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Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter


The definition of “The Shift” depends on your location.

If you’re in Vancouver, for instance, “The Shift” seared on the brains of Canucks fans is a marathon of puck movement that saw the Sedin Twins torture the Edmonton Oilers for two straight minutes back in 2007.

If you’re in Philadelphia, “The Shift” culminates with Mike Richards shovelling a backhand into an empty net after colliding with Jaroslav Halak, lifting the Flyers over the Montreal Canadiens and into the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

But if you’re in Columbus, “The Shift” from Pierre-Luc Dubois on Thursday night might be remembered for all the wrong reasons, potentially marking yet another sad ending for a promising and prominent player in one of the NHL’s proud small markets.

In the immortal words of then-Team Canada coach Tim Hunter talking about Alexis Lafreniere, Dubois looked like he was “out for a free skate,” in a first period that was more Ice Capades than hockey.

Any hope that the Blue Jackets might be able to skate through this short season drama free after Dubois’ preseason trade request disappeared when coach John Tortorella stapled the skilled centre to the bench for the entirety of the final two periods. Three minutes and fifty five seconds were all Tortorella needed to see.

Instead of the trademarked TSN Turning Point, Thursday night might have actually been the TSN Breaking Point.

“As I’ve told you many times, I really don’t make the decisions as far as minutes,” Tortorella told reporters post-game. “It’s up to the player to show me. If there’s one thing I’m pretty easy to read on, it’s the minutes.

“You’re going to get out there if you play, if you play the proper way. The onus is on the player, all players, not just the one we’re talking about here that’s been sat.”

In that case, Dubois’ effort left Tortorella no choice. The 22-year-old centre hasn’t held up his end of the bargain since signing a two-year, $10 million deal on New Year’s Eve, the same day his trade request became public.

Tortorella has an obligation to the rest of his team to hold Dubois to the same standard. Dubois declined to comment when requested by reporters on Thursday night.

The question now: Might the optics of Dubois’ shift give suitors a moment of pause? The answer to that is “no,” and resoundingly so.

“That didn’t change anything for me,” one NHL GM said Friday. “I don’t love the look of it, I'll be honest, but those who know the player say he’s a great kid. He’s a great player. Lots of players are unhappy in their situation. Some wear that on their sleeve and I’m okay with that.”

In a hockey world with few guarantees, there is one: GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s phone is lighting up like a Christmas tree Friday with calls from other managers trying to pry Dubois loose.

It would be easier to list the teams that don’t have interest in Dubois, the No. 3 overall pick from the 2016 draft, or likely don’t have the assets to pull it off: Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Florida, Nashville, Toronto and Vegas.

That leaves 20-plus teams – more than two-thirds of the league – with varying degrees of interest and intrigue in the 61-point centre.

There are whispers that the Montreal Canadiens are among the teams with the most interest, in search of that next great Quebecois centre that has eluded them since Vincent Damphousse. Would the Habs be willing to part with Jesperi Kotkaniemi to make it happen?

There is belief the Winnipeg Jets have kept their powder dry with both Patrik Laine and Columbus native Jack Roslovic to put together a package for Dubois, whose father, Eric, is an assistant coach with the Manitoba Moose.

The New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins, among others, all want a ticket in the Dubois sweepstakes.

Productive pivots don’t make it to market often at this age, which is part of the reason why a trade may not materialize overnight. The Blue Jackets have been careful to not cave to Dubois’ every wish, knowing they help set the precedent for top picks that follow in small markets. Kekalainen wields the hammer here.

The trick now is balancing the distraction caused by Dubois with the needs of the rest of the team. The Blue Jackets are scuffling with a 1-2-2 start.

In the short term, it wouldn't be difficult for the Blue Jackets to get by. Dubois is far from the first player (even in Columbus) whose give-a-bleep meter fell off a cliff as part of an exit strategy. See: Jeff Carter in 2011-12. 

Those who know Tortorella best say he has a short memory. Dubois was back on the ice for Friday’s optional practice, and if he’s willing to work, expect Tortorella to be true to his word and adjust Dubois’ ice time accordingly.

In the long term, it will be harder to wipe “The Shift” from memory if you’re in Columbus. But don’t expect it to linger very long in the markets interested in adding Dubois.

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli