Fire up the Xbox, it’s time to talk crazy trade ideas.
Although we don’t usually deal in rumors too much here on Mayor’s Manor, there’s been a lot of speculation of late surrounding the Kings alleged interest in forward Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Sure, conceptually speaking, nearly every NHL General Manager would be interested in a 24-year-old forward who has six years of experience in the league and has already scored at least 20 goals four times. If that’s not enough, he’s coming off back-to-back 60 point seasons.
Now, here’s the rub: He’s also about to be on his third team and he’s likely looking for a max-term deal at about $9-million per season.
Putting all of that aside, how could LA GM Rob Blake possibly make it work and why would he even consider the idea?
Let’s try to unpack this a bit.
For starters, Dubois is basically a Restricted Free Agent. He doesn’t have a contract for next season. All a trade really does is give LA his rights. They’ll still need to sign him.
Simply qualifying him would come at a cost of $6M. However, Dubois has arbitration rights this summer, so it’s not a cut and dry situation.
Further, despite what any video game console (or even Twitter) may suggest, hockey trades are complicated – especially in a flat salary cap era. Making any potential deal here even more cumbersome is the fact this will not be a salary dump from the Winnipeg side. Meaning, they are not willing to just take draft picks and prospects back in return. The Jets are said to want to stay competitive heading into next season. So, LA can’t simply offer them a package of future assets.
From the Kings side of the equation, they will not only need to satisfy what Winnipeg is looking for, they’ll also need to free up enough money to add Dubois to their roster.
The Kings currently have too many forwards and will likely be looking to move at least one prior to training camp in September. Their most obvious need up front is to a add a little sandpaper among their bottom-6 forward group. Even attempting that is a bit tricky right now because Blake is projected to have less than $1M in cap space at the moment, which really isn’t even enough to sign a starting goalie — and that should be priority No. 1 right now.
Yet, that’s not the current topic, so let’s circle back to Dubois.
Buffalo trading Jack Eichel is perhaps a comparable worth evaluating early on. Dubois won’t fetch as much; in part because he’s not locked up for multiple years. It’s still a good starting point.
Eichel was acquired by Vegas for Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, and two draft picks.
Perhaps Arthur Kaliyev is Krebs in this proposed trade and Alex Iafallo is a lighter version of Tuch.
Moving Iafallo would free up around $4M, that would definitely help. At a minimum, the Kings would likely need to find another $2M. Kaliyev adds less than $1M, so he’d likely need to be paired with somebody else in the deal (maybe Rasmus Kupari?). Including Blake Lizotte in LA’s package would free up around another $1.7M, so they’d be getting closer. That’s probably not enough yet to excite Winnipeg.
We’re also going to remove Sean Durzi from the equation. While he would add value from a Winnipeg perspective, he isn’t going to help on the math side of things for Los Angeles.
To make things easy, getting Durzi’s $1.7M off the books will net the Kings about $900k in cap savings (because he’ll be replaced in the lineup by Jordan Spence, so they wouldn’t get the full benefit of Durzi’s contract) and that money will be needed for the goalie. Thus, Durzi isn’t a factor in this conversation.
Where might the Kings actually find some money for Dubois?
It’s a multi-part answer.
First, let’s tackle the out years. Putting the 2023-24 season aside, people often like to refer to ‘Anze Kopitar’s money coming off the books in 12 months.’ While it’s true his contract is expiring next summer, there have been strong indications he’ll be re-signed to a new contract. Kopitar currently carries a $10M cap hit. He’ll be 35+ years old when he signs that assumed extension, which comes with potential penalties if he doesn’t play it through to the end. This could limit the number of years, yet the money is the key here. Let’s assume he signs a two or three-year deal at $5M per season. That’s similar to the recent Patrice Bergeron contract, so it’s reasonable. The point is, that would only be a net savings of $5M per year, or only half of his current $10M.
Yes, the salary cap is expected to go up next year by about $4M. Adding those two numbers together comes to $9M. If Dubois signs for $8M (and that may end up being below market value), that’s only $1M remaining that can be used toward signing other players.
Sure, Viktor Arvidsson is a UFA next summer, so his money ‘comes off the books.’ That’s a trap, though. The Kings will need to have significantly more money for Kaliyev, Gabe Vilardi, and Quinton Byfield beginning next summer.
The Kings have a large number of players signed to long-term contracts; thus they have very little wiggle room coming up in the next few years. Not only are they essentially at the cap this season, they’re projected to be in the same situation for several years to come — when one player comes off, another guy is already slotted to take that money.
So, again, where can Blake and the Kings find a combination of players and enough money for Dubois?
This is where Byfield and Vilardi would theoretically enter the equation. Vilardi needs to be paid this summer (and we have him projected to sign a $3M bridge deal soon), freeing his money up in the deal makes it easier to sign Dubois now and in the future.
Even so, would the Kings really be willing to part with Vilardi right as they’re about to get a return on all the years they’ve spent developing him? Likely not, especially considering there seems to be some real chemistry between him and Kevin Fiala — along with some excitement within management circles to see the two of them playing together next season.
From a purely cost standpoint, Vilardi will cost less than Dubois for at least the next three seasons.
Byfield isn’t even close to being a finished product. He’s 20 years old and you can’t teach size. Having him at 6-foot-5 compared to Dubois at 6-foot-2 is a noticeable difference. For anybody critical of Byfield’s development to date, this is a must-listen:
It certainly doesn’t sound like the Kings are ready to give up on their former No. 2 overall selection.
Like Vilardi, when purely looking at things from a cap perspective, Byfield will cost less than Dubois for at least three more seasons. Such savings can be very valuable for a team up against the cap now and several years into the future.
If the strategy is to go all-in for the next two years — in what could be the final two best years of Kopitar and Drew Doughty remaining — a deal for Dubois can be worked out. Sure, it might cost the Kings a bit of their future. But it would also be a big swing that could give the Kings their best hope at another Stanley Cup before Kopitar retires.
However, they’d still need a goalie to make that happen… and they may not have the assets or cap space left to get one of any significance.
What About Trading for Connor Hellebuyck?
Doing a deal for both Dubois and Hellebuyck likely requires too much mathematical gymnastics, even for Xbox.
A one-off deal for just Hellebuyck might just be more palatable.
It’s not very probable, but we’ll explore it anyway.
He’s signed for one more season at a cap hit of roughly $6.2M. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Utilizing some of the information above, LA most likely needs to trade a forward this summer. Putting a deal together around Iafallo and Durzi — as an example — would give Blake nearly $5M of the money needed. Perhaps Winnipeg would be willing to retain some money if a prospect or pick was included in the deal. The point is, there can be path to a deal with Hellebuyck if both sides want to get creative.
Now, let’s step out of the cyber world GM Mode and back into reality.
Winnipeg is having serious issues with attendance, so they have to be very calculated in their moves and how they are received by the fanbase. For example, over the past few seasons they are said to have lost approximately 2,000 season ticket holders during the pandemic.
The Jets situation also has them in a very awkward spot of trying to decide if they are rebuilding, retooling, or risk losing two stars for nothing when they decide to walk in their UFA year(s).
Meanwhile, the Kings have a much clearer path coming out of their retool and looking to build upon back-to-back strong showings in the regular season. Due to their salary cap situation and potential future contracts, perhaps a reasonably priced goalie is a more realistic play for Blake and the Kings this summer. If LA can also find some sandpaper and perhaps a third-line center, even better.
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