Done Deal: Capitals taking gamble in signing 6′4″, 225 lb top forward

Done Deal: Capitals taking gamble in signing 6′4″, 225 lb top forward

The Washington Capitals headed into the NHL summer with a long list of needs. On Wednesday, the team acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Los Angeles Kings, fulfilling their first aim to find a top center.

Washington solved a critical need while offloading a burdensome contract by sending goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper to Los Angeles as part of the deal. However, the Caps agreed to a potentially harsher contract if Dubois’ production does not improve.

The Columbus Blue Jackets drafted Dubois, 25, third overall in 2016. Washington will be his fourth NHL franchise as he begins his ninth season.

Despite a disappointing 2023-24 season in Los Angeles, where he scored only 16 goals and 40 points in 82 games, Washington general manager Brian MacLellan claimed in a statement that Dubois had “immense potential to become a top-tier center.” He had a career-high 63 points in 2022-23 with the Winnipeg Jets before being traded to Los Angeles.

MacLellan is taking a chance, thinking Dubois can cover the Evgeny Kuznetsov-sized gap in their second line.Kuznetsov was traded to Carolina Hurricanes during the March trade deadline.

The cost of MacLellan’s risk is evident in Washington’s lack of salary-cap flexibility. Neither team kept compensation in the direct trade — Dubois’ contract has a $8.5 million cap hit, compared to Kuemper’s $5.25 million — thus Washington inherited an additional $3.25 million in annual budget hit for the next seven seasons, according to CapFriendly.

Kuemper had a disappointing stint in Washington, losing his starting job to Charlie Lindgren, who won a career-high 25 games in 48 starts last season.

Despite promoting a goaltender from their AHL club to back up Lindgren, the team still has only $3.7 million in anticipated cap space after the Dubois trade.

That already includes center Nicklas Backstrom, who will most likely spend his final contract year on long-term injured reserve, resulting in $9.2 million in savings.

If T.J. Oshie, a right winger with severe back issues, retires or goes on long-term injured reserve, Washington will have about $15 million in cap room to sign another elite player.

MacLellan is still likely to make a high-profile move or two, but whether it happens before the NHL Draft on June 28-29 remains to be seen. Nothing else is likely to happen before Backstrom and Oshie’s futures are decided, given their restricted cap room.

Dubois is a worthy gamble to take for a Washington team that’s in desperate need to get younger. He fits that bill and has two seasons to revamp his already-impressive game.

Skating with Alexander Ovechkin doesn’t hurt and could prepare him to potentially take on a leadership role with Tom Wilson and Dylan Strome in the future if all goes well.

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