Kirby Dach was acquired at the 2022 NHL Draft and pegged by many as the next second-line center for the Montreal Canadiens moving forward, but could he just be trade bait for a bigger deal?
In a brilliant piece released by The Athletic, Arpon Basu and Murat Ates dove into all the chatter regarding a certain Winnipeg Jets centre and the Montreal Canadiens. Similar to reports released by Montreal Hockey Now this past week, they also confirmed the significant interest Pierre-Luc Dubois has in playing in Montreal and that the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens are in talks for the young, Quebec-born centre. As reported by Basu and Ates, those talks are at a standstill at the moment because the Jets are looking for the Canadiens to add a top-end player that seems to be a deal breaker for the club.
One could assume that the Winnipeg Jets would rightfully ask for one of Nick Suzuki or Cole Caufield to be involved in the deal, which was a no-go in January 2021 when Columbus was shopping him and remains the same today. That being said, could Kirby Dach be a piece that could entice the Jets to take a different direction in terms of an acceptable package for their young centre? After all, Kirby Dach is a former 3rd overall pick that showed good promise in his rookie season, but injuries and organizational decisions have hampered his development over the last 18 months. The youngster was a force in junior, combining a rare combination of size and speed, along with elite vision, to be one of the better centers to come out of the dub in a few years. That being said, he hasn’t been able to show that dominance at the NHL level yet on a consistent basis.
It’s clear that if the Jets were to move Dubois, they would need a centre involved in the trade for their own purposes, and it’s largely believed that Christian Dvorak is a player they would look to fill that gap in any eventual trade, but what if it was Dach instead? Dach fits closer with the rising youngster on the Jets, while also not being too far in age from players like Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers so that the age gap isn’t too wide. He would be slotted into their top-six almost immediately and could play with top-end wingers, much like Dubois did last season; a perfect environment to develop a young centre. It also gives them a more cost-controlled asset that they could build around as they continue to retool their roster and inject more youth into the lineup.
A trade focused on Dach and two other assets could make much more sense for the Canadiens to get the Jets to pull the trigger. It seems extremely unlikely that the Canadiens would sacrifice Caufield or Suzuki, which would be arguably a lateral move, in a package for Dubois, and they have the benefit of time on their hands. With Dubois set to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2024 and openly wanting to sign in Montreal, it gives the Canadiens the advantage in trade talks, as any other prospective team acquiring Dubois would only have him for two more seasons. If traded to Montreal, Hughes would likely come to terms with Dubois on a long-term deal to shore up their centre line for the better part of the next decade.
It wouldn’t make much sense from a roster construction perspective to have both Dach and Dubois on the same roster for the Canadiens moving forward, as Dach would be blocked from moving up in the lineup with Suzuki and Dubois in front of him. On the flip side, it also doesn’t make much sense to pay the price the Jets are asking for Dubois to play him on the wing either, which would lead one to believe that if the acquisition of Dubois does indeed happen, Dach would be part of the package going the other way.
However, should the Jets continue to exert a higher price with the continued pressure from Dubois’ camp to make a move, the Canadiens can easily stand pat and spend the next season developing Dach in their top-six with good minutes. The Canadiens could decide to ultimately wait until the summer of 2024 to sign Dubois as a free agent, at an albeit higher price than they would at this moment, and decide what to do at that point. Nonetheless, Kent Hughes has many options available to him with Kirby Dach, and it’s a very real possibility that Dach will be in Montreal in September when training camp opens up, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him be a part of a Dubois deal if it does come to fruition.