They see me rollin'. They hatin'.
- Jul 28, 2004
Few things in life are exactly as they seem. Many situations and people are multi-layered and complex, with various lenses upon which to view them. They can also require context and patience to really understand.
And sometimes, perceptions change over time.
When it comes to hockey, perhaps Jeff Carter is the living embodiment of what can happen when all of those ideas crystalize into one.
In a matter of less than 12 months, Carter went from a polarizing figure in Philadelphia to the most hated man in Columbus to an extremely popular player in Los Angeles.
How and why that all happened so quickly is actually a reason as old as time when it comes to organized sports — winning tends to solve everything.
“My only job is to win a Stanley Cup.”
That was a rather simple statement from Pierre-Luc Dubois earlier this week as he sat in a sparse locker room at the Kings training facility in El Segundo.
In reality, those words were far from as simple as they first seemed, especially when considering what Dubois has come to represent in some NHL circles.
He’s currently attempting to pull off a rather unique balancing act; one where he is both simultaneously trying to change the narrative of his career, yet at the same time not really caring what most people think of him.
And it’s all for very good reason.
“I feel like I’m an old young-guy at times, I’ve played six seasons,” he tried to explain, while underscoring the complexity of his story. “I just turned 25. I still have a lot to learn, but I feel like I have a lot of experience. I’m able to come to this group and help the younger guys and learn from the older guys.”
It was a vulnerable moment when really exploring where he was going.
His comments were rare slices of honesty in a sports world far too often filled with just boring clichés.
Dubois was aching to be heard and slowly opening up.
He was perhaps even craving acceptance.
“I think I’m misunderstood at times,” he offered up, while beginning a deeper dive and also protecting himself at the same time. “I think a lot of people don’t really know me. And that’s fine.”
Is it, though?
It certainly isn’t good enough for Kings GM Rob Blake. He risked a lot in bringing Dubois to Los Angeles last month and invested heavily in him via an eight-year $68-million contract.
Fine won’t be good enough for coach Todd McLellan either. He’ll likely be looking to make Dubois a central focus of his 2023-24 offensive attack.
“Sometimes in this world, it’s hard to get to know guys,” Dubois continued. “My mom always tells me to show my personality more in interviews, but sometimes you can’t. [Coming to LA will] be a fun opportunity for me to just be who I am and just fully be me. There are always going to be people that aren’t happy. There are going to be people that disagree with what you do, but that’s just part of our business. At the same time, I’m not trying to live my life how others think I should. I have my goals, my dreams, what I want. I’m just extremely happy to be here and to be here for a long time. I’ll just show really who I am and not just an image of what people think they know about me.”
Without saying it directly, Dubois was addressing the elephant in the room. He knows the headlines, he’s aware of the grumbling in some circles, and he’s heard what many have said about him over the past few seasons.
“With the demand for a trade out of Columbus and then the situation with Winnipeg, I think everybody lives their lives differently,” he said, choosing to now stare the problems head on. “Everybody looks at those decisions and some people agree, some people disagree. Some people think this, some people think that. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. At the end of the day, it’s my life. I have to do what I think is right. I had three unbelievable years in Columbus and three great years in Winnipeg. Both were great organizations. I learned a lot and met some unbelievable people. But, I felt like those two… I was ready to move on, into a new chapter in my career and in my life. Now I’m here in LA where I couldn’t be happier.”
By signing a long-term contract — and one that has four years of no trade protection — Dubois appears to be setting up shop in SoCal for quite some time, something that could help change the perception that he hasn’t been happy in those previous cities.
“I don’t really live in the past,” he said rather emphatically, respectfully trying to turn the page on his other NHL stops. “I try to live in the moment. When you sign your contract, obviously, you get to look at the future a bit. I think the opportunity to be able to help build and help maintain the culture of winning [here] is something that’s really interesting.”
Being part of a winning situation, by proxy if nothing else, can make you a winner too.
It worked for Carter, and it could work again.
Everything in Dubois’ life has brought him to this moment. It’s been many different home addresses combined with a plethora of experiences — and not just the journey that began when he was drafted third-overall by the Blue Jackets in 2016, nor after the trade that landed him with the Jets in early 2021.
