Benching of Dubois underscores need to move him soon
Reports suggest that the Columbus Blue Jackets are not in any hurry to move on the disgruntled center Pierre-Luc Dubois' trade request.
But maybe they should be.
The tension created by coach John Tortorella’s benching of Dubois for a lackadaisical shift is a reminder of what a distraction this messy situation might create this season in Columbus.
It’s understandable that GM Jarmo Kekalainen wants to move carefully and cautiously.The crafting of an NHL trade is perilous in the best of times. But when a general manager attempts to negotiate a trade when everyone knows he needs to make one is walking a tightrope without a net. It is challenging to acquire fair value for a player who wants out.
But there is a bigger issue that the Blue Jackets need to address. With or without Dubois, the Blue Jackets are offensively challenged. They ranked 29th in the NHL in scoring last season and it’s already clear they haven’t improved this season.
The Blue Jackets have netted only 10 goals in their first five games.
That’s particularly distressing for the Columbus faithful because this team, under Tortorella’s command, plays a relentless defensive style that often leads to successful playoff runs.
But despite our unwavering belief that defense wins championships, evidence supports the truth that offense is still critical to winning the Stanley Cup.
Last season’s Cup winner Tampa Bay ranked No. 1 in regular-season goal scoring. The St. Louis Blues were 15th when they won. The Washington Capitals were third in goals when they won. The Pittsburgh Penguins were No. 2 in scoring when they won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017. The Boston Bruins, a team with a reputation for defense, ranked No. 4 in goals when they won in 2011. The Chicago Blackhawks won three titles (2010, 2013 and 2015) and were a top-five scoring team in the first two and middle of the pack in 2015.
Over the last dozen years, the Los Angeles Kings, with defensive-minded Darryl Sutter at the helm, were the only franchise able to win Cups in 2012 and 2014 with an offense near the bottom of the rankings. They were 26th in scoring in both of those seasons, and were ranked No. 2 in goals-against in 2012 and No. 1 in 2014. But in 2012 and 2014, the Kings did at least score more goals than they gave up.
The Blue Jackets are not doing that. They ranked third in goals-against last season at 2.61 goals per game, and they only scored 2.57 goals per game.
This Columbus group isn’t going to magically produce more goals. The acquisition of Max Domi was not the answer. Liam Foudy is going to mature into a quality NHL player, but won’t score enough goals this season to be the major help the Blue Jackets need. Cam Atkinson has been a consistent scorer, and if he stays healthy that will help. He only played 44 games last season and scored 12 times. Pencil him in for 25+ in an 82-game season. He should have 16-18 this season. If the Blue Jackets are serious about contending, Kekalainen has to find more goals. Maybe that starts with dealing center Dubois for a scoring winger, or two scorers, or three players who all have scoring up-sides.
Clearly we all know that’s easier said than accomplished. But the point is there probably should be urgency in moving Dubois. Kekalainen has to be aggressive without being careless. Nobody said being a GM is supposed to be easy.
But that kind of thinking is necessary because the Blue Jackets have some of the ingredients necessary to become a serious contender. Thanks to the accountability that Tortorella demands, the Blue Jackets are miserable to play against. Their goaltending tandem strong enough.
But they can’t win without more goals. And it will be a challenge to win if the Dubois issue continues to fester. Don’t blame Tortorella. He’s hard on Dubois, but he is hard on all of his players. But through the years, I’ve had multiple players tell me they like playing for him.This season, Michael Del Zotto came back to Tortorella, even though Tortorella and he butted heads often when they were with the New York Rangers.
While no one knows for sure why Dubois wants to leave. The speculation has been that Dubois wants to play in a bigger market like his friend and former linemate Artemi Panarin is doing with the Rangers. Perhaps Tortorella is one of the reasons. But Tortorella’s tough love approach seems right for this team.
But with or without Dubois, the Blue Jackets need to find 30 extra goals. Maybe that starts with dealing Dubois for two or three pieces who can help reduce that number.