NHL trade grades: Kings, Capitals swap Pierre-Luc Dubois, Darcy Kuemper

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Pittsburgh Penguins
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In an intriguing trade of swapping poor fits, the Washington Capitals acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Los Angeles Kings straight up for Darcy Kuemper on Wednesday.

The Kings parted with Dubois just one year after sending a big package to the Winnipeg Jets to acquire the offensive-minded center and signing him to an eight-year, $68 million contract.

Washington will bear the full brunt of Dubois’ $8.5 million annual cap hit until the end of the 2030-31 season. Meanwhile, Los Angeles takes on the final three years of Kuemper’s $5.25 million AAV.

Related: NHL trade grades: Devils acquire Jacob Markstrom from Flames

Grading Kings-Capitals trade involving Pierre- Luc Dubois, Darcy Kuemper

NHL: Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes
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Who won the trade? Let’s break it down.

Los Angeles Kings: B+

Adding Kuemper’s contract to the books is probably not a dream scenario for Kings general manager Rob Blake. His $5.25 million cap hit takes up 6.0 percent of the Kings’ projected cap space for the offseason. It’s not a back-breaking contract but it is a lot to pay for a goalie who will be 34 next season and is coming off his worst year as an NHLer, when he was replaced on the depth chart by Charlie Lindgren.

Kuemper’s 3.31 goals-against average ranked 61st and his .890 save percentage ranked seventh-worst in a pool of 73 goaltenders with at least 10 games played this past season. It’s the first time in his 12-year NHL career that his save percentage dipped below .900 and the highest GAA of his career, marking just the second time that it’s been over three goals per game.

He was solid the season before, but he hasn’t come close to the level he played at in 2021-22 when he helped the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup as their No. 1 goalie.

Still, the Kings are in need of a No. 1 with both Cam Talbot and Phoenix Copley due to become free agents on July 1. If Kuemper can progress back to the mean, it likely wouldn’t be All-Star caliber goaltending but it would at least be around League average. At that level, playing behind a Kings team that is better than the Capitals, Kuemper can form a decent tandem in goal with David Rittich next season.

Ultimately though, Kuemper is a necessary component in the main objective of this trade — getting rid of Dubois’ contract.

The Kings were always going to have to take some salary back in return, but the fact that they got out of the remaining seven years of Dubois’ deal without any salary retention whatsoever is an impressive move by Blake and one that makes this a positive deal for the organization regardless of what Kuemper does in net.

Dubois was an abject failure in his lone season with the Kings, notching 40 points in 82 games, and 16 goals on a career-low 11.0 shooting percentage. By the time the Stanley Cup Playoffs rolled around, Dubois was relegated to a fourth-line role.

It clearly wasn’t working, and with previous character concerns after Dubois forced his way off the Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets, the Kings made a prudent move to back out as early as possible.

The trade frees up an extra $3 million, leaving the Kings with some extra room to address their expiring contracts or potentially make a major upgrade to the roster.

Dubois was shaping up to be an unmovable contract, but Los Angeles figured out a way to unload it and him Again, Kuemper’s contract isn’t pretty, but it’s a lot cheaper and shorter, and they can always buy him out in a year or two if need be.

Washington Capitals: C-

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings
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It’s a bit of a head-scratcher why any team would want to take on Dubois’ contract, particularly without any salary retention. But that’s what Washington did, seizing the opportunity to dump Kuemper after a rough season and take a chance on a 25-year-old center with considerable upside in Dubois.

The Capitals certainly don’t have much of a use for Kuemper after Lindgren firmly established himself as their No. 1 this season, so it made sense to try and get rid of his contract. Still, it feels like they traded a bad contract for an even worse one.

Granted, Washington is one of the few teams that would have a legitimate reason to acquire Dubois as a top-six center. With Nicklas Backstrom’s lingering hip injury keeping him on LTIR and the decision to move on from Evgeny Kuznetsov this past season, the Capitals are pretty thin down the middle after Dylan Strome.

Dubois, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, should be a lock for top-six minutes, even if he struggles. Washington made the postseason this year, snagging the final wild card in the Eastern Conference before being quickly disposed of by the New York Rangers in four games. Despite the playoff appearance, it will be tough for the Capitals to return since they’ll have to compete against a medley of talented teams hungry for the two wild-card spots.

If they can unlock Dubois, who recorded 60-plus points and 25-plus goals in consecutive seasons before joining Los Angeles, it would be a welcome offensive boost for a team that doesn’t have a ton of playmakers. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to add an offensive-minded forward as Alexander Ovechkin enters next season 42 goals shy of becoming the all-time NHL goals leader.

It’s clear that Washington will try and remain semi-competitive as Ovechkin chases history, and this is a move that will help them do that. However, Ovechkin will likely retire long before Dubois’ contract is up, leaving the Capitals shackled to an ugly deal for the foreseeable future.

It’s just a lot of money to have committed to a player who’s struggled to be reliable, both on and off the ice, in his seven-year career. Others have bet on Dubois’ upside and came up empty. Let’s see if that changes in Washington.

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