As a 15-year old, he came to Toyota Sports Performance Center for an evaluation camp ran by CAA, one of the sport’s top agencies. The irony of him now talking just a few feet away from the same sheet of ice where his pro career started to take life wasn’t lost upon Dubois as he tried to make sense of the many moments that have helped shape who he is.
Growing up, Dubois moved quite a bit because his father is a fairly well-known hockey coach. With a mom from Atlanta and a French-Canadian dad — they met while the latter was playing in the IHL — his upbringing was multi-cultural. They lived in England, Germany, and several stops around the QMHJL, including Baie-Comeau and Rimouski.
His father was also drafted by the famed Quebec Nordiques in 1989, yet never played a single NHL game. No, Eric Dubois traveled a much rougher road than his son, suiting up in seven different minor leagues over an 12-year pro career as a player. Even now, with more than 15 years of experience behind the bench, he continues to serve as a a foundational anchor in his son’s life. They talk after nearly every game.
Thus, it’s no surprise that Dubois has been quick to point out his admiration for new teammate Anze Kopitar, another son of a coach. They’ve already connected by phone and will likely have many similar stories to discuss as next season moves along.
He’s also spoken with Phil Danault over the past few weeks and will be going to spend a few days with him next month. On the surface, it too makes sense for the pair to get more acquainted with each other for reasons beyond the obvious French connection. Danault had been quick to establish himself as a member of the Kings right away when signing as a free agent two years ago. From day one, he chose to distance himself from his time in Montreal, instead talking about new memories he was hoping to make in LA.
McLellan was at the helm back then and he will be as Dubois begins a similar path once training camp opens in September.
“This was a big week for Development Camp and everything, but I got a chance to meet [Todd] in the gym and we talked a bit,” noted Dubois. “We had talked on the phone after the trade happened, but it was nice to finally talk to him face-to-face and meet him. Everybody here, the whole staff on phone calls was great, but it’s always better in person.”
Whether it’s now, next season, or even beyond that, nobody — including McLellan — will need to put any additional expectations on Dubois. He knows what he’s here for and welcomes the challenge.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself already,” he remarked. “I’m somebody that I know when I played a good game, I know when I played a bad game, but you can always be better. Scoring a goal is great, getting points is great. But, winning hockey games is the most important thing and there are a lot of things you can do to win a hockey game or have an influence on your team to win a hockey game.”
Coming off a career-year, one where he put up 63 points, Dubois is still far from satisfied.
“I would love to do a bit of everything more,” he added. “You can score goals and help your team win. You could also block a shot. You could also win a face-off. There are a lot of things that you can do that don’t necessarily appear on the stat sheet, but at the end of the day are going to help your team win. So, I know there are a lot of things that I can improve on as a player. To be able to work with the staff and these players is another reason that I’m really happy to be here. To be able to learn from these guys is going to be great. I’ll never stop learning.”
On the ice, Dubois will be measured in the typical statistical categories used to rate NHL hockey players. What people say about him as a person, or about his character, though, will likely be an ever-evolving commentary… with one exception.
“Whether you finish your career with 800 points or 843 points, if you didn’t win, you didn’t win,” he said. “That’s the only thing on my mind.”
Again, winning can fix all of the other things.
“I haven’t met [all of] the players yet, but the guys that I have and the people that I have, the only thing on everybody’s mind here is to win. Nothing else matters. So that’s really positive for me to be in this environment. A great season is fun, but to win the Stanley Cup, is really the only goal.”
Perhaps this city will also give him a chance to breathe, even just a little bit.
“I think it’s just an opportunity for me to be who I am,” he openly pondered, adding to the work-in-progress element facing both him and the team.
Dubois is saying all the right things and Kings management are doing everything in their power to surround him with enough talent to win, and win soon. Their championship window is staring to open.
If that process begins with McLellan getting everybody pulling in the right direction, Dubois is already fully on board.
“I’m really looking forward to helping the group in whatever way I can and whatever position I need to be, and whatever kind of player I need to be for this team,” proclaimed the muscular forward.
“I feel like the number one thing on my agenda is just to win the Stanley Cup,” he again repeated. “That’s all, to be honest. That’s the only thing that’s on my mind and it’s really exciting.”
If it happens, perhaps he’ll get his wish.
The other noise will largely subside… finally.
And he’ll forever be known as a winner.