After the way the Columbus Blue Jackets stumbled into their bye week, I was planning on taking a weekend away from hockey content. Watched some football, did some house cleaning, etc. Then my Saturday night was interrupted when I went on Twitter and was directed to this clip of Nick Kypreos on Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada, one of the most baffling things I’ve seen in months (starting at 1:55):
....what the hell??
Let’s break this thing down point by point:
Montreal is (still) interested in Pierre-Luc Dubois
Well of course they are. The fans and the front office in Montreal are equally enamored with any Quebecois player with an ounce of talent. Apparently their affection with PLD goes back to the 2016 draft, when they traded to trade up in the top 10 to get him. Like most of the league, however, they may have been surprised that he would go at #3 to Columbus. From what Jarmo Kekalainen has said, Dubois was third on his draft board, behind just Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. Even if Montreal could have bought that pick from Columbus, it’s not clear that they would have.
Dubois’s stock has risen dramatically since then
As for the player himself, he has done nothing this year but show he was worth his draft position. In early November I was impressed with his first month - even though he was playing mostly third line minutes. Yesterday Mr. Swift praised what PLD has done since then, serving as the top line center for the last two months.
It’s a tricky word, isn’t it? How many players are truly untouchable? There are certainly a lot of players whose teams are not looking to trade, but would do so if the right price came along. Did we ever expect Montreal to move P.K. Subban? (Or Nashville to move Shea Weber, for that matter) In 2015 we would have considered Ryan Johansen to be an untouchable part of the future in Columbus, but within a year he was gone in order to acquire a franchise defenseman in Seth Jones.
So is Dubois untouchable? I never say never, but at this point I would set the price very high. He is not fully proven yet but his ceiling is very high. To make a trade you would need to get someone is at least as productive now and can sustain that production long term. In addition, he is cheap. Entry level contracts are highly valuable in a league with a hard cap.
Columbus will not entertain a trade offer until they understand where they are when healthy
Now I do agree with this, in part. Every public statement made by Jarmo this season has made it clear that he is in no rush to make a move. This is a very young team and there were many roster changes made in the offseason. It was always going to take time for this group to gel. By the time you would expect that to happen, the injury bug hit. I think Jarmo was always going to wait until February to make a move, and now I think that is still the target because that is when the roster will once again be intact. Alexander Wennberg returned in the two games before the break. Ryan Murray and Brandon Dubinsky skated in practice last week so they should both be close. Cam Atkinson is farther away but still should return within three weeks, barring a setback. If any of those players can perform at even a career average level upon their return, it will be like making a trade acquisition, but without giving anything up. (This is a comparison Torts often made last year to refer to the call-up of Oliver BJORKSTRAND)
After a couple weeks with a full roster, we will have a clearer picture about what pieces this team would need to acquire to make a playoff push.
Columbus is in “win now” mode
Kypreos refers to having to “figure things out” in a couple years. What he is referring to are the expiring contracts in summer 2019, most notably Sergei Bobrovsky (UFA), Artemi Panarin (UFA), and Zach Werenski (RFA). One approach this team could take could be to let at least one of these players walk that summer. In that case, it would make sense to go all-in on the next two seasons, and sacrifice future pieces (i.e. prospects and draft picks) to build a contender. But there are two main problems with this line of thought:
First, I don’t believe that this front office will put off the decision that long. Each of those players is eligible to negotiate a new contract starting on July 1. Certainly the team and their agents will attempt to do so. It may drag into next season, but it could get done. Many pending UFAs have signed their new contracts midseason, including Nick Foligno, Dubinsky, Atkinson, and Bob’s current contract. Any one of those players signing long term extends the window of contention further.
Second, if this team is in win now mode, does it make sense to trade Dubois? He has been one of the team’s most consistent and most productive players all season. How does losing one of the hottest players help this team’s chances of winning in the next two years?
Fellow HNIC panelist Elliotte Friedman threw out the name of Alex Galchenyuk as a possible trade target for Columbus. This is not unreasonable. Mr. Swift picked Galchenyuk back in early November as a possible trade target. Yet he suggested a price that did NOT include shipping a player of the quality or value of Dubois. Frankly, we would have to get a lot more to make that work. Let’s compare:
Dubois: 19 years old, first line center, 15:54 average ice time, $894,166 annual cap hit through 2019-20, 10 goals, 12 assists through 46 games, 57.9 CF%
Galchenyuk: 23 years old, second line winger, 15:20 average ice time, $4,900,000 annual cap hit through 2019-20, 11 goals, 13 assists through 43 games, 47.8 CF%
Another potential Habs player that has been brought up in the comments is Montreal captain Max Pacioretty. He could be a good addition, but not at the expense of Dubois. “Patches” is 10 years older, almost $4 million more expensive, and his contract expires in that 2019 summer. He plays wing rather than center, which would leave us in that hole again, and he has the same 11/13/24 stat line as Galchenyuk. That would put him tied with Josh Anderson for fourth in points on the Jackets, which would be nice but does that help if you lose Dubois’ production to get him?
If the Columbus Blue Jackets trade Pierre-Luc Dubois this season, I will quit. If they make that trade, Jarmo should quit as well. A first line player on an ELC is worth his weight in gold and you don’t just throw those away.
To be a contender you do have to part with assets, but generally those are prospects or picks. That is, pieces which are not helpful to the contender in the short term. When the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Phil Kessel, the pieces they traded were two picks, a fourth line center, and two prospects, one of whom never played for them and one of whom (our own Scott Harrington) only played 10 games for them in his rookie season.
Dubois has become a key player in Columbus already, so he’s not really a prospect any more. The kinds of players Columbus could move without jeopardizing the current strengths of the roster would be players like Kevin Stenlund or Vitaly Abramov, both of whom are likely at least a year away from reaching the NHL, but who still have high ceilings.
Dubois has also showed that he can handle the center position. Losing him would put Foligno or Boone Jenner back at the pivot, which is far less appealing than a depth chart of Dubois/Wennberg/Dubinsky/Sedlak.
So how did this rubbish ever make it on air in the first place? It shows a complete lack of knowledge or understanding of the situation in Columbus. My guess it was quickly thrown together as fodder for fans of a Canadian franchise watching a Canadian network. Hell, I’ve thrown together things at the last minute too based on fanciful speculation (with tongue planted firmly in cheek). But I’m just a blogger.