Manor Unpacking an Enigma: What’s Next for Dubois and the LA Kings

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Winston Chruchill died in January 1965, more than 30 years before PL Dubois was even born. Yet, it’s a quote from the former U.K. Prime Minister that certainly applies to the Kings highest paid forward next season.

“It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key,” said Churchill.

The backstory on Dubois is rather straight forward. Prior to being traded to Los Angeles last summer, the 6-foot-4 forward had played six NHL seasons. In three of those, he scored at least 60 points. Those seasons also came with goal totals of 27, 28, and 27 goals.

Getting him back to those levels will be a key to the Kings 2024-25 season.

We get it, there’s a lot of unhappiness to go around after Year 1 of his eight-year, $68-million contract. Fans are angry, management is disappointed, and even he agrees that his performance must “be better.”

At some point, it’s time to turn the page on what has already happened, though.

Understandably, some people aren’t ready to do that just quite yet. No problem, bookmark this article for later this summer and come back to it.

If you’re looking for a scathing commentary about how bad he was wearing a Kings jersey, this isn’t it. We know the numbers; they’ve been talked about to death. We watched the same 82 regular season and five playoff games as everybody else.

That’s the past.

On Monday, Kings GM Rob Blake confirmed the team has no intention of buying out Dubois.

People are entitled to disagree with that decision. Fine.

Regardless of anybody’s individual opinion about the buyout option, Blake dismissed it. Therefore, it’s off the table and there isn’t much else worth saying on that front.

We believe the better option is to start discussing what’s next.

Dubois stood in the pocket and answered every difficult question all season long. He never shied away from the media. He tried his best to explain his side and be heard, when needed — something we even documented in detail in late January, when it was pretty clear he and his then-head coach weren’t on the same page.

After being fired, Todd McLellan didn’t throw Dubois under the bus. Instead, he actually backed Dubois and attempted to throw cold water on some of the critics.

“He’s a great human being,” said McLellan. “He’s misunderstood at times by the outside world, simply because he took advantage of what he earned. And that was the right to come to LA. It’s never easy going to a new team, and it’s never easy coming to a new team as a go-to player or a top six player. It takes a little bit of time. The LA Kings play the game a little different than a lot of teams do. Checking comes first so you have to adapt to that. I think it took PL a little bit, but I think he has a chance to have a huge impact on what happens with the team moving forward.”

Dubois’ numbers certainly indicate it didn’t come easy and didn’t come quickly in LA.

He finished the regular season with the worst stats line of his young NHL career, just 16 goals and 40 points.

‘Dubois must be better!’ is a common statement read in various places online. Why? Because it’s obvious.

How? That’s the burning question.

And to say ‘It’s all on Dubois’ is short-sighted.

Does Dubois need to figure it out for himself? Not really. NHL contracts are guaranteed. He’s getting paid either way.

Does he need to be better for things like pride, dignity, and respect? Of course.

That’s still missing a much bigger point.

The LA Kings organization invested in him. They signed him to be a key part of their lineup. Thus, it’s in their best interest to meet him halfway.

Screaming ‘It’s all on you’ and walking away from him is not the solution. There are two sides to this coin.

Yes, he has to be better. Absolutely.

In fact, much, much better.

His performance in certain statistical areas was embarrassing, disappointing, and a bunch of other words.

However — and it’s probably time for a big exhale — there is some additional context needed.

This is not an excuse, it’s context.

He is 25 years old. Remember that.

There’s a reason why many General Managers believe that young players should spend a few years in the minor leagues. This isn’t even a notion exclusive to hockey. A few months ago, we had a conversation with former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti (a podcast we cannot recommend highly enough), he spoke on this very topic — completely unrelated to Dubois, but more about ‘the process’ we always hear about players needing to go through to fully reach their potential.

One of the primary reasons time in the AHL is a preferred route to the NHL is it gives players time to mature; whether that’s mentally, physically, or even emotionally.

Dubois was drafted out of Quebec as a teenager and thrust into the NHL playing for a team in the United States.

Yes, he has a great life. He’s making enough money to be set for life. That doesn’t mean that he’s ready for it.

Not everybody is Sidney Crosby or Drew Doughty.

Jeff Carter was a model citizen in LA. To be fair, though, he arrived with a lot of baggage and had to figure it out on the fly.

People around the league can criticize the Kings, they can criticize Dubois. Neither makes the situation any better, nor does it fix it in the slightest.

Again, the question is, ‘What’s next?’

For starters, they can keep him at center or move him to wing.

They can try to find a way to help him… or they can leave him alone to figure it out

Which one would have greater odds?

Imagine taking a ninth-grade high school student — one who has been doing math his whole academic life — handing him a calculus book and saying, ‘Here you go, study it, you’ll need to pass the final exam in a few years in order to graduate.’ What’s the likelihood of that going well?

