In what was expected to be a boring Wednesday, the NHL has seen two massive trades in the goaltending market occur. The Los Angeles Kings have traded center Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Washington Capitals for goaltender Darcy Kuemper. The Hockey Writers’ Jesse Courville-Lynch believed this trade made sense, and the two teams agreed, providing a change of scenery for the two former stars.

Why the Kings Made the Move

The Kings had high expectations heading into the 2023-24 season, largely because of their major acquisition of Dubois. In a blockbuster deal that sent multiple key roster players to the Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles expected Dubois to continue his development into an NHL star. Following the trade, he was extended to an eight-year contract worth $68 million. After scoring 16 goals and 40 points in 82 games this past season, it was clear he was not a fit in Los Angeles.

Related: What’s Behind Pierre-Luc Dubois’ Struggles This Season?

Additionally, the Kings struggled in net. Both Cam Talbot and David Rittich had strong advanced analytics, but they were inconsistent, frequently giving up four to five goals in a game. While Rittich is signed for one more season, Talbot is a free agent this offseason, and this trade likely cements his path to joining a new team.

Although Kuemper struggled this past season, going 13-14-3 with a 3.31 goals against average (GAA) and an .890 save percentage (SV%), he should still be viewed as a capable starting goaltender in the NHL. He spent time with the Kings in the 2017-18 season, going 10-1-3 with a 2.10 GAA and .932 SV%. He won the 2022 Stanley Cup as the Colorado Avalanche’s starting goaltender and has established himself as a top 10 goaltender in the NHL at his best. This past season was the first time he finished with a sub-.900 SV% since the 2017-18 season, largely a result of an intense workload. So, in a stronger defensive system, his numbers are bound to improve.

A key difference between Kuemper and Talbot is the former’s ability to limit rebounds and save high-danger scoring chances. Kuemper was one of the stronger goaltenders on the penalty kill this past season but was even stronger against shots from around the net and slot. This marks a significant change for Los Angeles, whose season ended due to their struggle to prevent goals around the net, largely the result of Talbot’s performance issues. By appointing Kuemper as their starter, the Kings aim to secure a more reliable and promising goaltender in hopes of making a deep playoff run.

Why the Capitals Made the Move

The rationale for the Capitals is just as easy to understand. If you ignore Dubois’ seven remaining years on his hefty contract, they are bringing in a 25-year-old center with a 40+ goal upside. Since Nicklas Backstrom is unlikely to resume his NHL career, at least anytime soon, the team is in desperate need of a first-line center, and Dubois was the most realistic path to obtaining one.

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan spoke to the media after the trade, stating “This acquisition brings in a talented 25-year-old with immense potential to become a top-tier center in the NHL. With his size, exceptional skating, and high hockey IQ, we are confident he will thrive in our organization with increased responsibility and opportunity.” There is no doubt Dubois is filling a need for Washington, so adding him for no significant asset made sense in the eyes of the Capitals’ management.

He has spent time on three teams in his past four seasons and struggled to find a spot in any of the lineups. As well, he has had to learn three different systems while having multiple head coaches who put him in dozens of different line combinations. These struggles were especially prevalent this past season in Los Angeles as he has had two head coaches and did not play in a line combination for more than 180 minutes. Now in Washington, he is expected to slot in alongside superstar Alexander Ovechkin and find a consistent role in the team’s lineup.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In Los Angeles, Dubois often found himself playing on the third line as a checking center. He was frequently shifted around the lineup, preventing him from settling in and getting comfortable. Given this, it’s almost certain that he will improve next season. Unlike Los Angeles, which has several top-six centers, he will face minimal competition in Washington, providing him with an excellent opportunity to start strong next season. This should allow him to return to his natural style of play and potentially develop into the 30+ goal, 70+ point center that Los Angeles had anticipated.

This swap between two struggling players has many fans worried given their performances last season. While these concerns are fair, both players are bound to improve, and their new teams are great situations to get thrown into. Whether it be Kuemper joining a more defensively sound system or Dubois finally getting a chance as a first-line center, expect both of these players to rebound in their 2024-25 seasons.

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