Should the Canadiens trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois?

At the right price, Dubois could be a huge get for a young Canadiens team on the rise.

Pierre-Luc Dubois wants to play for the Montreal Canadiens. It's the worst kept secret in all of hockey.

The 24-year-old forward has gone to great lengths (without breaking the NHL's tampering rules, of course) to make his intention of playing for his hometown team very clear.

Dubois' representative, super-agent Pat Brisson, has not been shy to express his client's desire to suit up in the bleu-blanc-rouge, notably telling TVA Sports as much last summer while Dubois was a restricted free agent.

“Montreal is a city he would probably … I can talk about it because he doesn’t have a contract at the moment — he’s a restricted free agent,” Brisson said. “Montreal is a place, a city he’d like to play in. That’s all I can say about that.”

According to The Athletic, Dubois was even present at the NHL draft at the Bell Centre last July, with the belief he would be traded to the Canadiens during the event.

The interest has been mutual since the forward's days in the QMJHL. Montreal reportedly had a trade in place with the Edmonton Oilers at the 2016 NHL Draft for the fourth overall pick, where Dubois was projected to go. P.K. Subban would reportedly be heading the other way, but the deal fell through when the Columbus Blue Jackets selected Dubois with the third pick instead of the more highly-touted Jesse Puljujarvi.

Fast forward seven years, two front offices in Montreal and two NHL franchises for Dubois, and the not-so-private courting between the two parties is still going on — but it could be reaching a conclusion soon.

According to TSN's Pierre LeBrun, Brisson informed the Jets this week that Dubois, a restricted free agent, has no intention of re-signing with the Winnipeg Jets, and would like to work with the team to facilitate a trade.

Naturally, all eyes are on Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes to see if he'll make a move for the Sainte-Agathe-Des-Monts, QC., native this summer.

But is it worth it for Montreal to trade assets for a player that is set to be available as an unrestricted free agent in a year's time?

Let's first take a look at the current Habs depth chart, and how Dubois would fit in if he got his wish between now and the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.

The Canadiens currently boast a young, promising 1-2 punch down the middle, with captain Nick Suzuki and 22-year-old Kirby Dach as the top-two centres on the squad. Suzuki is quickly turning into the top-line centre the Habs have been desperate for for over a decade, leading the team in scoring last season with 66 points while being the only skater to appear in all 82 games.

Dach registered a career-high 38 points in only 58 games, missing a significant chunk of the season with various injuries.

Source: The Athletic
Source: The Athletic

While Suzuki's role on the top line is as good as sealed for the next decade or so, the Canadiens brass will have to consider Dach's development when assessing the risks and rewards of making a move for Dubois.

Dach displayed strong puck-possession and play-driving metrics in his first season in Montreal, becoming a reliable top-six forward for Martin St. Louis while spending time down the middle and on the wing as injuries mounted up throughout the difficult season.

However, Dach was arguably at his best when flanking Suzuki and Cole Caufield on the top line. The trio looked surprisingly comfortable together, despite their relative lack of NHL experience and reps as linemates, but the experiment was short-lived as Dach and Caufield would eventually go down with injuries. Dach also has a lot of work to do in the faceoff circle, winning only 35.3% of his draws over his four-year NHL career.

There's an argument to be made that the 2019 third overall pick should play on the wing with the pair of young stars going forward to create a youthful, dynamic and talented first line for the foreseeable future. And if Hughes chooses to trade for Dubois this offseason, there's a good chance that solidifies Dach's role as a winger.

Christian Dvorak would be the next centre on the depth chart, but considering the 27-year-old has done little to convince the front office and coaching staff he can produce offensively as a top-six forward, I'd say he would pose no threat to Dubois' place in the lineup.

So it seems there may be a spot available in the lineup for Dubois. But does it make sense for a rebuilding team like Montreal to give up valuable assets to acquire a high-level player?

A significant portion of the fan base — and other fans around the league — do not agree with the idea of a squad in no position to compete for a playoff spot giving up players or draft picks for a big-name player.

That logic makes perfect sense, and would be enough to persuade most teams in most situations to look the other way and focus on gathering assets instead of trading them away.

Pierre-Luc Dubois has made it clear he wants to play for the Canadiens, but should Montreal make a blockbuster trade for the disgruntled Jets star? (Getty Images)
Pierre-Luc Dubois has made it clear he wants to play for the Canadiens, but should Montreal make a blockbuster trade for the disgruntled Jets star? (Getty Images)

But this situation is unique. Dubois will only be 25 years old when next season starts, has proven himself as one of the best two-way centres in the NHL and is a French Canadian star who would love to play under the bright lights of the Bell Centre. He fits Montreal's current timeline, and projects to be in his prime when the Habs' young core is ready to compete in the Atlantic Division.

Chances like this don't come around very often, especially for the Canadiens, so who can really blame the front office for frothing at the mouth over this opportunity?

The Jets have very little leverage in this situation, but GM Kevin Cheveldayoff won't let his star centre go for peanuts. And despite a disappointing playoff exit and well-documented locker room issues, Winnipeg prefers to stay competitive, and will likely look for a return that can help them compete in the present.

The conversation over a trade would likely start with Dach, but considering the leap he took last season and how well he projects to fit in the Canadiens' lineup going forward, that's likely a non-starter for Montreal. The Canadiens also own the fifth, and either 31st or 32nd overall picks (depending on how Florida does in the Stanley Cup Final) in the 2023 draft. Hughes is highly unlikely to part ways with the fifth pick in a deal for Dubois, but would probably be happy to offer a late first in a package.

As for skaters that would fit the bill for the Jets, Josh Anderson and Dvorak immediately come to mind. While Anderson's goalscoring has helped an often toothless Canadiens' attack since his arrival in 2020, Montreal wouldn't mind offloading the remainder of his seven-year, $38.5 million ($5.5 million AAV) contract, which expires after the 2026-27 season. Dvorak has two more seasons remaining at a $4.45 million AAV.

The Canadiens would likely be very comfortable with offering a package including either or both of these forwards, but the Jets won't be happy with accepting what would look to be an unsatisfying return for Dubois.

Winnipeg's leverage will depend on how many teams are interesting in trading for the centre, as Dubois and his representatives are to submit a short list of teams the player would like to be traded to. Whether all of those teams end up throwing their hat in the ring remains to be seen.

Cheveldayoff has less than a month to find a landing spot for his disgruntled star, as Dubois will be eligible to receive an offer sheet should he still be property of the Jets come July 1. That would represent the worst case scenario for Winnipeg, as they would have to match the offer (unlikely) or let Dubois walk for an underwhelming compensation of draft picks.

For example, if the Canadiens successfully signed Dubois to a one-year, $6.435 million offer sheet, the Jets would only receive a 2024 first rounder and 2024 third rounder in terms of compensation. Matching the offer sheet would mean the Jets cannot trade Dubois for one year, walking him to free agency without the possibility of recouping assets.

Despite his interest in playing for the Canadiens, Dubois will have a number of suitors if he were to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. There's a good chance he'd receive a more intriguing offer by a team other than Montreal.

The Habs are the frontrunners to land the services of the talented centreman, by a mile. Dubois' intentions are clear. The path forward for Montreal, however, is not.