Pierre-Luc Dubois wants out of Columbus. He is not the first, but he is perhaps the loudest about it. The Blue Jackets’ top centerman grudgingly signed an extension on the eve of training camp—as a restricted free agent he didn’t many options—and then immediately reiterated his request to be traded. That set the stage for the season’s biggest drama: When (not if) would things boil over? It took five games.
On Monday, Dubois sat for a few shifts late in the game, but it was not quite a “benching.” Columbus head coach John Tortorella, doing that thing he does where you think he might be at least half-joking but you’re afraid to laugh because if he’s not joking he’ll rip your head off, promised, “You’ll know when I bench somebody.” On Thursday, Dubois loafed a bit in his fifth shift, which ended with 4:36 left in the first period, and never saw the ice again, in a 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa. “Told ya,” Torts told reporters.
To end that shift, Dubois declined to get into a scrum for the puck along the boards, leading to a rush the other way. He then took his sweet time skating to the bench.
Of course, it’s just informed speculation that this is what pissed off Tortorella, because he didn’t feel like giving specifics after the game. He did not particularly avoid letting folks know where he thinks the blame lies, though.
“I know you have to ask me the questions, but I think you’re asking the wrong guy, you know? I’m just a coach … trying to make it work with a hockey club, trying to find a way to win games. The person that you keep talking to me about? You should ask him.”John Tortorella, on Pierre-Luc Dubois
Dubois, however, declined to speak to reporters after the game.
There’s still an air of mystery around this whole thing; last week Tortorella claimed that Dubois has never explained why he wants to be traded in the first place. But it fits into a couple of different patterns. The first is talented players desperate to leave Columbus, which isn’t exactly the most happening NHL city. Artemi Panarin wanted a bigger market. Sergei Bobrovsky made it clear he wanted out. Ryan Johansen and Josh Anderson had to be traded after contract negotiations drew bad blood. We can even go back to Rick Nash, who engineered a trade, coincidentally, to the Tortorella-coached Rangers.
But what about Torts himself? His beefing with star players predates his time in Columbus; his battles with Marian Gaborik in New York were legendary. This is kind of his thing: He’s a hard-ass who can get more out of some players but has a knack for alienating others, especially top-line guys. He’ll drag teams to the playoffs but not much further, and he’ll chase off some talent along the way. Does this make him a good coach or a liability, and when does one outweigh the other? I genuinely don’t know the answer to that, but hockey broadcasters have awarded him two Jack Adamses.
What is clear is that Dubois is not going to play out his bridge deal with the Blue Jackets, and probably won’t make it to the April 12 trade deadline. Tortorella’s benching made sure of that. The front office has every motivation to get a deal done before Dubois’s value drops, and before any intra–locker room beef further affects the team’s play. (On Monday, in that non-benching, Dubois scored and CBJ won a one-goal game. Last night, with Dubois parked on his keister, CBJ lost a one-goal game. Just saying.) Dubois is just 22 years old and has all the talent in the world, and he cannot be in Columbus. That’s no longer just a trade demand; it’s just a fact.