We’ve got a trade and now we’ve got trade reactions. Notes from Pierre-Luc Dobois himself to come next, but starting with Rob Blake’s comments from Nashville.
This is of course a trade that had several layers to it, including both the trade itself, with Dubois coming to the Kings, and a package of three players – Alex Iafallo, Gabe Vilardi and Rasmus Kupari – along with a second-round draft pick in 2024 going the other way.
Focusing first and foremost on the process, Dubois was a player who the Kings targeted when it was known that he was available. Rob Blake admitted there are a lot of players that he and the management group keep an eye on, but Dubois was certainly one of them. As he said himself, “players at that age don’t become available all the time, specifically in that position and type of production.”
The Kings believe that strength down the middle is a priority and Dubois fills that void. A 1-2-3 punch of Dubois joining Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault is very high-level up the middle. In doing that, Quinton Byfield likely begins next season on the wing, filling a top-six spot on an entry-level contract. When it became a possibility that this could happen, Blake was keen to make the addition as the opportunity presented itself.
“As last year progressed, I think we identified certain needs at the trade deadline and certain needs as we went throughout the season and into the playoffs,” Blake said. “Now, that continues in the summer, trying to add pieces that will improve us, specifically, in the middle of the ice. I think with Todd and the organization we believe in the defense and in the middle of the ice and this gives us a piece up the middle.”
There are a couple of takeaways from that statement.
One being that the Kings are not just looking to add good players, but good players who fit the system and fit how the Kings want to play. That’s important. It also has to be pointed out what the Kings are up against in the Pacific Division. This is not a move that says the Kings are hopeful to be competitive in three-years time. This is a move that says the Kings are ready to be competitive now and being competitive now means beating teams like Edmonton and Vegas over seven games. Both of those squads have three, high-level centers down the middle. The Kings now believe they have that, with a pretty darn good 4C to boot.
“You’ve got to be deep, you see the top teams in the West and to be able to match them, you have to be deep throughout [the middle],” Blake added. “I would add Lizotte to that, we’ve asked him to play a little bit of a different role at times for us, but he provides a lot of energy. Those four centerman will be key for that lineup.”
Rarely does the opportunity to bolster your group with that skillset come around. A player who just turned 25, has three seasons of 60+ points and plays with physicality is not regularly available. Plus, Edmonton has size up the middle. Vegas has size up the middle. The Kings saw an area they wanted to improve upon and made the move.
“Size is important and size in the middle of the ice too,” Blake added. “That was one of the pieces that we hoped to add this summer.”
That naturally begs the question of why is that player available?
And it’s a fair question. Dubois has now asked out of two markets in his NHL career, before committing his long-term future to the Kings. He didn’t shy away from that fact, as we’ll cover in more depth tomorrow, and neither did Blake, who addressed it openly.
“[We wanted to] understand the situations he was in previously, through the conversations with his agent, and get their point of view and things on it,” Blake said. “Now he comes into a situation where he basically gets to choose where he wanted to go, at the end of the day, and we were fortunate that LA was one of the destinations for him.”
Pierre-Luc Dubois nets the Jets’ second goal and Winnipeg have scored two goals in 1:02.
— The Athletic NHL (@TheAthleticNHL) April 19, 2023
Once the decision to target Dubois was established, it came down to two different forms of price. The player who was talked up above was never going to come cheap, whether that be in terms of a commitment in terms of a contract or a commitment of what it would take to land the player from Winnipeg.
The first side was the contract that it would take for Dubois to commit and that was always going to be a sizable commitment. Blake said that Dubois and his team made it clear from the beginning that he was in search of a long-term commitment with the Kings, which is where the eight-year term came from.
To get eight years, however required a sign-and-trade negotiation with the Winnipeg Jets. NHL rules allow an eight-year contract to be signed only in a re-signing situation, with the team a player was with at the trade deadline. Should he have signed this contract with the Kings, Dubois would have been limited to a term of seven or fewer years. Enter a sign-and-trade situation, which is one that Blake explained as something that complicated the process.
