Leave it to John Tortorella to stir the pot.
Just as we all got used to the notion that — for a variety of reasons — it would take some time for the divorce between Pierre-Luc Dubois and the Columbus Blue Jackets to play out, Torts injected some urgency into the situation on Wednesday by confirming to a local radio station that Dubois does indeed “want out” and that the coach can’t say for certain how this will unfold.
“He needs to continue to do the things to help this team win and be the best teammate he can be, or I'm not sure where it goes,” Tortorella said. “It's a situation and we'll go to it day by day."
This would be a tough in-season trade for Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen at the best of times, nevermind when seven Canadian teams would have to worry about a quarantine period if they decided to pony up and pay for a 22-year-old top-six centre. More uncertainty comes with the fact nobody — at least outside of the organization — seems quite sure precisely what Dubois desires from his new surroundings. It’s also unclear whether the Jackets will prioritize a move that helps them win right now or use this as an excuse to till the soil a bit and take a flyer on prospects and picks.
If the Jackets move him soon, would Dubois be the most accomplished under-23 centre traded since Tyler Seguin in the summer of 2013? Mika Zibanejad has gone to another level on Broadway but was basically a 20-goal guy when the Senators shipped him to the New York Rangers in 2016. Coincidentally, the only other candidate might be former Blue Jacket Ryan Johansen. When the Jackets and Nashville Predators pulled off their monster Jonhansen-for-Seth Jones deal in January 2016, the former was coming off a 71-point season.
Columbus has to love how that transaction played out and you can bet the brassy Kekalainen — even if he’s perceived to be cornered — is counting on himself to come through like that again.
Winning a trade when you’re moving a six-foot-three pivot who’s likely still on the way up is no small task. Luckily, Kekalainen will have all sorts of suitors to play off each other.
Here is a look at the packages a few heavily interested parties might offer up in order to land Dubois.
(We’ll start with American teams because, again, the fact Dubois would need to quarantine if traded to Canada has to be a huge consideration for clubs chasing every point in the North Division.)
About the only thing left on the Rangers’ rebuild to-do list is finding another top-level centre to complement Zibanejad. This is a winger-rich team that has benefitted from great lottery luck the past couple years. Rangers president John Davidson hired Kekalainen when the former was running the Jackets and, from Rick Nash to Marian Gaborik, there’s a history of blockbusters between these clubs. Surely Columbus would rather ship Dubois outside its division (which, under normal circumstances, the Rangers are not), but the best deal is the best deal.
Kakko, the second-overall pick from 2019, has great potential, but with Artemi Panarin added as a free agent that same summer and 2020 No. 1-overall selection Alexis Lafreniere in the mix, it’s a loss the Rangers can absorb. Strome’s cap hit basically matches Dubois’ for this season and next.
If Columbus prefers to try and fill the void at centre left by Dubois right away, it could ask the Rangers to put a bigger package together with 21-year-old centre Filip Chytil in the middle of it.
The Kings get a sure thing, while the Jackets take a risk that two prospects who are on the cusp of playing turn out. While Los Angeles might be reticent to part with a pair of youngsters who can help them rebuild, the chance to eventually succeed Anze Kopitar with Dubois and Quinton Byfield is just too enticing. The problem Kekalainen will run into with rebuilding teams is it doesn’t make a ton of sense for those squads to give up their crown jewel prospect; to move forward, they need to add Dubois to a roster that includes a can’t-miss guy like Byfield.
Why stop now, Vegas? The one area the Golden Knights don’t match up well with other league powers is down the middle. Are Chandler Stephenson and Cody Glass the answer beyond William Karlsson? Maybe, but maybe isn’t a word this swashbuckling organization seems to have much time for. Fleury has a limited no-trade clause, but it’s hard to imagine he couldn’t be talked into a new venture given how things have unfolded after Vegas made Robin Lehner its guy. This could be Glass’s breakout year. Also, the Knights would now feature a 1-2 punch of former Jackets in Dubois and Karlsson.
To Winnipeg Jets: Dubois
To Blue Jackets: RW Patrik Laine
For different reasons, both Canadian clubs on this list — at least at first blush — make too much sense to ignore. We all know Laine and the Jets are mired in an unsatisfying union and that the big Finn wants out. Both players are eligible to become RFAs in the summer of 2022. To that end, both of these organizations would want some assurances before swapping the second-overall pick from 2016 (Laine) for the third.
If everyone can get in a room and pinky swear on some extensions, this feels like a real conversation. The Jets get the No. 2 they’ve been dying for, while allowing Cole Perfetti time to come along slowly. Winnipeg is surrendering the greater pure talent, but Dubois plays the prime position. Columbus would have to solve its newly created hole at centre through other means, but if you’re trading Dubois, why not take a swing on a guy who’s the same age and often involved in Rocket Richard chatter?
This is too rich. After 25 years of being ludicrously linked to every French guy or big centre who comes on the market, a rugged, 22-year-old Francophone middleman becomes available, the Habs have a bold GM in Marc Bergevin with the chips to pull it off and yet you could easily argue this is a stay away for Montreal. Call me a Recency Randy, but one game into Nick Suzuki’s 2021 season, I just think his name is a non-starter for Montreal.
If Suzuki is off the table, it comes down to what Kekalainen thinks of his countryman Kotkaniemi. The 20-year-old is big, was drafted in the same third-overall slot as Dubois (in 2018) and grew an inch or three with his bubble play last summer. If the Habs re-sign pending UFA Philip Danault, where’s the ice for Poehling behind Danault, Dubois/Kotkaniemi and Suzuki? Maybe the Jackets could land a top-six C and middle-six C in one fell swoop — basically giving themselves the 1-2-3 of Kotkaniemi, Max Domi and Poehling Montreal fans were expecting a short time ago.
Honourable Mentions: Ottawa makes the call, but I’m not sure where the overlap is between what stud prospects the Jackets would ask for and who Ottawa would surrender is. If this was the NBA, the Boston Bruins would give up Jake DeBrusk and their next three first-rounders — plus a couple pick swaps — to make this happen.