COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella and Pierre-Luc Dubois on Friday tried to turn down the heat on a growing rift that led to the star centre 's benching in a loss to Tampa Bay.
One thing they agree on is that the play of the 22-year-old Dubois has been lacking in a season that has started 1-2-2 for Columbus. Days before camp opened, Dubois signed a two-year contract worth $10 million but also ruffled feathers by making it clear he wants to be traded.
Tortorella, unhappy with Dubois' effort in the first four games, took him off the ice after five shifts in the first period Thursday night and kept him on the bench for the rest of the 3-2 overtime loss to the Lightning.
Dubois downplayed the situation and again declined to comment on his reasons for wanting to leave Columbus.
“It wasn’t the first time I got benched by Torts,” Dubois said. “And I wasn’t the first guy that got benched by Torts. Whether it’s Torts or another coach, guys get benched, and I think it's a thing they’ve got to learn from. It's definitely something you don’t want to repeat, and for it not to repeat itself (I've) got to be better."
Tortorella said he doesn't know yet whether Dubois will play in Saturday's game against the Lightning. He insisted Dubois isn't being treated differently than any other player who is not playing up the coach's tough standards. He demands constant hustle, forwards mixing it up on defence and aggressive play away from the puck.
“He doesn’t get benched for one shift last night — this has eroded and it just kept eroding in the first five games,” Tortorella said. “And I think a lot of people are putting a bigger deal on it because of the extenuating circumstances. You guys (the media) can do that. I’m just coaching athletes, and I will not allow our standard of play and our culture and how we go about our business here change.”
The Dubois situation brings to mind the 2018-19 season when stars Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin were playing out their contracts while making it clear they didn't want to stay in Columbus. But Tortorella said it's not the same, noting Bobrovsky and Panarin played exceptionally well the entire season despite the distractions.
“That elephant in the room was cleaned up very quickly, and they were pros and they played,” Tortorella said. “This situation, it’s a younger player, it’s not free agency, it’s wanting out. It falls on the player, how he handles the situation. We’ve been honest, we had the (team) meeting, then it comes down to the play.”
For his part, Dubois said he wants to be in the lineup and vowed to play better. The top-line centre had 18 goals and 31 assists in 70 games last year. In the first five of 2021, he has one goal and zero assists.
“That’s a coach’s decision," he said of the benching. “It’s out of my control. Like I said, I can be a better player. I know that, I acknowledge that. My play hasn’t been at the level that it can be at. Then what happened last night, that’s a coach’s decision. The coach is paid to coach, and the players are paid to play, and there’s not much I can control in that decision.”
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL
Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy
Mitch Stacy, The Associated Press