By JD Lagrange – I have written several pieces about Pierre-Luc Dubois, and some of you are tired of it, I know. I will put some of them at the bottom of this article if you want to refresh your memory.
But I came across this piece written by Alexandre Pratt and I felt that it would be a shame if our English speaking fans wouldn’t get a chance to read and understand it. It demonstrates how bad we can be as a fan base, how two-faced, unfair and unreasonable some of us are, when it comes to Dubois in this instance.
Turning their nose
It is fashionable in Montreal to turn your nose at Pierre-Luc Dubois. An astonishing reaction, considering his profile.
Dubois, 24, is a big power forward. He produces as much as Nick Suzuki. The advanced stats show that his defensive game is more effective than that of the captain of the Canadiens. In addition, he is from Quebec, and he wants to play in his native province. The jackpot, right?
So why so much disdain for him? Because despite his young age, Pierre-Luc Dubois has already asked to be traded twice. The first time with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2021. The second from the Winnipeg Jets last week. Of course, that looks bad. To read the comments of certain Habs’ fans, there are as many red flags next to his name as in the streets of Moscow during the congress of the Soviet Union in 1961. However, does Pierre-Luc Dubois really deserve this label? No.
Let’s put the two requests in context. Let’s start with the most recent. Pierre-Luc Dubois is currently without a contract. He is a restricted free agent, and he will be entitled to full autonomy in a year. He’s already told the Jets he won’t be signing a long-term deal. It is his right, per the collective agreement. He’s not the only Jets player in this situation. Star goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, winner of the Vezina Trophy in 2020, has also informed the Jets that he will leave Winnipeg when he gets full autonomy, at the same time as Dubois.
Except that Dubois went further. Last week, he asked the Jets to trade him as soon as possible. Again, he is not the only player on his team to make this request. Defenseman Logan Stanley, a first-round pick, expressed the same wish at the end of winter. Their names are just the latest in a long list of unhappy players in Winnipeg.
Before them, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Evander Kane and Jack Roslovic have all demanded to be traded. The first two even held out to put pressure.
The more time passes, the more we discover a dysfunctional organization, which has tolerated negative leaders in its locker room for too long. Clues?
Captain Blake Wheeler and star forward Mark Scheifele were making life difficult for franchise player Patrik Laine, a Finnish newspaper has revealed. This is what would have been at the origin of the Laine-Dubois transaction. Wheeler admitted, after the fact, that he could have communicated better with his young teammate. Too late.
At the end of the season, veteran Paul Stastny pilled on to Blake Wheeler’s response, in a press briefing, and said: “We have to respect each other more [between players]. When you don’t, when you don’t care about the teammate next to you, when you only care about what you’re doing or certain individual moves, the effects ripple through your game.”
A few days later, the head coach of the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL, James Patrick, rekindled the embers of the scandal by relaying the confidences of two recent Jets players, Cody Eakin and Kevin Hayes. They had told him that the Jets’ locker room was the worst they had been to. “It’s a huge problem,” said James Patrick, who himself played 21 seasons in the NHL. “The locker room has been divided for five years.” So well before the arrival of Pierre-Luc Dubois in Winnipeg.
The atmosphere was so heavy in 2021-2022 that head coach Paul Maurice tendered his resignation in the middle of the season. The team needs a “new voice”, he said. His successor, Dave Lowry, stayed only six months, before being replaced in turn by Rick Bowness. One of Bowness’ first moves? Unstitch the C from Blake Wheeler’s sweater. Merry mess.
This is the work environment to which Pierre-Luc Dubois has joined, in 2021. And wait. Those are only the known incidents. Imagine all that we could learn, in a few years, if the equipment manager published his memoirs…
Pierre-Luc Dubois just had a good season. His best, in fact: 63 points in 73 games. The Jets were betting heavily on him for the first round of the playoffs, against the Vegas Golden Knights. Dubois scored four points in five games. He did, however, finish the series with a minus-4.
After the Jets’ quick elimination, Rick Bowness threw a tantrum. “I’m disgusted,” he said, condemning the lack of aggressiveness of the team’s star players – without naming them. Several observers in Quebec saw it as a criticism of Pierre-Luc Dubois’ game. It’s a possibility. But a certainty? No.
The statistics rather indicate that Dubois and Kyle Connor were the men of confidence of their coach. Among the forwards, they are the ones who have played the most minutes at even strength, on the power play and in overtime. Dubois also finished as the Jets’ forwards leader with 130 shifts. If Rick Bowness was dissatisfied with Dubois’ involvement, let’s just say that he hid it very well.
According to Jonathan Marchessault of the Golden Knights, Dubois was the Jets’ best player in this series. “He was working hard. He was physically involved. Honestly, I only have good words to say about him. I think he was their most dangerous and complete player. He could have had more help from the other teammates,” he told TVA Sports.
That closes the Winnipeg chapter. And in Columbus, what happened?
At the start of the 2021 season, Pierre-Luc Dubois demanded a transaction. The move upset head coach John Tortorella, who benched him twice in the first four games. It was from this moment that Dubois acquired a reputation as a diva.
Dubois has always denied leaving because of Tortorella. “I grew up with a dad who was a coach,” he told CBC. “My dad always told me that if a coach challenges you, it’s nothing personal. He just wants the best for you. This is how I see Torts. I have nothing but respect for him.” Moreover, Dubois has always refused to explain the reasons for his trade request. In hindsight, more transparency would have served him better.
What we do know, however, is that Pierre-Luc Dubois was not the only dissatisfied player with the Blue Jackets. This was the case, in particular, of a player you know well: Josh Anderson.
It was before the 2017 season. The Ontario-native was then 23 years old. According to Sportsnet and The Athletic, his agent had demanded a trade. The CEO of the Blue Jackets denied the story. Yet, Anderson still missed all of training camp, before signing in extremis, at the beginning of October. Unless I missed an episode of the soap opera, no one here calls him a diva.
After the 2019 playoffs, Sergei Bobrovksy, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene all refused to stay in Ohio. “There was no way I would sign a contract extension with the Blue Jackets,” Bobrovsky said. “I was suspended by the team. There were conflicts within the club, several meetings, some because of me. I was not comfortable.”
Panarin wanted to shine on a bigger stage – New York. After their departures, Dubois became the Blue Jackets’ leading scorer, both in season and in the playoffs. But as the months passed, the prospects for the franchise’s long-term success dimmed. The Jackets had missed the playoffs for the past three seasons. It was in this context that Dubois went to Winnipeg.
So, Pierre-Luc Dubois in Montreal, yes or no? Yes. Absolutely. The Canadian needs players with his profile.
Now, is this plausible in the short term? I have doubts. The Canadiens have enough prospects and draft picks to present a tempting offer. However, the Jets have expressed their desire to acquire active NHL players. And players of the caliber of Dubois, the Canadiens do not have two shovelfuls.
Another point of contention: his salary demands. Dubois can dream of an eight-year contract, with an annual salary of more than 8 million. It would, however, place him slightly above Nick Suzuki. Would I consent to him? Yes. Afterwards, will Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes dare?
The answer to this question could determine whether Quebec’s top scorer of the past season will continue his career in Montreal – or not.