Changes in the NHL vs. juniors decision

Updated: October 22, 2013, 2:01 PM ET
By Craig Custance

We'll be the first to admit that, occasionally, we're guilty of overthinking things in this space. When the initial surprise of the Tampa Bay Lightning's decision to send Jonathan Drouin back to his junior team wore off, the prudence of the decision started to sink in. In this case, the overthinking came when I started to analyze the financial benefits of delaying the start of Drouin's entry-level deal.

It occurred to me that the Lightning have one of the brightest young minds in hockey in assistant general manager Julien BriseBois, whose background in law and arbitration cases helped prepare him for a future as a hockey executive, where managing the salary cap is one of his duties in Tampa Bay.

I remember thinking, "This is a guy who gets it. This is a guy who can appreciate the financial benefit of delaying the start of the entry-level deal, working in a bridge contract and then ultimately reaping the rewards of having a young player contributing on a winning team at a cheaper price for longer."

Just to make sure my jump to conclusions mat wasn't defective, I had a conversation with BriseBois last week.

So how big an impact did the benefit of delaying the entry-level deal have on the Drouin decision? "Zero percent," BriseBois answered.

What? But all my theories ...

"In our case here, we just looked at who were the 23 best players to keep on our roster to help us win now and have a good start to our year. Those are the players we kept. We felt keeping someone that wasn't one of those 23, it wouldn't be fair to the other players and our coaching staff," BriseBois said. "We made the decision on what's best for the Lightning now."

Tampa Bay essentially had six players competing for three spots. The three players who could best help the Lightning win on opening night would get those three spots. Drouin just wasn't one of those guys. The decision was made. Are there added financial benefits? Maybe. But that wasn't a factor.

"If he makes the team next year and plays at 19, 20 and 21 years old, he should be a better player at 21 than 18," BriseBois said. "But we literally, never even discussed it. If he makes us a better team now, then we're better off having him on the team now."

It sends a clear message to the team that Tampa isn't in rebuilding mode at all. Management wants to win now, and Jon Cooper's Lightning have responded with a 5-3 start, sitting three points outside the Atlantic division-leading Red Wings.

Similar evaluations are happening with junior-eligible players on other playoff contenders. Players near the nine-game mark will force a decision as to whether or not teams want to trigger a year on their entry-level deal.