From future captain candidate to potential cancer in need of removal.
That’s the trajectory Pierre-Luc Dubois has taken over the past month, ever since he made it clear he has no intention of signing long-term with the Winnipeg Jets and wants to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
While the Jets technically have control over Dubois for two more years, the power forward — who had an exceptional 2021-22 and was hoped to be a cornerstone to build on — is really the one who holds the power. He’s used the power to put the team he joined 18 months ago in a bind.
Dubois’ Comments, Pickiness Hampers Jets’ Options
Normally, a player like Dubois — who scored 28 goals and added 32 assists for 60 points last season and has become an absolute force up the middle — would, if shopped around, attract a number of suitors.
Unfortunately for the Jets, Dubois only has one market on the mind — the Montreal Canadiens. That would be a homecoming of sorts for the 24 year old, who was born in nearby Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts and grew up in Rimouski.
Knowing this, none of the 30 teams other than the Habs will offer an A-plus package of comparable star players and/or high-round draft picks, knowing Dubois wouldn’t sign a long-term deal with them either once summer 2024 rolls around.
Even if Dubois’ “Quebec-or-bust” mindset wasn’t well known, no team gets good return for a player everyone else knows wants out.
Canadiens Can Afford to Be Patient and Not Give Up Assets
Since Dubois is hellbent on going home, that leaves the Jets to negotiate exclusively with the Canadiens. But once again, unfortunately for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, his counterpart in Montreal has time on his side.
Habs’ GM Kent Hughes, who took over in January, is overseeing a rebuild in the beginning stages. The Canadiens finished dead last in the Atlantic last season and aren’t likely to be a playoff team next season either.
If Dubois was the one missing piece preventing the Canadiens from winning the Stanley Cup, Hughes would have urgency to trade Dubois now and give up a top player such as Josh Anderson, Cole Caufield, or Nick Suzuki and multiple high-round draft picks.
But Dubois alone won’t get the Habs back to competitiveness in 2022-23, so Hughes would be silly to give up a ton now when he can wait two seasons, simply say “come home, Pierre, and give up nothing (other than salary.)
That’s the same reason the Canadiens likely won’t tender Dubois an offer sheet, despite that avenue being open as Dubois did not file for salary arbitration. Any offer from the Canadiens that would pay Dubois more than $6.3 million — which is likely, considering his expired contract paid him $5 million — would force them to give the Jets a first-rounder, a second-rounder, and third-rounder in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
In case of an offer sheet, the Jets would have to match the Canadiens’ offer to keep him in the fold.
Playing “Hardball” Won’t Work Either
Some fans may say, “Well, if Dubois is going to be this difficult, the Jets should just railroad him.”
At the risk of overusing the word “unfortunately…” unfortunately, that won’t work. As we already discussed, the Jets can’t trade Dubois just anywhere, even if the temptation to send him to a bottom-feeder is high and would “serve him right” from a jilted fan’s perspective.
Cheveldayoff could decide to totally ghost Dubois all summer — refusing to offer even a short-term extension — and force him to sit out some or all of next season. Dubois wouldn’t get paid — again, which would “serve him right” — but unlike in modern-day internet dating, ghosting in this case would actually create consequences.
Newly-minted head coach Rick Bowness has said he doesn’t believe a rebuild is necessary and wasn’t hired to oversee one. Foolish or not, his goal is to get the Jets out of the wilderness and back to the playoffs in 2022-23, and purposefully making a key player unavailable to a coach in his first season would be quite the bad look.
Dubois’ Highest Value May Come Next Winter
If Dubois was still without a contract by December, he’d be forced to sit out the entire season, making him unavailable to be traded when his value will be the highest — near or at the 2023 Trade Deadline.
That’s when contenders looking to load up for a Stanley Cup run might come calling for Dubois to use a pure rental, not caring that he won’t sign long-term in 2024 because they have dreams of short-term glory. Cheveldayoff could get a good return then, but still not as high because of the “we know you’re desperate” factor.
Riskier still would be to hold onto Dubois until the 2024 Trade Deadline, where teams would be negotiating knowing the Jets would lose Dubois for nothing in just a few months if not traded.
Jets Should Take Their Medicine As Soon As Possible
All things considered, it is hard to see a scenario where the Jets come out of this a “winner.” A player thought to be a key piece for the future wants to leave after only a year-and-a-half with the franchise, a damning indictment of a leadership core and overall team culture that’s backslid for years.
Dubois has the Jets in handcuffs, and the best course of action is probably to move him as soon as possible. The locker room already has issues with oversized egos and toxicity that Bowness will have to tackle, and he doesn’t need this distracting him too.
Barring some huge and sudden change of heart on part of the player, this schmozzle isn’t going to end any other way than with him gone, whether that’s next month or next Trade Deadline or next offseason or in 2024. You know what they say about ripping off the band aid.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.