Pierre-Luc Dubois makes his return to Winnipeg today, after playing 195 games with the franchise over three seasons.
Long considered a powerful, top line centerman that coaches dream of, Dubois never quite hit that potential while wearing Jets blue, other than a 50 game stretch last season and game one of the playoffs against Vegas.
Still, the Jets got a massive haul for the 25 year old this past summer, including Gabe Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari, and a 2024 2nd round draft pick.
But the Winnipeg Jets appear to be in a much better position without him, and it’s about more than just the assets the Jets got in return.
It’s about the team.
All players in that locker room want to be in Winnipeg
There are words that are thrown around in the hockey world like “leadership” and being a “presence in the room” and having players that are “good pros” that give their all every night.
It’s part of the beauty of hockey. Goals and assists are very tangible ways to track a player and team’s success. But everyone has their own theory of what a team needs beyond that. Talent is a must. But what about locker room cohesion? A mix of young guys and veterans? Size on the back end? How about truculence or snot? Grit? And does losing in the playoffs actually teach you how to win later in your career?
The Leafs sure hope so.
Every franchise has moments where their team feels just right, the one year out of three where the development of certain players has gone according to plan, young players are emerging at the right time on cheap contracts, and you’ve found a good group of veterans to plug the holes in your lineup.
I feel that about this year’s Jets.
And it’s largely in part because every single player wants to be in that room. TSN colour analyst Kevin Sawyer has noted before both games so far this season that, in conversation with management and players, multiple people are vocalizing that everyone wants to be there, and how important that is to the team.
I believe that has real value.
Can you measure that in goals and assists? If this were NHL 24, would every player receive a 5% boost to their Overall Rating because everyone wants to be there?
I don’t know. But I think it matters.
And to truly get a sense of how much it could matter, we’re going to rewind a bit.
Winnipeg Jets draft Patrik Laine 2nd overall in 2016
When the Jets drafted Laine in 2016, the team was ready to explode.
The forward group was deep and loaded. We had six top four defenseman on the back end and one of them was named Dustin Byfuglien. After stumbling the year previous, Connor Hellebuyck was ready to become a franchise netminder.
We also added a huge 6’4 goal scoring winger to the fold in Laine, who scored 80 goals before he turned 20, something only three players have ever done in history.
The team’s two years after drafting Laine were excellent, missing the playoffs the first year but exploding to the Western Conference final in year two.
From then on, through the 2018-19 season (which in my opinion is the most wasteful season this franchise has had), the promise of the team was never quite realized, and once the Great Defenseman Exodus of 2019 happened, the Jets were never the same.
Patrik Laine was eventually rumoured to want out. The Jets had a crowded depth chart on the wing and there was supposed friction with Blake Wheeler and even Paul Maurice.
But when Laine was traded for Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Jets only received another piece who wasn’t interested in committing long term.
Kevin Chevyldayoff did great to turn the Jets’ surplus on the wing into a powerful, six foot three center. But unfortunately, he turned one asset into more of the same: high end talent that had their hearts set elsewhere.
In some ways, that 2nd overall pick the Winnipeg Jets used in 2016 was the jolt the team needed to take the next step after already drafting very well from 2011-2015. But from a different lens, it was a high end asset that turned into a high end pain in the rear once Laine got his feet wet in the NHL and didn’t see a future in The ‘Peg.
That asset eventually turned into Dubois, another high end talent who caused explosive headlines in the media in his time here. I have full respect for a player who wants to dictate where he lives his life. I have no problem with that. But ultimately, it was another pain in the rear for Chevyldayoff and the Jets to deal with.
I think back to when Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams traded Jack Eichel away. Adams kept hammering that same message: we are searching for players who want to be Buffalo Sabres. I’ve always remembered that. In that moment in particular, that concept was huge for Buffalo, and their ascension can be partially attributed to finding those players that want to stick around.
As I’ve said, it’s talent first that propels a team up the standings.
But it doesn’t hurt to have 23 men pulling in the same direction.
Today’s Winnipeg Jets have that.
And it might be for the first time since 2018.
We’ll see how much and if that matters.