It seems certain Dubois wants to bail on Jets

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It is starting to appear inevitable that the Winnipeg Jets and restricted free agent Pierre-Luc Dubois are heading for a divorce. Now the question is how quickly the union ends — and how messy the split might be.

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Opinion

It is starting to appear inevitable that the Winnipeg Jets and restricted free agent Pierre-Luc Dubois are heading for a divorce. Now the question is how quickly the union ends — and how messy the split might be.

Any hopes of a long-term partnership were pretty much snuffed out the other day when Dubois’ agent, Pat Brisson, made it clear his Quebec-born client wants to see other teams as soon as he breaks free of his current ball-and-chain.

Specifically, his beloved Montreal Canadiens.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Pierre-Luc Dubois doesn’t want to be here.

It was an arrow fired right at the heart of his current suitor, one that appears to have some substance rather than just be a public negotiating tactic. And it has put Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

If Winnipeg and Dubois were to update their current relationship status on Facebook, they would likely check the “It’s complicated” box.

There are multiple ways this could play out in the coming days, weeks or even months. Let us count the ways, shall we ….

A LONG-TERM EXTENSION

The odds of this are slim and none. And slim just left town, heading east and speaking French. Dubois, who can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2024, doesn’t appear to be buying what Winnipeg is selling. It’s not entirely clear why that is, but the 24-year-old centre took a similar stance that ultimately ended his short time in Columbus. Perhaps he’s just really picky. The Jets would be thrilled to lock Dubois up to a massive extension to ensure he’s a major part of the foundation going forward. But it takes two to tango.

A SHORT-TERM CONTRACT

Anything beyond two years would seem to be off the table. However, Winnipeg does own his rights, for now, so they do have at least some form of control in that sense. The Jets tendered Dubois a one-year, US$6-million qualifying offer last Monday (he made US $5 million last year), which he’s unlikely to accept. But you’d have to think some common ground could be found, even if going this route would be akin to kicking the issue a bit further down the road, not to mention at least temporarily keep a player in the fold who has made it clear he doesn’t really want to be here. That’s not ideal for a team that was majorly fractured last season and is looking to rebound. That said, maybe the Jets hope buying a bit more time can somehow change Dubois’ mind. It would be a gamble, for sure.

NO DEAL IS REACHED AND DUBOIS DOESN’T ATTEND CAMP

This is a possibility, especially with Dubois not among the 24 RFAs who filed for salary arbitration by Sunday’s deadline. (Teammate Mason Appleton did). Such a move would have ensured either a one- or two-year contract in short order. (Either the team and player work out a deal by a hearing date that would have been later this month, or the third-party issues a binding decision). This now could drag out through the fall, just as the Jacob Trouba situation did a few years ago, but it doesn’t really benefit anyone.

Dubois would sit and not get paid and the Jets would be without a key player or anything in return for him. Plus, it still doesn’t solve anything. (If an end to the stalemate wasn’t reached by December, Dubois would be ineligible to play the entire 2022-23 season).

MONTREAL SIGNS DUBOIS TO AN OFFER SHEET:

Dubois and his camp appear to be open to this idea, as arbitration would have removed the possibility. If it happens, the question is how would the Jets respond. Let’s say he inks a two-year pact with Montreal that pays him north of US$6.3 million. That would force the Habs to give up a first-round, second-round and third-round pick. Anything above US$8.4 million would involve a pair of first-rounders, a second-round and third-round pick. Would Winnipeg take that, even if it would leave a major hole in their lineup that wouldn’t immediately be filled and require subsequent moves? Or would they match the offer, knowing they basically walked into a trap that will likely see Dubois join the Canadiens in two years anyway when he’s a UFA. Montreal could really put Winnipeg in a bind here, although they would need to shed some salary to make it work. They took a step in that direction on Saturday when they dealt Jeff Petry and Ryan Poehling to Pittsburgh for Mike Matheson. The plot thickens.

DUBOIS IS TRADED TO MONTREAL THIS SUMMER:

If he’s eventually going there anyways, Winnipeg could expedite the process by working out a deal with the Habs. There have been talks on that front. You can see the potential snag here. Cheveldayoff will want maximum value back for a guy he shipped Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to get. If a young, emerging star such as Nick Suzuki isn’t coming back for Dubois, it would be hard to see this as anything but a loss. Christian Dvorak and Josh Anderson, two names that have come up in rumours, are decent complementary players, but not core pieces. You can’t just give away a player of Dubois’ calibre. But if you’re Montreal GM Kent Hughes, why would you sell the farm right now for a guy you can likely sign in two years without giving up any assets? He can afford to be patient.

DUBOIS IS TRADED TO ANOTHER TEAM THIS SUMMER:

I’ve seen plenty of suggestions that the Jets should play hardball with Dubois and send him to sad-sack Arizona to teach him a lesson. Or Philadelphia so he can have a not-so-happy reunion with John Tortorella. To which I ask, why would any of those clubs participate in such a petty act, especially when they have no hope of retaining the player long-term? Unless Dubois and his agent are bluffing and it’s really not Montreal or bust, that really takes away most leverage Winnipeg would have in trade talks with the other 30 clubs in the league.

THE JETS SEND DUBOIS PACKING AT THE TRADE DEADLINE:

No question his value might actually be higher in February than it is now. You know there will be some serious contender looking to bulk up and pay a small ransom, even if it’s just for what will be akin to a pure rental for a Stanley Cup run. There always are. (See Florida this past year for pending UFA Claude Giroux, and even the New York Rangers for pending UFA Andrew Copp). However, for that to happen, the Jets and Dubois would still have to come to a short-term agreement on a contract. There’s also some risk Winnipeg could wait too long and ultimately back themselves into a corner.

There are a handful of other options, including signing Dubois short-term and re-visiting the issue next summer, or even holding on to him until the 2024 trade deadline or straight through the end of that year, which would put the Jets in considerable peril and likely lessen any return they might ultimately get for them.

But it says here that dragging out this drama any longer than necessary is likely only going to increase the heartache for everyone involved. The sooner a resolution can be found, however painful that might be, the better.

Never say never, but don’t hold your breath on this ending happily ever after.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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