrei Markov.

But unlike the trade that sent P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber, which might have already been proven to be misguided, the acquisition of Drouin is an undeniable upgrade in the immediate term. He is an extraordinarily talented forward, and now maybe the most skilled skater on Montreal’s entire roster.

He scored 21 goals and 53 points last season, ranking second among Lightning forwards in production in his first campaign where he’s filled a prominent role. This followed the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, where he turned heads with five goals and 14 points in 17 games, filling the offensive void left by Steven Stamkos.

With Price in goal, a significant upgrade up front has the potential to make a massive impact for the Canadiens, who have been a below-average scoring team across the last four seasons, but have reached at least 100 points in each of the goaltender’s healthy years over that span.

It will require some savvy negotiation to make all the pieces fit, because in addition to Drouin, Alexander Radulov, Alex Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu and Markov need new deals. But if the subtractions remain limited to Sergachev, the Canadiens put themselves in a far better position to seize a window that is defined, for now, by the one year remaining on Price’s deal.