A disastrous 2021-22 campaign for the Montreal Canadiens is on the verge of mercifully coming to an end and the attention is about to shift to a busy offseason ahead for Executive Vice President Jeff Gorton and general manager Kent Hughes.
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Even though much of the focus will be on the NHL Draft as well as unloading contracts off the current roster to ease the team’s salary cap crunch while acquiring more future assets in return, there are ways for the Habs to improve for next season and beyond. One option is to inquire about the availability of Pierre-Luc Dubois who is set to become a restricted free agent following an impressive year with the Winnipeg Jets.
The Perfect Complement to Nick Suzuki
Elliotte Friedman recently reported if Dubois isn’t willing to sign a long-term extension with the Jets, he may hit the trade market this summer, two years after he was linked to his home team before ultimately going to Winnipeg from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Patrik Laine. The Habs now have better pieces to make a deal.
The 23-year-old, who scored a career-high 28 goals this season, would be an ideal addition to the Canadiens’ centre group for several reasons. Nick Suzuki is going to be the face of the franchise for a long time and needs to be well-surrounded during his tenure on his wings, on the power play with a puck-moving defenceman who can quarterback the man advantage, and down the middle with consistent production.
Adding Dubois would give the Habs a dynamic one-two punch at centre for the long run and he would bring the size that has been missing as well.
Habs Could Still Draft a Top Centre
On Wednesday, the Canadiens locked up the best odds of selecting first overall at the NHL Draft in Montreal in July and are guaranteed a top-3 pick.
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Even if they do choose one of Shane Wright, Logan Cooley or another top centre, Dubois would still be a very welcome acquisition and provide great depth at an important position when it comes to building a contender. If a centre is drafted, the player may not be ready to make the jump to the NHL right away and if they are, they could start on the third line instead of dealing with the pressure of producing in a top-six role right out of the gate.
This would allow Hughes to potentially move Christian Dvorak’s contract, even though he has been playing significantly better under interim head coach Martin St. Louis, to create cap space and make Jake Evans a very effective fourth-line centre still with lots of potential still to tap into. Meanwhile, Ryan Poehling could be moved to the wing or used in a trade to upgrade the roster elsewhere. Needless to say, adding Dubois to the fold would create a lot of possibilities as well as a trickle-down effect that would put certain players in their ideal roles.
If the outpouring of emotion and support from across the province of Quebec following the passing of Guy Lafleur has taught us anything it’s just how important local players are in this market, or at least the profound impact they can have during their tenure with the Canadiens, especially on winning teams. It has shown just how much the fans have missed that type of connection with the players. Even though today’s game is much different, it’s something that has been lost over time, but it still matters and Montreal fans clearly still crave it.
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That’s not to say that Dubois would need to be a hero of Lafleur proportions, but it would be fun to have him in the fold. Plus, he’s been open in the past about his desire to play in Montreal which doesn’t happen every day.
This very hypothetical situation won’t happen if the asking price doesn’t fit what Hughes would be willing to pay for Dubois of course, the Habs’ deeper prospect pool and a plethora of draft picks to make a trade more plausible now than before. The key is that he could be a crucial piece in the roster makeover for years to come and not just a short-term fix.
It has always felt like Dubois will be a member of the Canadiens at some point in his career and perhaps that time will come sooner than anticipated.