The ink wasn’t even dry on Pierre-Luc Dubois’ two-year contract extension before he made it abundantly clear he wants out of Columbus. Pierre-Luc Dubois received five shifts and 3:55 of ice time and watched the second, third and overtime periods from the bench Thursday night. So it’s reasonable to surmise that Pierre-Luc Dubois will get his wish and be a former Columbus Blue Jacket sooner rather than later.
There is no doubt the skids are being greased for Dubois to ride them out of town, but who is doing the greasing? Is it Dubois, who went into Thursday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning with just one assist in four games and appeared to take his sweet time getting back to the bench on a line change after an uninspired shift? Or is it the often-combustible Tortorella, who likely and understandably is growing tired of the drama surrounding players who want out of Columbus?
One thing is certain. This is what you get when you have two proud, stubborn and passionate men such as Dubois and Tortorella on opposite sides of the spectrum. It’s hard to say whether this situation has made the Blue Jackets’ dressing room a toxic place because nobody outside the tight circle in the organization is allowed in there these days. As for Tortorella, he often refers to the Blue Jackets “going about their business,” but it can’t be easy to go about your business like nothing is amiss when something clearly is.
When Dubois’ trade request went public, you might recall the player pledged at the time to be the best teammate, player and person he could be. Is he holding up his end of the bargain? Again, it’s impossible to determine, but if he is dogging it in order to force a trade, then he’s basically not being a man of his word. For Tortorella to keep his No. 1 center on the bench for the final 44:53, including the overtime, of a winnable game against the defending Stanley Cup champion, he must have been some miffed. Whether that’s with something Dubois did in his five shifts or an accumulation of things, Tortorella wasn’t saying after the game. Dubois last shift was particularly damning, pockmarked by a lack of hustle, poor body language, a puck battle where he essentially gave up and a very, very slow skate back to the bench for a line change.
But Tortorella did say that, even though he is the one who doles out the minutes, it’s actually the player who determines how much ice time he’ll receive by the way he plays. Which would lead one to believe that the benching wasn’t a ploy to create an untenable situation and speed along the process of getting Dubois out of town. “I really don’t make decisions as far as minutes,” Tortorella said. “It’s up to the player to show me. And if there’s one thing I’m pretty easy to read on, it’s the minutes. You’re going to get out there if you play, if you play the proper way. And you’re going to get back out there. So the onus is on the players – all the players, not just the player we’re talking about here who sat. It’s all the players. I’m not a hard guy to read as far as that’s concerned.”
So starting Friday morning, you can expect a conga line of GMs to be calling Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen with trade proposals, some of which will be absurd. It’s unlikely any of this will impact Dubois’ value on the trade market because he is a known commodity who is under contract for the rest of this season and next, and one who will require a $6.5 million qualifying offer for the team to keep his contract rights beyond the 2021-22 season.
Tortorella and captain Nick Foligno stressed that the Blue Jackets have been through this kind of thing before. And they have. But this one is different. With Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, both players were veterans and pending unrestricted free agents who did not make trade demands. They basically made it clear that when their contracts expired, they wouldn’t be re-signing in Columbus. And they showed up for work every day and did not allow it to become their situation distraction.
Well, that’s not happening this time. The Dubois situation has become untenable, either because of a player who’s trying to force the situation or a coach who wants to speed up the process, or both. But it’s really hard to imagine the Blue Jackets can continue to go about their business in an environment that is growing more toxic by the day.
“That’s way above my pay grade,” Foligno said. “We’ve had talks with Luc. He’s one of us until we’re told otherwise. I think you guys are looking for a big story. Obviously he didn’t play tonight so I get that tensions are high, but I’ve got 20 other guys to worry about and a team to worry about.”
The way things look, Foligno, Tortorella and the rest of theBlue Jackets likely won’t have to worry about Dubois for much longer.