April 23, 2023
Last summer, player agent Pat Brisson created waves in the hockey world when he publicly stated that his client, Pierre-Luc Dubois, would like to play for the Montreal Canadiens. Rumours circulated that a trade was very close at the 2022 draft, but it did not come to fruition and Dubois went on to sign a one-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.
PLD is now one year away from unrestricted free agency, when he is free to sign with any interested team he chooses, including the Montreal Canadiens. It is unlikely that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will be keen to lose Dubois for nothing, so a trade between the end of their playoff run and next year’s trade deadline is likely. Pundits have speculated that a trade will materialize this summer with the Habs.
Since the Toronto Maple Leafs signed John Tavares as a free agent in the summer of 2018, I have been critical of the move. Some have asked why I would support a trade for Dubois while critical of the Tavares deal. Are the deals comparable?
Fit with the Window
When the Leafs signed Tavares, he was about to turn 28 prior to the 2018-19 season beginning. Considering ages at the time the new season would begin, the Leafs had established a window around Auston Matthews (2016 draft, age 21), Mitch Marner (2015 draft, age 21), William Nylander (2014 draft, age 22), and Morgan Reilly (2012 draft, age 24). They had added also two defenders in the 2017 and 2018 drafts in Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin.
Toronto was set up for a solid window of contention as the kids matured. Tavares was outside that box, and my assessment at the time was that adding him served to rush the window.
Contrast this with the Habs window which revolves around Nick Suzuki (2017 draft, age 24), Cole Caufield (2019 draft, age 22), Kirby Dach (2019 draft, age 22) and Kaiden Guhle (2020 draft, age 21). Younger players have been added in recent drafts that may factor in to the window, but at present the core player in the window will be 24 when the new season begins. Dubois will be 25.
PLD is a perfect fit for the Habs window – slightly more mature, but still young enough to be effective for his entire next contract. A trade for him gives the window an immediate jolt without rushing it.
Fit with Team Needs
One of my criticisms of the Toronto decision to sign Tavares was that he was a luxury they didn’t need, while other holes remained unfilled. Matthews was already obviously a first-line centre. Marner and Nylander were obvious top-6 offensive weapons, with potential for Nylander to become the second line centre. Nazem Kadri was the same age as Tavares, and was a complete second line centre on a team-friendly contract.
In the meanwhile, Morgan Reilly was in desperate need of help on the blue line and the only help coming would be several years away. The Leafs needed to strengthen their blue line, and have struggled to do so since signing Tavares.
Despite the protests of some, Pierre-Luc Dubois is a solid fit with the needs of the Montreal Canadiens. Why add a centreman when you have Suzuki and Dach as top-six centres? Why add a centreman before you know who you’re getting in the draft? The answer to both is this – there is no such thing as too many centremen, a belief I share with Kyle Dubas, apparently.
Suzuki is clearly a top-six centre. Is he a legitimate number one? I believe he will be, but that belief is still to be confirmed. I believe Dach belongs in the top-six, but whether he is a better centre or winger is still to be confirmed.
If the Habs win the first overall pick they will add Connor Bedard, but draft experts wonder if he will translate better to the wing in the NHL. If they win the second overall pick, one of Adam Fantilli or Leo Carlsson is the likely pick, and they are projected to be first-line centres… eventually. If they pick in fifth, six, or seventh, we are years away from that player being a factor if they draft a centre there at all.
PLD is a proven first-line centreman who is also effective on the wing. If he can be added to the Habs top-six, it seems like a no brainer. You can deal for Dubois, figure out top-six roles later, and still have room to fill other holes.
Fit with the Cap Structure
“We can and we will.” That’s what Kyle Dubas said on 31 Thoughts when asked if he could keep all four of Tavares, Matthews, Marner and Nylander. Of course, a little drama later, he was right. But he has spent the nearly five years since juggling the cap, scrimping on defense and giving away top picks to offload bad contracts. Not all of that can be blamed on the Tavares contract, but adding him left zero room for error with other contracts.
I often wonder if the hole in net would have been so glaring if Dubas had addressed the holes on defense. Of course, the big four up front have limited his ability to do so. A whopping $40.5M is tied up in those players, with Tavares in second place.
Let’s assume the big four in Montreal become Dubois, Suzuki, Caufield and Dach. They will likely cost less than $30M, and by the time raises for other kids are a factor, Anderson and Gallagher will have moved on. By then, the cap will have grown a few million. Adding Dubois does not hurt the cap structure.
Here is another consideration for those who say wait until free agency. If they trade for him this summer, they can offer him eight years immediately and potentially bring down the cap hit a little. Winnipeg is not in a position to make excessive demands. Do fans really think that the 17th overall pick is likely to help the Habs more eventually than PLD can help for their entire window? If you add Anderson or Dvorak, doesn’t that just help the cap structure? Adding a prospect from a team flush with prospects is also not a deal-breaker.
