Rick Nash, Ryan Johansen, Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Matt Duchene are a couple of star players that have played for the Columbus Blue Jackets organization and have eventually wanted out. Minnesota’s partner in the 2000 Expansion Draft has struggled to keep a star player over the course of its existence.
A little over a week ago, news broke on New Year’s Eve that a particular young center in Columbus has a desire for a “change of scenery.”
The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported earlier that day that a few clubs around the league had been made aware that Pierre-Luc Dubois wanted to be traded by the Blue Jackets after only three seasons in Columbus.
The 22-year-old has expressed to Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen that he would like to be traded, as signified by his signing of a new two-year, $10 million deal, as affirmed by The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline following the resigning of Dubois just prior to the start of Blue Jackets training camp. The 6-foot-3 left-handed center declined both a three-year bridge deal and an eight-year deal to commit to the Blue Jackets organization long term.
Dubois will earn $3.35-million this season and $6.65-million in 2021-22, and he’ll still be a restricted free agent when the contract expires.
All signs are pointing towards a trade within the next year.
Recently, Elliotte Friedman appeared on SN960 radio in Calgary to discuss the Dubois situation. As Friedman explained, Dubois would like to play on “a bigger stage” insinuating that the Blue Jackets center wants to play in a bigger market than Columbus.
“It’s not solely (a potential conflict with John Tortorella),” Friedman said. “You’d be wrong to say it’s simply a Tortorella thing. For whatever reason, I think he wants a bigger stage and that’s kind of what we’re looking at here.”
One would think that the Quebec native would want to play in a Canadian market. Outside of Montreal, is there really a fit for Dubois on a Canadian team? Perhaps Winnipeg or Calgary would kick the tires, but would they have the cap space?
This is where Minnesota comes into play. If Dubois envisions himself on a larger and grander stage, Minnesota makes a lot of sense and leads to a potential fit.
Minnesota is the state of hockey. Hockey is engrained into the state’s DNA and the Wild are at the forefront of the state’s craziness for the sport played on millimeter-thin steel blades. Games are played in a sell out arena packed with 18,000 plus for damn near every home game. Minnesota has ranked in the top five in NHL attendance percentage five out out of the past six seasons. Minnesota eats, sleeps, and breathes hockey. Which makes it an intriguing destination for Dubois if he were to decide he would accept a long-term contract extension in a trade-and-sign scenario with a franchise located in the United States.
The potential fit seems to be there between Dubois and the Wild organization. The franchise has been trying to find a dynamic a center for the past 20 years (Sorry, as good as Mikko Koivu was, he wasn’t a dynamic center) and he is looking for a larger hockey market and “change of scenery.”
Dubois, the 2016 third-overall pick was drafted a little higher than he was projected due to the franchise’s desperate need of a center. It has panned out well for Kekäläinen, as the former QMJHL standout has developed and is still developing well into a number one center.
Playing three seasons in Columbus, Dubois has tallied 65 goals and 158 points in 234 games. Over the course of his entry level contract he averaged 22 goals and 55 points on an 82-game pace.
Dubois best season out of the three was his 2018-19 campaign. During his second season in the NHL, the big forward scored 27 goals and added 34 assists for a total of 61 points. He played much of the season with superstar Artemi Panarin on his wing, a season the Russian winger put up 87 points.
Last season, Dubois scored 18 goals and 49 points in 70 games before the stoppage of play. It was in the postseason where Dubois shined though. He was the team’s driver and dominated play for Columbus against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the play in round. His hat trick and overtime winner highlighted his postseason play as he led Columbus to shock the hockey world by upsetting Canada’s darling Maple Leafs in the play-in round. Dubois finished postseason play with 10 points in 10 games..
Pierre-Luc Dubois (@18Dubois) and the @BlueJacketsNHL are about to take the ice in the #StanleyCup Playoffs...— NHL (@NHL) August 11, 2020
Another look at the @massmutual Top Teamwork Moment that helped them get there. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/NHb6JOi3Yn
Now, a lot of factors are in play and outside of an ongoing pandemic, restricted team finances and a flat salary cap, it will be difficult to resolve this situation in the near term. Blockbuster trades rarely, if ever, come together in a matter of days. One thing the Wild have going for them is that in a typical year, Columbus is in the Eastern Conference. Typically, when a team is trading a player, especially one the caliber of Pierre-Luc Dubois, they will likely want to trade that player to a team in the opposite conference.
There are a couple of different angles the Wild could go about attempting a trade. Columbus may want ready-now players coming back as Zach Werenski and Seth Jones as well as most of the Blue Jackets are in their prime and are trying to contend right now. On the other hand, Kekäläinen may want to restock a very bare prospect pool at the moment.
Columbus’ asking value is likely very high right now, but in a couple of months it may be ideal for the Minnesota Wild. Matt Dumba has been a player on the Wild that has been linked to trade talk in the past and has especially come to the forefront of talk when fellow teammate Jonas Brodin signed his extension this offseason.
Kekäläinen has done hockey deals in the past, sending center Ryan Johansen to Nashville for Seth Jones in a one-for-one deal. The Wild likely couldn’t get Dubois one-for-one with Dumba right now, as the Wild defender hasn’t had the production after returning from injury. But if Kekäläinen doesn’t lower the bar for a trade until midseason or even into the summer, it may benefit the Wild because Dumba may raise his trade value by having a good 2021 campaign.
Another route the Wild could go is to package picks, prospects, and even possibly attaching a young NHL center in Joel Erikkson Ek in a possible trade. The Wild do have two first round draft picks this year — acquiring their second from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Jason Zucker deal — and attaching one of the two, lottery protected of course, might be the route Minnesota may want to go. Just speculating, but an Eriksson Ek, first round pick, a top prospect not named Marco Rossi, and possibly adding in a mid-round pick would be a great start to trade discussions. It would give Columbus a center to replace Dubois and a lot of futures. A win-win for both teams.
Is it a Fit For Both Parties?
The goal would not only to acquire Dubois, but to have an understanding and willingness from the young center to play for the Minnesota Wild for years to come. In other words, you don’t want to acquire Pierre-Luc Dubois if you are Bill Guerin, if he is just going to walk after his two years are up on the new deal he just signed. The only way you make the trade is if Dubois intends to commit to the franchise long term.
If the answer is yes, you can bet an arm and a leg Guerin will try to get Dubois in a Wild sweater.
Currently, the team’s number one center in Nick Bjugstad. Yes, you read that correctly. You think this team is starving for a center? This franchise has been starving for center help it’s whole 20-year existence and a center of Dubois’ caliber and potential is worth spending for.
Dubois would fit right in as the Wild’s number one center, whether a trade would happen this season or the next. It also provides prospect Marco Rossi some further time to develop as a top center, playing on the second line, rather than being thrust into the lineup next season (unless he surprises and makes the team this season) as the team’s top center.
By all means, Dubois is not considered an elite center, or among the leagues best down the middle of the ice — at least not yet — but he sure seems to be trending in that direction. Right now, most would rank him inside the top-30 centers in the league. His ceiling could be as good as a top ten center in the league and his floor is a really good second line center as he would be right now on a Cup contending team.
Minnesota would love his production. Dubois would bring a skill level unmatched by an center to ever put on a Wild jersey. Plus, he would very likely pair well with Kaprizov or Fiala in Minnesota’s lineup. Dubois has proved that with a skilled winger paired with him — a.k.a. Artemi Panarin — that he can be a very good center in the league. This makes either or both Fiala or Kaprizov a nice fit alongside Dubois.
So, if Dubois wants a big stage, why shouldn’t it be the State of Hockey?