Pretty low.

Students have teachers for a reason.

And players have coaches.

Again, it’s too easy to sit on the sidelines and say things like, ‘He’s a professional athlete making millions of dollars, it’s all on him to figure it out.’

No, it’s not.

Hockey is a team game, and players are expected to play within the systems and parameters set up by the coaches and decisions makers of their club.

If a player starts free lancing, going into business for themselves, or massively deviating from the system, they can be punished with a reduction of ice time, being healthy scratched, etc. — and that’s where either discontent can start, or a player can heed the message and reassimilate himself back into the team philosophy.

By helping the player, depending on who it is, some may call it coddling or some other similar verb.

Economists would call it looking for a return on your investment.

However, you describe it, it is in the best interest of Kings management and Kings fans, to figure out how to best use Dubois.

He was brought to LA as a highly skilled player, with ideas that he would find the back of the net, distribute the puck, and have a physical presence. While he fell short in two of those areas, he was credited with 96 hits this season. Contrary to some narratives readily available, he wasn’t a player out on the ice just coasting along with a slightly better view than somebody sitting in glass seats. Dubois had the fourth most hits among Kings forwards.

If he indeed is not going anywhere, he’ll be on the roster next season. So, what coach and what system will get Dubois back to being at least the 60-point player that he was just two years ago?

Putting him with players capable of producing at a certain level is likely a good start.

Quick, off the top of your head, which NHL player was the leading points getter among third line centers this season?

Answer: Matt Duchene (65 points)

His main winger was Tyler Seguin, who had 25 goals and 27 assists.

That’s the level of player needed alongside Dubois if he’s expected to get back to 60 points.

Dallas has a deep roster, certainly. The Stars finished third in total goals scored, only eight back of the league-leading Avalanche. Meanwhile, the Kings finished 16th among all NHL teams.

Quite often, when Dubois attacked the net this season, two opposition players would collapse on him, almost daring him to pass the puck to one of his wingers. Why? Because those wingers had a much lower probability of scoring. One of those wingers was a revolving door — thus very little chemistry was ever developed — and one was a first-year pro.

Alex Laferriere had a good season. No matter how you slice it, though, he was still a rookie who was far less threatening in the eyes of opponents than Dubois.

If those two continue to be a pair, they have to have a high scoring winger on the line with them.

Some players make others better. Some need players to make them better. Regardless of the camp you may fall into, always remember the goal here — ‘How can the situation be improved next year?’

Moving Dubois to the wing is also an interesting path to explore.

During his draft year, NHL Central Scouting profiles had him most often listed as a left wing.

His fitness level was among the best in his Draft Class. He finished in the top 12 in six different categories at the annual NHL Scouting Combine.

Come Draft Day, the Blue Jackets quickly selected him and then promptly placed him in the NHL at center. His first 60-point season in Columbus, he took the second-most faceoffs on the team and wasn’t very good at it, finishing with a 43.5% win-rate.

Dubois’ performance at the faceoff dot improved in later years. Perhaps that’s what he was referring to when recently saying that he believes you can work to improve things if you put the time in.

Regardless, his last season in Winnipeg — his best offensive year — they had him taking fewer and fewer draws. He was third on the team behind Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry.

Oddly enough, when being interviewed during his Draft year, Dubois said that if he was to play wing, he’d probably prefer right wing. Not sure what to make of that, but maybe put a pin in it for later this summer.

There are several strong arguments to at least start next season with Dubois on wing. For one, there’s a growing appetite inside Kings management circles to move Quinton Byfield back to center. In doing so, the Kings top three center spots are full. There simply wouldn’t be room for Dubois at the pivot; he’s not the fourth-line center either.

Second, and perhaps even more important, is a fresh start. It’s a move that’s worked for guys like Byfield, Adrian Kempe, and Gabe Vilardi just to name a few. Eventually, Dubois can go back to center, if needed. Anze Kopitar is likely retiring in two seasons, that would create one such opportunity to go back to the middle.

Even if that’s in the foreseeable future, it’s still way, way down the road.

Right now, both sides need to honor their present-day commitments. Dubois has promised to be fully-engaged this summer and claims to be willing to do whatever it takes to rediscover his offensive touch. Conversely, the Kings must work diligently to help their star forward get back to 60-plus points next season.

Circling back to Chruchill, we’re not sure if he ever played hockey. But in 1952, England hosted the Winston Churchill Cup, a tournament featuring Canada and USA.

Dubois left for the World Championships in Prague this week, perhaps his own modern day Churchill Cup. Whatever it takes. Go there, have fun, enjoy playing hockey.

Among the myriad of questions Dubois was asked was for his go-to karaoke song. He said ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ by Marvin Gaye.

Get to climbing, PL.

Take plenty of water, it won’t be a short journey.

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