Despite being in position to make the playoffs, some are wondering if we might be witnessing the “end of an era” for the Winnipeg Jets’ current core of players. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek discussed as much in the latest 32 Thoughts podcast, most pressingly talking about the possibility that the Jets might (almost inevitably) trade forward Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Montreal Canadiens as soon as this offseason.
“Dubois has a year left, and we all know how he feels,” Friedman said. “Things aren’t working out in Winnipeg, Bowness was brought in to change the structure and challenge players. I look at this and the way it’s going, and I just wonder if we’re seeing the end of this group.”
Dubois is a Quebec native and it's become a bit of an open secret that he would enjoy playing for the Canadiens.
"I think the Jets have talked to the Canadiens on and off about Dubois," Friedman said. "We know Dubois is going to end up there, 95 percent, is there some way they can make a deal so the Canadiens get him earlier and [the Jets] get something they want?
"I think they've talked about that, but haven't been able to make the deal."
Plenty of rumours point to Dubois eventually joining Canadiens
Every now and then, a player appears laser-focused on joining a specific team. It’s happened frequently with the New York Rangers of late, as the team cornered the market on players ranging from Patrick Kane to Jacob Trouba to Adam Fox.
Dubois addressed the rumours of his interest in the Canadiens last offseason, but didn’t exactly put them to bed. They seem to keep cropping up, with talk revving up in January and now this late in the regular season.
Dubois, 24, is a pending RFA with arbitration rights. Generally, the feeling is that his days are numbered in Winnipeg. Friedman wonders if the Jets are better off getting something for Dubois now, rather than eventually losing him for nothing.
On paper, it makes sense that the Canadiens would love to have a prime-age player with strong regional ties. So far this season, Dubois has scored 25 goals and 58 points in 66 games, while bringing the sort of physical presence (64 hits, 71 PIMs) you don’t see in many modern forwards.
Granted, there’s some room to ponder if he’s worth an enormous contract. Considering his obvious focus on a single team, could Montreal get a bit of a “hometown discount?”
Consider how Montreal’s already spending as a cellar-dwelling team. The Habs currently have some expensive forwards even before factoring in whatever Dubois would make, not to mention Cole Caufield’s upcoming raise. If Montreal went after Dubois this offseason, one would hope the team might also try to shake out of iffy deals, such as Josh Anderson’s $5.5-million cap hit.
End of an era for the Jets?
The Jets must feel a bit of jealousy watching the Canadiens mull over whether or not they should add a big-name player who really wants to play for them. That certainly hasn’t been the theme very often for this Jets franchise.
Looking at the Jets’ salary structure, it’s easy to wonder if it’s time to blow up this core.
Dubois is the most pressing issue, but Mark Scheifele is 30 and will need a new contract after the 2023-24 season. Connor Hellebuyck isn’t much younger (29), and also appears slated for a big raise after next season. Both players carry cap hits a bit under $6.2 million, but just for one more season each, possibly making this a time to sell high rather than watch them leave in free agency or give them big, risky raises.
(There’s also Blake Wheeler, 36, whose $8.25M has been an anchor for a while.)
The only Jets players with substantial term right now are Kyle Connor (26, $7.14M AAV through 2025-26) and Josh Morrissey (27, $6.25M through 2027-28).
To the Jets’ credit, they’ve managed to draft pretty well despite making the playoffs more often than not in recent years. The Athletic ranked their prospect pool 13th-best in late January, even though Cole Perfetti “graduated” from their farm system. Some might argue the best move would be to embrace the situation and rebuild with Connor and Morrissey possibly representing their new core.
Both the Canadiens and Jets face interesting questions about their future, with Dubois possibly influencing each team’s direction. It’s probably not the ideal discussion for a Jets team stumbling toward the finish line, but thinking about that situation may serve as a useful distraction if they sputter out in the first round (or even fall out of a playoff position altogether).