Analysis: Kings trading Pierre-Luc Dubois corrects a massive mistake

The Kings jettisoned their epic flop of an offseason ago, Pierre-Luc Dubois, in a trade Wednesday, and whether the deal should be seen as a rousing success or a mitigated failure may be a question of where one’s evaluation began.

In the moment, the move was a smash, discarding $43.75 million in total commitment of salary-cap space over seven seasons by swapping the remaining $59.5 million on the contract of Dubois directly for the $15.75 million in cap obligations left on goalie Darcy Kuemper’s deal.

To save $43.75 million worth of cap space in a trade without retaining a penny or incentivizing the agreement with draft picks or other assets is extremely rare in the NHL. That’s even more true of a beleaguered player that carries the level of risk – albeit not without potential reward, as attested to by the three franchises he’s disappointed to date – that Dubois does.

Consider, for example, what the final year of exemplary veteran Patrick Marleau’s $6.25 million contract cost the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019 to move to the Carolina Hurricanes, who bought Marleau out for a first-round pick and conditional seventh-rounder. Or, more saliently, there’s the significant price – a second-round pick, a rostered player that became a first-rounder and a solid prospect – of the Kings dumping less than $6 million of the remaining $10 million cap commitment on Cal Petersen’s deal just over a year ago.

Yet that brings the Kings back to last summer, when they ruminated meticulously and machinated relentlessly to add Dubois as well as retain left defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov in favor of investing in a starting goalie or other needs.

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A year on, Dubois has gone through a grand opening and grand closing in tight succession while left defense remains an area of need, despite Gavrikov being set to earn nearly $6 million against the cap in the final year of his contract in 2024-25.

Kuemper, like Cam Talbot last year, checks a box between the pipes but he’s another mid-30s journeyman who landed in L.A. – for a second time in his career – less because of his aptitude and more because of his compatibility with a set of criteria narrowed stringently by cap mismanagement.

In the span of two seasons, the Kings acquired what would have been their two highest-paid forwards next season – Dubois and Kevin Fiala – and their second-best compensated defenseman in Gavrikov. Each move only drew them further from advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs, where they’ve fallen to the Edmonton Oilers in seven, six and then five games. Edmonton’s Connor McDavid now has 42 points in 23 postseason contests, one more point than Dubois scored across 87 outings in the regular season and playoffs.

The Kings also topped off their gas tank last season, not only by parting the Red Sea for Dubois in a series of transactions that whittled down their roster depth, quality and flexibility alike, but by ending up effectively pre-spending this season’s $4.5 million cap-ceiling increase on dead-cap dollars accumulated prior to the coming campaign.

Yet all that was already an ugly reality prior to Wednesday.

As daring escapes go, Blake threw his hat in the illusionist’s ring with a deal that obviated any nail-biting about the viability of a buyout and allowed him to posture as if a buyout were never even considered. Had the Stanley Cup Final ended in six games, the cost would have been one third of the remainder on the Dubois deal, yet had it gone to seven, the price would have doubled.

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Wednesday’s trade offered only marginal savings from a cash standpoint as Capfriendly indicated the cost of a one-third buyout of Dubois’s remaining salary owed would have $15.83 million, a couple eyelashes above the $14.25 million in actual salary due to Kuemper.

What Kemper contributes in net could go a long way in adding to the value of the deal, but even as is, the money is distributed in a tidier way: $3.25 million in cap savings in Years 1 through 3, and the full $8.5 million in Years 4 through 7 rather than a 14-year variable sequence of cap penalties.

That could help the Kings get creative with the term of restricted free agent Quinton Byfield’s pact. give them more options to get unrestricted free agents (like Matt Roy and Viktor Arvidsson) signed, or possibly even pursue some clearly needed upgrades in their defense and bottom six forward group.

Yet the Kings are short on draft capital for this season to mobilize in trades (they have no second-, third- or fifth-round selections), have hired a first-time pro head coach and may be experiencing crises of identity and leadership.

Captain Anze Kopitar said the team had to “build a culture” at his exit interview last month.

Blake displayed a rare level of off-ice fire when he said his team had to get “uncomfortable,” although his regime has also striven to create an allure of unique comforts, relative anonymity and limited media scrutiny.

They’re also a question of trust.

Last May, Blake said it was the Kings’ job to make Petersen an NHL goalie again, after a season that saw the $5 million netminder demoted to the minors. Soon after, he was foisted upon Philadelphia at a steep cost.

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On Jan. 18, former coach Todd McLellan’s job was safe, according to Blake. On Feb. 8, he was sacked, with that decision undoubtedly coming at least a few days prior.

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At that very same time, Blake said he did not regret signing Dubois, though Wednesday’s events clearly indicated otherwise.

While dumping Dubois was undoubtedly the right move, there was near commensurate certainty that adding him at the massive acquisition and payout costs they initially did was a mistake.

That rendered the deal paradoxical, making it a massive win that also highlighted egregious errors of the recent past as well as obstacles the Kings may well continue to face moving forward.

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