WINNIPEG -- Anniversaries often serve as a perfect time for reflection.
This isn’t a column on revisionist history or an opportunity to make some sort of bold declaration about who won or who lost.
That’s because the jury is still out.
History has shown that more time is needed and no matter what the hot takes may have been presented at the time or since, the full review of blockbuster deals such as this one usually require more time to carefully, not to mention properly, assess.
But with a full 12 months separating the franchise-altering deal that brought Pierre-Luc Dubois and a 2022 third-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets from the Columbus Blue Jackets and sent fellow forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic the other way, it seems like a natural point to get caught up on where things stand so far.
The Jets finished the stretch of eight consecutive road games with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Penguins on Sunday afternoon.
Dubois was in the middle of the action once again and you got the sense this was another one of those assignments he relishes, often going head-to-head with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
There was some verbal jousting that likely stems from the rivalry between the Penguins and Blue Jackets days - and there was a moment in overtime when Crosby crashed the net, got his stick on a redirection with Dubois checking him closely and the play ended with the puck going off the post and Crosby crashing into Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
Dubois wasn’t happy with Crosby on the play and he aired his grievances both to his opponent and the men in stripes.
Despite not recording a point on the score sheet, Dubois was heavily involved offensively, as the man in the middle on the Jets’ top line with leading scorer Kyle Connor (who scored his 22nd goal of the season on the power play) and youngster Cole Perfetti.
He also took several shifts with Mark Scheifele and captain Blake Wheeler (who scored a goal in his second game back after returning from a knee injury) coming out of penalty-killing situations.
Although Dubois was unable to convert in the shootout and had two glorious scoring chances rattle off the iron, he finished with two shots on goal, five shot attempts and three hits.
On Saturday afternoon, Dubois once again showed his engagement stretches beyond what you see on the ice.
He was not afraid to share his disappointment after a 3-2 regulation loss to the Boston Bruins.
If he was not invested in the process of helping the Jets get better, Dubois could have easily deflected the question or chosen not to go into detail.
“It’s good to be frustrated, you know. It’s good to be mad after losses,” said Dubois. “I have a midnight rule, where at midnight, you turn to the next game. But it’s okay to be frustrated and be mad, but we also (have) a sense of urgency. If you look at the standings, the playoff race is about to start.
“The schedule is not looking easy, so we have to get these points now and we have to figure it out now. It’s not like anybody in our dressing room right now isn’t trying their best. Everybody wants to win, everybody is getting frustrated with these losses.”
When it comes to the raw numbers, Dubois is up to 25 goals and 49 points in 79 games with the Jets (including 17 goals, 29 points in 38 games this season).
He’s on pace to set a career-high in goals (he had 27 in 2018-19 as a second-year NHLer) and is threatening to the challenge the career-best mark for points (61), also set in 2018-19.
Perhaps most importantly, Dubois is growing into a two-way physical force that frequently wins one-on-one battles and he’s forged some outstanding chemistry with Connor.
Sunday’s game was the fourth consecutive game he’s eclipsed 20 minutes of ice time and he’s been the most consistent centre on the Jets this season by utilizing his blend of skill and raw power.
Dubois is a pending restricted free agent and no matter how much term is attached to his next contract, he’s going to be due a significant raise from the contract with the $5 million AAV he’s finishing out.
Through sheer hard work and determination, Dubois put the disappointment of last season behind him, preferring to focus on doing the things that made him successful earlier in his career while also looking at other ways to improve and round out his game.
As for the guys going the other way, it’s been a mixed bag of results.
Much like Dubois, Laine struggled in the immediate aftermath with his transition to his new team, finishing with 10 goals and 21 points in 45 games.
His confidence was fleeting when he returned to Finland for the offseason and that he chose not to represent his country at the IIHF men’s world hockey championship was further proof he needed time to reset and get recharged.
This season, Laine is looking more like himself, racking up six goals and 15 points in 20 games but he missed time with an oblique injury and also dealt with the emotional toll of the death of his father.
Laine is also a pending RFA and will be one season away from testing unrestricted free agency, unless he locks in on a long-term with the Blue Jackets.
