Do Kings or Capitals come out ahead in Dubois-Kuemper swap?


The trade is one for one!

The Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings made a “hockey trade” Wednesday, with center Pierre-Luc Dubois going to Washington and goaltender Darcy Kuemper on his way to Los Angeles.

Both players are seemingly in need of a change of scenery. But which GM did better in this deal? Here are our grades for both clubs.

This trade has a chance to right a few wrongs for the Kings, but it might be made more damning by the fact the Kings are just eight days shy of the one-year anniversary of when they got Dubois in the first place.

But we’ll get to that shortly.

This particular Dubois trade does accomplish a few items. It starts with the Kings shedding Dubois’ $8.5 million annual cap hit, which CapFriendly projects will give the club $23.45 million in space this offseason. It provides an additional cushion to address a pending restricted free agent class featuring Quinton Byfield, Carl Grundstrom, Arthur Kaliyev and Blake Lizotte.

It also provides more room for them to potentially re-sign pending unrestricted free agents Viktor Arvidsson and Matt Roy.

Landing Kuemper, who won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2022, is a move that could right one of the Kings’ other proverbial wrongs. After going through a rebuild, the Kings are trying to make that transition from playoff team to serious Western Conference challenger.

Failing to get out of the first round for three straight seasons has been the biggest hurdle in that plan. Part of that can be contributed to their goaltending situation. Ever since the Kings made the playoffs in the 2021-22 season, they’ve gone through a revolving door of options that has seen them use Pheonix Copley, Joonas Korpisalo, Cal Petersen, Jonathan Quick, David Rittich and Cam Talbot.

There’s a possibility that Kuemper, who has three years left on his contract, could help the Kings establish the continuity that’s eluded them given his postseason experience.

Now as for that first Dubois trade? Fair or unfair, what the Kings surrendered to get him was acknowledged with the premise he could be a long-term top-six center. After all, part of what made him appealing in the first place was the promise of a 25-year-old top-six center with a 6-foot-4 frame coming off consecutive 60-point seasons.

That’s why the Kings traded Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari, Gabriel Vilardi and a 2024 second-round pick to get Dubois, before signing him to that eight-year contract worth $8.5 million annually.

That’s also what made Dubois’ lone season in Los Angeles rather challenging for his employers. He finished with 16 goals and 40 points — the fewest he has had in a campaign that saw him play more than 46 games.

Dubois scored just one goal in five playoff games, as the Kings were knocked out in the first round for a third straight year by the Edmonton Oilers. It led to questions about what the Kings must do to take the next step.

And they did, by choosing to move on from Dubois.

The Capitals were an older team that just got younger.

They got particularly younger down the middle, at a time in which Nicklas Backstrom has stepped away from hockey to focus on his health while entering the last year of his contract.

They also might have found someone who can play a significant role in guiding the franchise forward once Alex Ovechkin eventually moves on.

But will the decision to get Dubois and the remaining seven years of his contract at $8.5 million annually work out for the Capitals? That appears to be the major question.

Dubois’ play with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Winnipeg Jets are evidence of what makes Dubois a top-six center. He’s capable of anchoring a first or second line while also playing a role on the power play. He’s a four-time 20-goal scorer who has authored three seasons of more than 60 points.

Adding another player with that sort of offensive capability is a boost to a team that finished the regular season ranked 28th in the NHL with 2.63 goals per game and 30th with 26.5 shots per game.

It was a level of anemic output that was only amplified during the Capitals’ four-game playoff run that ended with them having the second fewest goals per game at 1.75 goals per contest, while their 25.3 shots were the fourth fewest.

Dubois clearly fills a need. It’s just a question of what version of Dubois the Capitals are getting. If they get the pre-Kings version, the Capitals could challenge for a playoff spot next season while having a top-six center for the future.

But what happens if there’s a repeat of 2023-24?

In that scenario, the Caps could be forced to exercise patience as they seek to find a setup that allows Dubois to thrive. And if they can’t, there’s a chance they would become the fourth franchise to move on from him in his short NHL career.

Then there’s the question about what the Capitals will do in net now that they have moved on from Kuemper. At present, Charlie Lindgren is the only NHL goalie on the roster, and he has one more year remaining on his contract before he hits the open market. It leaves the Caps trying to find another goaltender while wrestling with the reality of what CapFriendly projects is $3.735 million in cap space.

One option that would be on the cost-conscious side: The Caps could promote Clay Stevenson, who went 24-10-2 with a 2.06 goals-against average and .922 save percentage for the AHL’s Hershey Bears this season.

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