By JD Lagrange – Sometimes in life, you make your own bed and you have to sleep in it. Other times, you didn’t make the bed but you’re the one who has to sleep in it. Yet people, without being there, still believe that it’s you that made it and juge you for it. Now take the bed analogy and transpose it to hockey and so-called “attitude”… and you have the story of Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Rumours have been circulating for some time. First, Dubois informed the Winnipeg Jets that he wouldn’t sign a contract extension passed the two years he has left on his contract. Then, it was reported that the player speaks to teammates and close friends to the effect that he would like to play for the Montreal Canadiens. And it didn’t take more to get the rumour mill going.
If you recall, Marc Bergevin tried hard to move up from his number nine draft position back at the 2016 NHL Draft. He was trying to get pick number four (from Edmonton) or five (from Vancouver) as his target was… Pierre-Luc Dubois. Back then, it was a debate for the number one overall pick between Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, then Jesse Puljujärvi was favourite at number three. On most lists, Matthew Tkachuk was penciled in at number four and Dubois at number five.
The Canadiens needed centers and Bergevin couldn’t convince free agents to sign in Montreal so drafting and developing them was his goal. Standing at 6-foot 2-inches (he grew an inch since), the Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, QC, native was a natural. But then, Columbus, who owned the number three pick, surprised everyone by selecting Dubois at number three, killing any potential deal with Edmonton or Vancouver.
Dubois played one more season in the QMJHL, then cracked the roster in 2017-18, managing a very respectable 20 goals and 48 points. He followed that up with 27 goals and 68 points in his second season. But then… John Tortorella started messing with him, as he has done with numerous players before him (and after – see Laine). Humiliating him, yelling at his young player in plain view behind the bench, benching him periods at a time, Dubois saw no other option but to get away from the mad coach.
And if you don’t believe the stories about Tortorella, I suggest you talk to some of his former players. Oh they’ll say the politically correct things with a mic or camera in their face, but off the record, the story will change. The current Philadelphia Flyers’ players aren’t happy to see him coming behind the bench next season, you better believe it.
Finally, on January 3rd, 2021, the Blue Jackets sent Dubois packing for Winnipeg in a block buster trade. Columbus sent Dubois and a third round pick to the Jets in exchange for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic. Ironically, the trade was made two days after Dubois was benched and played an NHL-career low 3:55 in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Dubois had a rough start with the Jets, managing only eight goals and 20 points in 41 games after the trade. But with an off-season to gather his thoughts, he bounced back last season with 28 goals and 60 points in 81 games. He also did very well representing Canada at the World Championships with 13 points in 10 games.
But there’s something very wrong in Winnipeg. How often have we seen a head coach quit on his team, giving up on a guaranteed contract? Paul Maurice, a very well respected coach around the league, stated for his reason for quitting in mid-season, that the players “needed a new voice” behind the bench. In other words, the message wasn’t passing, or players did what they wanted.
Now look at that leadership group for a second. Blake Wheeler has a reputation around the NHL as a moody and hard to get along with individual. He’s the team captain. Is there a Habs’ fan out there who doesn’t remember Mark Scheifele? The guy whom, after a predatory hit on Jake Evans, never apologized, felt any remorse or taken any responsibility for it even after being suspended? He wears an “A” on his jersey in Winnipeg. There seems to be cancer in that dressing room…
So because he has been wanting out of two teams so far in his young career, they are many who feel like Dubois is a problem. At glance, it sure looks like it, doesn’t it?
But when you look deeper into it, unless someone wants to drive a point to fit a narrative, the events can be explained, even justified, and seen as bad luck or timing. Dubois didn’t ask for a trade (that we know of) from Winnipeg. He simply informed them that he didn’t want to sign a long term extension and guess what? It’s his right not to do so. Is Johnny Gaudreau a bad guy because he got out of Calgary at first chance? He too was targeted by his coach, Darryl Sutter, a couple of years ago…
Why it makes sense
Here are the facts: Dubois is a 24 year-old, 6-foot 3-inches, 218 lbs center who can also play wing. Big, strong and talented, he owns excellent offensive instincts. He has the strength and speed to get to the front of the net and the skill to finish, and he is also a good passer. He has also improved his play without the puck since entering into the league. Paul Maurice is excellent at teaching his players the defensive aspect of the game.
He is only 14 months older than Nick Suzuki. His 28 goals would have topped the Canadiens last season and his 60 points would be one shy of Suzuki for the team lead. He is just coming into his own and the bigger the stage, the better he gets. So for some fans to not want him on the Habs is pure madness, in my humble opinion. The guy has the potential to become a point per game player.
Others aren’t against him playing in Montreal but want to wait until he becomes a UFA in two years “to get him for free”. For free?… He has two years remaining right now where he doesn’t have UFA status. Those years, historically, are cheaper than the UFA years. So if you sign him long term today, it will be cheaper than in two years but also, what if he breaks through and requires more money? He is currently a RFA with arbitration rights and carried a cap hit of $5 million last season. According to capfriendly.com, his qualifying offer sits at $6 million. Getting him now is the best way to afford him!
He would cost to acquire? Yeah, you know why? Because that’s what happens with good players! Acquiring a player like Dubois is so Jeff Gorton-like, seeing what he had done with the New York Rangers. It would simply accelerate the rebuild, reset, retool or re-whatever-you-wanna-call-it! To borrow a catch phrase from a redneck comedy great, Larry the Cable Guy: “Git-R-Done“, Kent!