Fit with Team Culture
Kyle Dubas didn’t add Tavares because he needed a centre. He added him because Tavares made it impossible for him not to. A captain appeared for a team that didn’t have one. An all-star first-line centreman wanted to come home.
The Habs are not the only team that might like a local player. Have a look at the Leafs roster and count how many Ontario-born players are there. Dubas repatriated Tavares just like the New York Rangers repatriated Adam Fox and Patrick Kane, and just like the Montreal Canadiens will try to repatriate Pierre-Luc Dubois.
For years, Montreal has lacked a home-grown talent that would perform at a level worthy of their adoration. Bergevin tried to make it happen with Jonathan Drouin – the effort was admirable, even if he paid too much for the wrong player. If you’re watching this year’s playoffs and not anticipating how Dubois would bring fans out of their seats, check your pulse.
Dubois would not be coming with an expectation that he play over his head, or take on the captaincy, or even that he be the best goal scorer. He would be added to an already developing core that has a captain, a goal-scorer, a promising group of centremen, and lots of developing talent to split the attention.
Dubois Fits… and Perhaps Tavares Does Too
On Thursday night the Leafs played a game they had to win. First round elimination is not an option for this team – an exit would mean heads rolling. John Tavares was the captain Dubas signed, scoring a hat trick with two goals coming after Tampa Bay had scored. It was his most clutch performance as a Maple Leaf, in my view. If he can lead them to a Stanley Cup, no one cares what he costs, or what cap gymnastics Dubas had to pull off to make it happen.
Much less is riding on PLD. He would likely form a 1-2 middle punch with Suzuki who has already demonstrated he can handle the pressure. Dubois simply needs to arrive and be the player he has been on two previous teams, a powerful and versatile centreman, with a speed-skill combination, who picks up his game for the playoffs. Of course he fits.
A trade can happen at any point after the Jets season is over. Get ready for a little PLD.
13 thoughts on “Is the Dubois decision in Montreal comparable to Tavares in Toronto?”
I always enjoy your well thought out work and appreciate your thoughts on many issues regarding the Habs because you always explain the reasoning behind it and as a Habs fan too often people just say things and never explain why. Keep up the wonderful work and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to respond.
Thanks for reading and giving me such positive feedback.
Terrific article again Lori. . Montreal has 11 picks, including two first-round selections, for June’s NHL Entry Draft. Is Dubois worth one or two first rounders plus Dvorak plus prospects? – there is no such thing as too many centremen – I positively agree, especially since we do not have an Ace centerman as yet, in my opinion. They are a rare find. I am not sure that Dubois is that answer. His consistency game in and game out is not there as yet. Potential? Yes. Cheers
My limit would be one first (Florida’s), a player on the roster like Dvorak or Anderson, and a prospect.
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Thanks again Lori for your reply. The value of return for PLD should represent our expectations on what we believe Dubois will achieve for Montreal? If we expect him to be an Ace centerman for several years the return would be very high me thinks. Awesome article, thought provoking. Cheers
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Q – Lori?. What if Winnipeg wants the return to include their home grown talent named Dach? .Is Dubois worth one or two first rounders plus DACH plus prospects?
Definitely not. I wouldn’t include Dach. If the price gets ridiculous, you wait til free agency. No brainer.
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I do agree Lori. Thanks Lori for response.
Montreal would be holding a great hand regarding the acquisition of PLD. The player wants out and the Jets could be left with nothing if he becomes a UFA. However don’t discount that other teams could out bid Montreal this summer for his services.
Players can be enticed by warm weather climates and other incentives if another team is willing to pony up for him. Let’s be encouraged by the fact that PLD has voiced his desire through Pat Brisson however don’t neglect the fact the Habs are in a negotiation and the player is likely going to the highest bidder at least in the near future.
If the Habs are sure this player is a missing piece of the puzzle the return must reflect that. The Habs can’t sign every prospect and they may not even be able to play every NHL ready player comfortably. The return package will likely need to include the Florida pick. The Habs would also have to offer up a roster player or two plus a prospect. I think Jordan Harris and/or Christian Dvorak might be candidates and Luke Tuch or Mattias Norlinder would complete a very good offer for PLD. No one said it would be pain free.
I would love to see the return from Winnipeg include Justin’s brother Morgan Barron. He’s only 24 and appears to be a heart and soul 4th liner. If the Habs have to offer up a 2025 4th rounder so be it. To me, this is what team building is all about. A team has to be bold and maybe the time has come to ease up on hoarding picks and prospects in favour of accelerating the addition of important, proven players where necessary.
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Great assessment and thoughts. Thanks. If the Habs are sure that PLD is their Ace then I expect the return will be high and as you stated it will not be pain free at first. Cheers
Maybe try to pry Morgan Barron away from the Jets along with PLD?
Thanks for a good read!
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I’d give up pick 17 and Dvorak and a midling prospect ( Kidney ? )but not more. Certainly not Dach.
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I can’t imagine Dach is on the table.
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