Canadiens Must Remain Patient in Dubois Negotiations

The Jeff Petry trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins has been rightfully hogging the spotlight in Montreal since it was announced on Saturday afternoon, but before that significant transaction was completed, all the talk surrounding the Canadiens over the past few days was about Pierre-Luc Dubois and the mutual interest from both sides to bring him aboard.

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Unlike the Petry negotiations where general manager Kent Hughes had zero leverage given that he was trying to move an aging defenseman with a big contract who requested a trade, he has all the chips on his side of the table in the discussions with Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff about Dubois and he needs to make sure it stays that way.

Dubois Wants to Be a Hab

The 24-year-old Quebec native hasn’t been shy about expressing his desire to play for his hometown team, so much so that he has informed the Jets that he wants to hit free agency as soon as he’s eligible in two years, presumably so he can sign with the Habs. This means that Cheveldayoff finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to his talented young centre. Does he trade him now or bring him back on a short-term deal knowing full well that he’s counting the days before he can leave?

Related: Canadiens Quiet in Free Agency as Expected and Needed

While Dubois’ interest in the Canadiens is no secret, it was unclear if Hughes felt as strongly about this player as his predecessor Marc Bergevin, who tried to acquire Dubois more than once during his tenure. It turns out that the new GM doesn’t want to wait for him to hit free agency either because he’s been actively trying to trade for him this summer.   

Pierre-Luc Dubois Winnipeg Jets
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It’s an understandable desire knowing that, considering the circumstances, the Jets will probably be forced to sell low and the Habs could get him signed to a cheaper long-term contract now compared to when he hits the open market with two more years of strong offensive production added to his career statistics. As tempting as it may be, Hughes has to stand firm on what he’s willing to give up in a potential deal which, at the moment, is not sufficient in the eyes of Cheveldayoff. Under no circumstances should he be increasing his offer for a player he can sign in two years without giving up any assets even if there is the slightest risk of getting outbid in free agency. It makes no sense to give up a top young player like Nick Suzuki in a trade. He, Cole Caufield, and Kaiden Guhle need to remain untouchable. Make Pat Brisson, Dubois’ agent, an ally to put pressure on the Jets to get a deal done before getting their initial asking price.

Dubois’ Acquisition Would Be a Game Changer

While it would be fun to have Dubois on the roster for the 2022-23 campaign, his arrival would improve the Canadiens rather significantly in the short-term which isn’t necessarily a good thing for a rebuilding team primed to get another high lottery pick next year’s draft which is loaded with high-end talent. It’s an opportunity they shouldn’t miss out on.

Kent Hughes, Montreal Canadiens GM
Kent Hughes, Montreal Canadiens general manager
(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

He’s a legitimate top-six centre who is about to enter his prime. He’s coming off a 60-point season, including 28 goals. Plus, at 6’2”, he fills the need for size, and he skates very well despite his imposing frame. Bringing him into the fray would suddenly give the Canadiens one of the most formidable centre quartets in the NHL along with Suzuki, Kirby Dach, and Jake Evans. Assuming of course that Christian Dvorak is ultimately moved to make room for Dubois.

There are certainly appealing reasons to push to bring in the former no. 3 overall pick as soon as possible, but only if it makes sense as part of Hughes’ plan to build a team that can enjoy sustainable success in the long run. He can’t deviate because it will negate the progress he’s made during his first seven months on the job, in achieving that goal. After all, it appears to be a matter of when and not if Dubois will one day be a member of the Canadiens.