First it was contract squabbles before the season. Then there were rumblings that he wanted out. And now we have Head Coach John Tortorella playing him (he said he did not bench him…lol) a grand total of 3:55 with no ice time in the second or third periods on Thursday.
The Pierre-Luc Dubois situation seems to be fast tracking to a boiling point just like Ryan Johansen a few years ago. Jarmo Kekalainen emerged from that situation very well probably getting the better of the trade that dealt an unhappy Johansen for Seth Jones.
Because young scoring centers so rarely become available in or maybe even a little before their prime, there should be a strong market for Dubois despite the fact that Columbus is in a difficult situation. As such, it would be challenging for the Hurricanes to put together an enticing offer and also fit him into the longer-term salary cap math challenges.
But when a 22-year old player of his caliber becomes available, a team should at least consider it. And with the team’s COVID-induced layoff it makes for a fun Canes hockey conversation topic to pass the time.
The fit in terms of skill set
As a big center with skill and decent skating ability, Pierre-Luc Dubois fits on the second line of the vast majority of teams in the NHL. That would be true for the Hurricanes too. Whether Dubois is more of a “need to have” or “want to have” in terms of the Hurricanes becoming a perennial Cup contender depends on what one sees as the future for Vincent Trocheck and/or Martin Necas as a second line scoring center. Trocheck was acquired to fill exactly this need. After a ‘meh’ start under odd circumstances in 2019-20 Trocheck is off to a good start in 2020-21. For now at least, Necas is playing wing, but he was drafted as a center, and I continue to think that his maximum ceiling is as a playmaking center. But the question is if/when he can develop other areas of his game to be a capable two-way center.
Being at least two lines deep in terms of scoring is something that the Hurricanes need to develop to match up well against the depth of the top teams in the NHL. So how aggressive the Canes should be in trying to acquire Dubois depends on the confidence the team has in Trocheck’s ability to make that happen short-term and possibly Necas longer-term.
The salary cap challenges
Dubois is currently signed to a two-year contract at $5 million per year. After the two-year deal expires, he would be a restricted free agent, so an acquiring team would still have control/rights past the initial term. With his backloaded contract that has a $6.65 million salary in the second year, the qualifying offer to keep those rights would be the same $6.65 million. If Dubois performs well, that minimum salary will be a non-issue. But in the event that performs at a modest level, the acquiring team would still have to make a qualifying offer of $6.65 million or otherwise turn him loose as a free agent.
The $5 million salary for the first two years for Dubois is actually salary cap friendly if one assumes that the Hurricanes will need to send at least one middle of the roster or higher player back in the trade.
Longer term, trying to fit another higher-end salary under the cap could be challenging, but the schedule could make it doable. Dubois would not be up for a new contract until 2022-23 which is when Nino Niederreiter ($5.25 million) and Vincent Trocheck ($4.75 million) come off the books. Possibly complicating this is the fact that Martin Necas and Haydn Fleury both have inexpensive contracts that expire at the same time.
So long story short, fitting Dubois under the cap for the two years that he is signed for at $5 million should be doable assuming the Hurricanes send salary back the other way. After that, he would be yet another next contract that could be challenging to make work.
Where do I land?
True first or second line centers rarely become available in the NHL unless they are a built older as unrestricted free agents who command a king’s ransom. So when an opportunity like this presents itself, I think a team has to at least consider it. That is not to say that the Hurricanes should be determined a bidding war if it gets crazy.
In addition, I think Dubois is an incredibly good fit for the Hurricanes. I tagged the second line center slot as one of two most critical lineup slots entering the 2020-21 season, and I believe that building a legitimate second scoring line is critical to deep playoff success against the NHL’s best teams.
So if I was Don Waddell, I would make an offer for Dubois because I think he could be one of the final pieces need to be among the NHL’s top teams. But at the same time, I would be hesitant to part with any of the Canes top three defensemen (Slavin, Hamilton, Pesce) or core offensive players (Aho, Teravainen, Svechnikov). I think trading from that group is likely to be one step forward and one step back or possibly worse. So that leaves the Hurricanes trying to put together an appealing package that maybe includes a roster player or two (including a replacement for Dubois) and also maybe medium to higher-end picks or prospects. Very likely, Columbus gets and instead accepts a trade offer that includes at least one more comparable higher-end young player (like Jones for Johansen). So in that case, I do not think the Hurricanes should try to outbid.
But with my limitations could the Hurricanes put together a decent package? I think so. A good starting point for both teams would be Vincent Trocheck. He could immediately replace Dubois in Columbus’ lineup, is signed for the same two years and has very close to the same salary ($4.75 million versus $5 million) to help with that math. The question is what the Hurricanes could offer to make it worthwhile for Columbus from there. They would seemingly need some higher-end futures which for the Hurricanes could mean Martin Necas and then maybe medium to higher-end draft picks or prospects.
But an interesting question is if/how much better Dubois is than Necas just looking at the two side by side. Dubois has scored 48 points, 61 points and 49 points (in 70 games) in the last three seasons. Necas is only one year younger based on draft year and scored at a low 40s pace in his lone NHL season. So though Necas’ first season seems to line up reasonably well with Dubois’ starting point, I think it is fair to say that Necas is much earlier in that development process and therefore much less certain. I think it is fair to say that Dubois is more valuable than Necas because he is more established already, but at the same time it is not out of the question that Necas becomes as good or better than Dubois.
So I think the somewhat reasonable ask or offer from the Hurricanes could be something like Vincent Trocheck, Martin Necas and a higher-end pick or prospect like Jack Drury, Jamieson Rees or a protected first-round pick. Ironically, I think that is both a lot to give up but still not really likely to get a deal done with the Blue Jackets probably preferring a single equal player.
I would do that deal. Dubois slots into the exact slot in the lineup as Trocheck but is five years younger and only a restricted free agent in two years when his contract is up. I also think he has more upside than Trocheck in terms of trying to make a significant improvement over the 2019-20 Hurricanes. And giving up Necas is hard but the price to pay to upgrade for now.
How do I think it ends?
With today’s benching (or whatever Tortorella calls it), resolution of the situation now seems likely to be expedited. I think Dubois gets dealt within the next 3-4 weeks, and I think even given Columbus’ urgency that he still nets a comparable young player in return which keeps the Canes out of the mix.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you think of the possibility of going after Pierre-Luc Dubois with the aim of building a second scoring line around him?
2) Would you be willing to trade Trocheck, Necas and a medium/higher-end pick or prospect? Do you think that could be enough? Otherwise what would you offer?
3) What other thoughts do you have on the Pierre-Luc Dubois situation in general?