Columbus center Pierre-Luc Dubois is looking for a change of scenery and even Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella has publicly acknowledged the situation. This naturally has a lot of Montreal Canadiens fans thirsty, as the local product would be a tremendous add to their roster.
But let’s get down to brass tacks here: What would it cost?
There is a bit of a misconception out there that Montreal GM Marc Bergevin has the upper hand here because Dubois wants to leave Columbus. But Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen also knows the Canadiens would love to have Dubois and since the gifted two-way center does not have a no-trade clause in his current contract, Kekalainen is under no obligation to move Dubois to a favored team – or at all, for that matter. So Kekalainen can exact a fair price for his star, should he so choose to move him.
Montreal fans probably don’t want to hear this, but a Dubois deal probably has to involve young center Nick Suzuki. Jesperi Kotkaniemi isn’t enough of a sure-thing yet, while top prospect Cole Caufield would be too much of a risk for Columbus since he’s unsigned and could simply sign with any team he wanted once his tenure with the University of Wisconsin was finished.
In Suzuki, the Blue Jackets would get a fantastic two-way center who isn’t at Dubois’ level yet, but could very well get there in a couple years, albeit with a slightly different skill set. And keep in mind, the Blue Jackets aren’t in a rebuild – if anything, they’re in a better position to succeed this season than Montreal. So if they’re going to lose Dubois, they need someone who can contribute right away and Suzuki is that guy.
While his season debut against Toronto was excellent, Suzuki showed in last season’s Return to Play bubble that he could hang in the NHL, matching up against the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Montreal’s upset win over Pittsburgh. Small sample size? Sure, but Suzuki hasn’t given us any reason to doubt him.
Of course, Dubois is currently the more known quantity here so Montreal needs to add a sweetener. If I’m Kekalainen, it has to be a first-rounder. Columbus has a decent prospect pipeline, but the Jackets have made only eight total picks in the past two drafts and a second first-rounder in 2021 would naturally be a great asset.
For the Habs, this is feasible. Bergevin has done some tremendous asset collecting in the past couple years and even without a first-round pick, Montreal would still have five selections in the top-100, plus eight more selections in Rounds 4-7. And the upshot of adding Dubois to the lineup is obvious.
With Dubois, Montreal would have a 1-2 punch down the middle along with Phillip Danault – an excellent shutdown center who has really come into his own lately. Particularly this year in the all-Canadian division, the Habs would now have an answer for centers Auston Matthews/John Tavares in Toronto, Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton and Elias Pettersson/Bo Horvat in Vancouver. This would also give Kotkaniemi some very favorable line match-ups as the young Finn continues to grow as an NHLer.
Another great aspect of Dubois for Montreal is the contract certainty: he brings a $5 million cap hit for this season and the next, but will still be a restricted free agent after that. So the Habs would be getting multiple years of control and, most likely, a future long-term contract out of Dubois.
So Suzuki and a 2021 first-rounder is the price for Dubois, but there is one piece of business left for Montreal: the money doesn’t work here. Adding Dubois’ contract would put the Canadiens over the salary cap by a few millions dollars – but this isn’t Columbus’ concern and if I’m Kekalainen, I’m not helping Bergevin here.
Montreal would have to make another move in order to be cap-compliant and it would likely have to be a salary dump, but the prize of Dubois is pretty enticing. Stanley Cups are won down the middle and high-end centers are difficult to procure. Right now, the Habs don’t have the arsenal to compete on that level but Dubois would change things. The price would be high and there’s always the chance Suzuki turns out to be as good or even better than Dubois in the coming years – but it’s been a long time since Montreal has hosted a parade.