As rumblings about Dubois’ future persist, Jets must utilize what leverage they have

Elliotte Friedman joins The Jeff Marek show to discuss what Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will do this off-season with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Connor Hellebuyck, and others headed for free agency next year.

WINNIPEG — History has shown that Kevin Cheveldayoff doesn’t like being told what to do.

So, on a day when the most recent insider report says Pierre-Luc Dubois is the latest member of the Winnipeg Jets to request a trade, the natural reaction for the general manager would be to shrug his shoulders and say, “So what?” or “Get in line.”

That the pending restricted free agent isn’t interested in signing long-term or even locking down a one-year bridge deal that would take him straight to unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2024 doesn’t exactly qualify as breaking news.

The most likely scenario for Dubois this summer always included a new address, the real question was going to be whether or not it was going to be with a team interested in locking him up long-term or using him as a one-year rental to try to push that team over the top.

We still don’t have clarity on that front, but the only appeal for the Jets when it comes to the report that Dubois’ agent Pat Brisson is interested in working with the organization to find him a new home is that it might actually help them gain leverage in the process.

Right now, the leverage is clearly on the side of the player and you can make the case that the Montreal Canadiens could be in a similar spot, should the Jets ultimately decide to move him.

That’s where Brisson comes in.

If the Jets provide permission for the agent to help broker a deal with a team Dubois might be willing to sign with, then the return for the third-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft could be enhanced.

Now, if it’s Canadiens or bust, it will be tough for the Jets to generate much in the way of leverage.

But if Dubois is open to joining the Los Angeles Kings or Boston Bruins or New York Rangers or a reasonable facsimile, those clubs are going to be forced to get into a bidding war of sorts, provided they’re serious about acquiring him.

That’s where the Jets could check a few boxes, getting someone who can help in the now as the Jets turn over a chunk of their core, plus add a few future assets, whether those are draft picks or prospects.

There could be an obvious benefit for Brisson (and Dubois) as well.

Having more interested teams involved in the process could raise the AAV for his client.

Dubois isn’t likely to be the only one on the move.

Chances are high that goalie Connor Hellebuyck, centre Mark Scheifele and captain Blake Wheeler all could be gone.

That list could extend to fellow 2024 pending UFAs Brenden Dillon, Dylan DeMelo and maybe even Nino Niederreiter — though all three are candidates for an extension.

The Jets need clarity at the goalie position, especially since there are no internal candidates ready to take over the starting job, should Hellebuyck not be interested in an extension either.

As has been previously mentioned in this space, the Jets aren’t interested in a rebuild and if they’re also going to need to replace their top-two centremen, acting quickly on Dubois has to be a consideration.

Would Cheveldayoff prefer to be patient and grind things out for a better return?

Of course he would.

That luxury was available last summer and even into the season.

It’s not available now, and the clock is ticking.

Players like Dubois are tough to obtain and even more challenging to replace, so it’s easy to look at this as a lose-lose proposition for the Jets.

Dubois is entering his prime and has a skill set that isn’t exactly plentiful among the Jets’ forward group.

Areas of his game need refining, but that’s the case for most players his age (soon to be 25 near the end of this month).

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Let’s not forget Dubois just set a career high for points (63 points in 73 games) and threatened to eclipse 30 goals for the first time in each of the past two seasons.

Should Dubois get to the open market next summer (even if that seems unlikely right now), he’ll be in demand.

He’ll also be due a raise, though Montreal’s signing of Cole Caufield to an eight-year extension earlier this week could impact the potential AAV for Dubois, as it’s hard to imagine Canadiens GM Kent Hughes offering him more than the dollars he handed out to captain Nick Suzuki ($7.875 million) and Caufield ($7.85 million).

Money wasn’t going to be an issue for the Jets, who were likely willing to go north of $8 million for Dubois, given his age and skillset.

That now looks and sounds like a moot point, so it’s time to focus on Plan B.

Trades take time, and this isn’t to suggest Cheveldayoff should accept the first offer and move onto the next name on the priority list either.

That said, some urgency is required.

Based on the report in The Athletic, that Dubois isn’t interested in signing another one-year deal (like he did last summer when he accepted his qualifying offer) could bring a number of other strategies into play, like the potential of a qualifying offer from a team like the Canadiens — or someone else.

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If Dubois is interested in going down that road, the Jets could be backed even farther into a corner.

The threat of Dubois accepting an offer sheet in the $6.435-million range would mean the compensation (if the Jets chose to let him walk) would be a 2024 first-rounder and a 2024 third-rounder.

If the Jets chose to match, they’d have Dubois in the lineup for next season, but they wouldn’t be able to trade him and he would walk right into free agency.

That’s not a favourable outcome either, so the focus for the Jets immediately turns back to finding a deal that’s better than the 2024 first and 2024 third.

One way for the Jets to guard against the possibility of an offer sheet would be to file for club-elected arbitration, which is exactly what the Calgary Flames did with Matthew Tkachuk last summer.

Although that didn’t lead to a long-term contract, it created the environment for a trade that appealed to both teams.

If looking at the framework for a potential trade, look no further than the summer of 2019, when defenceman Jacob Trouba was dealt to the Rangers for defenceman Neal Pionk and a 2019 first-rounder (20th overall) that ended up being Ville Heinola.

Dubois is in the same spot in his career, one year away from unrestricted free agency status for the first time in his NHL career.

When asked on exit interview day how important that was to him, Dubois didn’t shy away from the topic, nor did he toss out a cliche.

“To me, personally, all my life I followed my parents and we moved around. The CBA gives UFAs the right to pick whatever they want,” said Dubois. “I’m not a UFA, so I don’t worry about that. But the right to choose is something that, personally, it gives you power. You can make your decision and not just go where you’re told. So, for me, that’s something that’s pretty important.”

Dubois finished the answer by saying he hasn’t given that a lot of thought.

Since that answer at the end of April, he’s clearly given it additional thought and those thoughts don’t include a long-term commitment to the Jets.

That the Jets sent away 2016 second-overall pick Patrik Laine and 2015 first-rounder (25th overall) Jack Roslovic is going to be part of the narrative, but that’s not the primary concern for Cheveldayoff.

He needs to make the best deal possible under challenging circumstances, granted those are circumstances he created by dealing for Dubois in the first place.

Cue Brisson.

This isn’t to suggest that Cheveldayoff should turn the process over to Brisson entirely, that’s not the job of the GM and the Jets can’t be put in a position where it seems like the balance of power is shifting completely to the players.

Otherwise, it could lead to a long line to the GM’s office, and the Jets can’t afford that to happen.

Cheveldayoff has been dealing with trade requests for 12 years and he’ll be dealing with more of them for as long as he holds the job.

In this case, having Brisson get involved could help matters, and that’s why he should include him in the process, if he hasn’t done so already.

The direction of the franchise could depend on it.

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