Capitals trade Darcy Kuemper to Kings, roll dice on Pierre-Luc Dubois

After more than a year of talking about trading for a top-six forward, the Washington Capitals made their move Wednesday. The Capitals traded goaltender Darcy Kuemper to the Los Angeles Kings for center Pierre-Luc Dubois, taking a swing on a talented but mercurial 25-year-old who will be playing for his fourth team in five years.

Dubois, the third pick of the 2016 draft by the Blue Jackets, spent the first three-plus seasons of his NHL career with Columbus before being traded to Winnipeg in January 2021. Dubois then used his leverage as a pending restricted free agent, after making it clear he didn’t see a long-term future for himself in Winnipeg, to work a trade to the Kings last summer, a move that landed Dubois an eight-year contract with an average annual value of $8.5 million.

His first season with the Kings fell well short of expectations, and his name was floated in recent weeks as a candidate for a buyout when the window opens after the Stanley Cup finals. Instead, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Dubois was traded to Washington less than two weeks before his full no-movement clause would have kicked in July 1.

“We are thrilled to announce the addition of Pierre-Luc to the Caps organization,” Washington General Manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “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.

“We also thank Darcy for his valuable contributions to our organization on and off the ice and wish him the best in Los Angeles. After witnessing Charlie Lindgren’s performance last season, we believe he deserves a chance to play a more significant role within our team.”

Kuemper, 34, whom the Capitals signed to a five-year, $26.25 million contract in July 2022, lost his starting role to Lindgren midway through last season, and it didn’t appear there was a path for him back to being the No. 1 netminder in Washington. With three years remaining on his contract, it was in line to be a difficult one for the Capitals to move without retaining salary — or taking a risk on a player they got in return, as they did with Dubois.

If Dubois reaches his ceiling, he could be the answer to Washington’s quest for a top-line center. He has sought-after size and is highly skilled, but his track record over the past few seasons suggests that unlocking his potential will be a task for Spencer Carbery and the rest of the Capitals’ coaching staff.

The end of Dubois’ tenure with the Blue Jackets turned ugly. His disinterest on one shift against the Tampa Bay Lightning led to him being benched by then-coach John Tortorella and traded two days later, and it wasn’t a much prettier ending in Winnipeg as he forced his way out the door.

On the ice, Dubois hit a high-water mark in his final season with the Jets, recording 63 points in 73 games, but his first — and only — season in Los Angeles didn’t go according to anyone’s plan. He slid down the lineup, ultimately averaging less than 16 minutes of ice time and recording 40 points (16 goals and 24 assists) in 82 games.

But when Dubois is engaged and at his best, he can be a difference-maker — and the Capitals are betting they’ll be able to get him to that point.

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