Roslovic, who was the most productive of the three players during the condensed campaign last season, has seen his offensive totals drop dramatically (six goals, 16 points in 38 games compared to 12 goals, 34 points in 48 games last season).
His ice time is also down roughly four-and-a-half minutes.
Another pending RFA, there is a sense that Roslovic could be available via trade and his future with his hometown team is very much up in the air.
So while it’s apparent more time is needed to deliver a full evaluation of the trade in question, the facts are that Roslovic wasn’t going to play another game for the Jets and Laine had gotten to the point where he was also ready for a fresh start.
With that as a backdrop, Dubois represents a strong return and that value is only going to be enhanced once the Jets are able to lock him up on a long-term deal.
Are there times when the Jets miss Laine’s game-breaking finishing ability?
Not many players can score 44 goals as a 19 year old - or deliver 140 markers in 306 games for the Jets franchise.
But Dubois wasn’t acquired to be Laine or to fully replace his goal-scoring prowess, he was the target in the trade because of the skill set he possessed.
Dubois is doing his part to become an impact player the Jets projected him to be and it’s becoming more apparent by the day that his best hockey is ahead of him and not in the rearview mirror.
That brings us back to Sunday, when the Jets closed out a stretch of eight consecutive road games and a critical four-game stretch that yielded only two of eight available points (0-2-2).
When it comes to the blueprint for how the Jets would actually like to play with more consistency, the Jets checked a lot of the important boxes on Sunday.
Despite playing on consecutive days - and with puck drop roughly 22 hours apart - the Jets played with pace, they were physical, they won the special teams battle 1-0 (despite having only one power play compared to the Penguins four) and they got a brilliant goaltending performance from Connor Hellebuyck, who finished with 36 saves and turned aside two of three during the penalty-shot contest.
The Jets even built a 2-0 cushion.
So what happened?
Well, Evgeni Malkin banked a pass in off the skate of linemate Kasperi Kapanen in the third period and just nine seconds later, Jeff Carter knocked down an attempted clearing attempt by Hellebuyck and then banked his shot in off the pad and in to even the score.
“It was kind of a weird play where myself and their forward were getting there at the same time. I think Helly felt a little bit of pressure,” said Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon. “He played a heck of a game, it’s just one of those things. Their forward made a good read going down on the far side. I think Helly said he got a piece of it, but just not enough. One of those weird plays that may happen again one out of however many times. Just hope it won’t happen again.”
Hellebuyck explained how he viewed the play in real time.
“I just had a late decision, because it looked like it was going to be icing for a second,” said Hellebuyck, who has started 11 consecutive games, 25 of the past 27 and 32 of 38 overall. “Then when I finally decided my only play was to rip it behind the net, they just had a guy wide open right there. Just seems kind of like my luck right now. I’m getting fanned on, I’m getting tipped on, I’m putting pucks right on their tape I guess if you want to call it that. I don’t think that was a mistake per se.”
This nine-second lapse cost the Jets a valuable point at a time when they can't really afford to leave many on the table, as one of a cluster of teams battling for a wild-card berth.
With four games to go before the All-Star break, there’s a sense of urgency within the group that is palpable.
“Well, I can only speak for myself and I know the coaches are doing everything they can to get us playing the right way and getting us buying in and getting this team game going. I know everyone wants it in the locker room but for myself, I’m feeling the pressure,” said Hellebuyck. “We’re running out of time and running out of games because…right around now is the time teams keep on winning. Good teams start pulling away and if you’re not with that mix, you’re going to hang yourself out (to dry) quite fast. The time is now.”
Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry isn’t concerned about his group being negatively impacted by the prospect of feeling a little bit of heat.
“You should have pressure to win hockey games. It doesn't matter where you are or what point you are in the season,” said Lowry. “We're in a business where you're paid to win and your challenge is it's a tough league to win in. Yeah, there's urgency but for us, our mindset has to be we can't look at the end -- we have to look at where we are today.
“The only thing we can control is the game that we play that day. You look at the broad spectrum and you look where you are in the standings. The reality is is we've just got to start finding ways to win a couple hockey games and we squeeze ourselves right back in.”