Jackets 20: Appreciating Brandon Dubinsky

Dubinsky was an invaluable leader for the Blue Jackets franchise.

Isn’t the headline photo for this Brandon Dubinsky article simply glorious?

That moment was captured in the seconds following Dubinsky’s game-tying goal with 22.5 seconds left against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the 2014 Quarterfinals. That goal helped propel the game to overtime before Nick Foligno’s game-winner sealed the deal on the first ever Blue Jackets home playoff win.

Listen to that roar:

Dubinsky became one of my favorite players in Columbus. Whether it was his grit, leadership, making life miserable for Sidney Crosby, I loved the energy he brought to the club.

I think another important element for Dubinsky’s tenure in Columbus was his relationship with John Tortorella. The two knew each other well in New York, celebrating successes and clashing all the same during the early years with the Rangers. But while the storyline of their relationship was out there upon Torts’ hire, the fear of any strain was squelched as the two threw any issues into the past and seemed ready to tackle the project ahead.

I need to lean on him. He is part of that heartbeat of the club there. He needs to be a conduit between the coaching staff and the players until I get to know the other guys also. He’s an important man. We spent a number of years together. I think he can explain some of how I go about it as a coach and kind of make this a smooth transition with the team. And he’s a hell of player, too. — The Columbus Dispatch

The following quote was in reference to the New York Rangers firing John Tortorella following the 2013 season:

I think my relationship with Torts fell apart the last year I was there and I just felt like his relationships with some of the other players could be doing the same thing so I guess that sums it up as to why I wasn’t completely surprised that it happened. — SI and per Dubinsky’s quote to The Bergen Record.

Upon the reunion for both in Columbus, Dubinsky talked about the kind of play that we know Tortorella teaches and expects from his teams.

Lunch Pail Play

Games played: 823
Goals: 153
Assists: 285
Points: 438
Plus/Minus: 24
Blocks: 397
Penalty Infraction Minutes: 905
Game-Winning Goals: 26
Overtime Goals: 1
Playoff Games: 58
Playoff Goals: 10
Playoff Assists: 16
Playoff Points: 26
Playoff Game-Winning Goals: 2

On the ice, Dubinsky was one of Torts’ most trusted players, particularly in the face-off dot (53.0% career) and among those leading the way in the defensive zone. By the time his last season came around in 2018-19, his zone split starts were 20.0% in the offensive zone, 79.7% in the defensive zone. A far cry from where he started in his career.

This article from The Columbus Dispatch touched on just how important Dubinsky was for the Blue Jackets in the 2018-19 playoffs, a guy who embraced his role and did the little but important things: Penalty killing and winning defensive zone face-offs. The PK as a whole loomed large against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2018-19 playoffs, only yielding one of six chances.

In that series against the Lightning, Dubinsky and Nash had 47 defensive zone face-offs without being scored on among all strengths. For those entire playoffs — 10 games against the Lightning and Boston Bruins — Dubinsky had seven offensive zone starts, 80 defensive zone starts, and participated in 125 defensive zone face-offs.

Here’s another glance per Hockey Reference of the numbers and defensive zone start splits (over 90%) from Dubinsky and Riley Nash over those playoffs. Seeds talked about it in his Dubinsky review following the 18-19 season. While the numbers might not show how important he was, the eye test sure did.

While Dubi never won any any awards during his 13 year NHL career across the Rangers and Blue Jackets, that doesn’t scratch the surface of the blue collar style of player that he was.

He was a heartbeat for the Blue Jackets every night on the ice, and should most definitely be credited for the surge that he helped bestow upon the Blue Jackets franchise and organization as a whole. He was a core member, a vital and integral member to suit up for the most decorated era of Blue Jackets hockey.

He wore the ‘A’ and embodied a leader like any captain. His buy-in with Tortorella only helped pave the way for the rest of the team. I was watching a bit of Tortorella’s introductory press conference when he took over as head coach in Columbus. One of the lines from Tortorella stuck out to me, particularly about leaders and a leadership group in the locker room.

While he’s not officially retired, Dubinsky is on longterm IR due to a chronic wrist injury that sidelined him all of the 2019-20 season. It’s a shame for him to have to end his career like that, but the lasting impression I have of him is great playoff performances, a quite simply, a guy who gave it his all.

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