Thursday, December 31, 2020

Blue Jackets Preview: Pierre-Luc Dubois: Two Autographed Cards

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Caveats: at this point, despite the season being set to start in Mid-January, several impact players haven't found a team yet and quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.
That being said, one team that benefits from the temporary realignment is without question the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are plucked from the very competitive Metropolitan Division and transferred to the Central Division with the lowly Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.

The Jackets made cap room in the hopes of enticing a high-priced free agent or two to move to Ohio, and in the process only really lost oft-injured middle pairing defenseman Ryan Murray, while the top pair of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski remains intact, as does the goaltending duo of Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo, which along with John Tortorella's system and style keeps them in the mix with division leaders Tampa Bay Lightning and slightly ahead of rivals Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators with the quality of goaltending.

What makes their odds look good:
Jones and Werenski are one of the best defensive pairs in the NHL, Tortorella is one of the best motivators in the game, Cam Atkinson is a goal-scoring machine, and Pierre-Luc Dubois looks poised to take on the #1 centre job with aplomb. They have no glaring weaknesses and form one of the tightest team units in the league.

Question marks:
The Blue Jackets traded away hulking presence Josh Anderson - who scored 27 goals a couple of seasons ago but just 1 in 26 games in 2019-20 after a serious injury - for Max Domi, a small agitator who had never been a centre before two seasons ago and now has it in his head that he's a star at the position; he had 17 goals and 44 points in 71 games last season while watching two rookies pass him by on the Montréal Canadiens depth chart. Free agent signing Mikko Koivu captained the Minnesota Wild for the bulk of twelve years and they still saw fit to cut ties with him instead of letting him stay there as their bottom-six center. At 37 years old, last season's 21 points in 55 regular-season games and a blank slate on 4 postseason outings may be a sign that he's reached the end of a superb career.

Nashville's window has closed and they're on the way down until they can add forwards who can score, Chicago and Detroit are still in the bottoming-out phase of their rebuilds, and the Wild are opting for a retool-on-the-fly which will have them oscillate between mediocre and bad for two or three years, which leaves the Bolts, Canes, and Florida Panthers as serious foes for Columbus. That's good enough for me.

Second in the Central Division.

Earlier today, Dubois signed a reasonable two-year bridge deal carrying a $5M cap hit that "only" takes him to a $6.65M qualifying offer to retain his services after it, when he will remain a restricted free agent. GM Jarmo Kekalainen did a good job with this one, showing his young star faith while not strapping the cap in seasons that will still be formative to the young Quebecer.

There have been rumours that he's asked for a trade, and I could see the Ottawa Senators being interested and having the assets required to make that kind of deal, but I think Dubois may have a preference for other Canadian teams - the Habs, for instance, and also the Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks - but the #1C/2C spots seem pretty set in stone for all of them at the moment.

Still, now's a good time to revisit his time with Team Canada, first with card #58 from Upper Deck's 2016-17 Team Canada Juniors/Women set, where he's seen wearing #8 at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, scoring twice in the gold medal-clinching game against Team Sweden:
He also wore #18 at the 2017 World Juniors as seen on card #8 from UD's 2017-18 Team Canada Juniors/Women set:
He posted 5 assists in 7 games to help Canada to a silver medal at that tournament. He signed both cards during the 2018-19 season.

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