“It was complicated in the fact that it was sign and trade, so there’s lots of different components that go into it,” Blake said. “Most trades are complicated, they go back and forth, league approval and different things but now you put a sign and trade in place and that has to take place before the trade actually does take place. So, it complicates things, but the complication takes time and that’s kind of the process of last day and a half here, it just takes a little bit of time to get a lot of that in place.”
Then there’s the cap hit, which Blake did not shy away from as being a sizeable one. As it stands right now, the Kings would have trouble filling out a 23-man roster. They’ve got just over $4.5 million in space available with one goaltender and 15 skaters signed, meaning that something, somewhere has to give.
Blake and the Kings understand that and it likely means there will be more cap management this coming season than there has been in seasons past. Sure, there were paper transactions and IR moves made over the last few seasons, but the Kings were never truly pressed for salary-cap space. They were never in the situation a team like New York, Tampa Bay or Vegas was, where they were so tight to the cap that they play short of 18 skaters. That’s not to say they hope to do that, but there will have to be a tighter management of the cap this season than there was in seasons past.
“We will have to make sacrifices and have already, that’s part of it over the last four years without a real big cap increase,” Blake said. “We know the projections this year and we see the future projections in the next couple of years and I have a good staff that manages it. I would imagine we’re light on our roster for a lot of the time during the season, a lot of times you want to carry 23 but you need cap space to do it. I’m not sure we’re going to be in that position going forward and that was something we talked to Todd about and understood as an organization. We know that there is going to be lots of juggling with with the cap situation.”
That’s the cost of the deal to agree to terms with Dubois, but then there’s the cost of the talent going out.
As noted in the earlier article, previous trades made to add to the current group did not see homegrown talent shipped out in exchange for this level of player. The Kings and Jets came to a general agreement on the pieces involved last night, with the trade progressing into today on the contract negotiations. In this deal, Alex Iafallo, Gabe Vilardi and Rasmus Kupari all head to Winnipeg and that’s a tough pill to swallow for everyone, the management team included. Each of those three players were developed by the Kings. Iafallo was a terrific success story, joining as an undrafted free agent and developing into the player he is today. Vilardi and Kupari were both first-round picks and we really started to see Vilardi shine through with a breakout season, while Kupari established himself as a fourth-line center and an effective penalty killer.
Still, this was a move Blake felt that the Kings needed to make to take the next step.
“Always [tough] and I think part of our process a few years ago when we started this was getting young players, getting assets and young talent and then and you put them into positions, but when opportunities come available, you make different changes, make your direction and go from there,” Blake detailed. “Those three guys were real good, Iafallo especially in the room, and just the character he showed over the time here with us. I thought Gabe put together a heck of a season last year too and Ras was doing the same thing. We wish them all the best.”
To TLDR this article, the Kings now have size, skill and experience down the middle that most teams would envy. Dubois is the piece to the puzzle that gets LA to that point in the process, with a sizable extension making him the last big-time piece the Kings currently have the space to add at this time. Everyone will have to play to their potential and younger players on entry-level contracts will have to step up and show growth, with Blake believing there are several candidates who exist internally. There also becomes opportunity for low-cost veterans to be added, as the Kings will need to fill out the remainder of their roster with cost-effective players. Blake also pointed to the fact that the Kings currently do not have a second NHL goaltender signed, something that will be addressed……because it has to be.
Those things will come together, though they will take some time. What’s most important is that once again, the Kings got the core piece they set out to get. Once again, that core piece chose to come to and commit to Los Angeles long term. That wasn’t always the case for a player in his prime, but we’re seeing it happen again and again as Dubois joins Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Gavrikov and Phillip Danault before him.
“I like the fact that LA has become a destination, like we want,” Blake added. “I think that making the playoffs the last couple of years but not having the success that we want or need, but being a team that’s coming on the rise [is good]. Now, we want to continue to push that forward.”
More to follow tomorrow, Insiders! Dubois also addressed the media, as did Kings President Luc Robitaille, and we’ll dive into all of that throughout the day as we prepare for Round 1! The Kings presently do not have a draft pick on the first day, but hey, you never know what might happen. Much more to follow. Thank you as always for reading, will be around the comments tomorrow, especially all throughout Round 1!