Written by Murat Ates, Arbon Basu, and Eric Stephens
NASHVILLE, Tennessee — As of late Monday afternoon, there’s a strong sense that the Kings are still in the driver’s seat of the Pierre-Luc Dubois lottery, but Montreal is still involved in the process.
What’s holding things back for Los Angeles, as far as we can tell, are the details of the trade.
Kevin Cheveldayoff will do everything he can to give the Jets a chance to make the playoffs in 2023-24. The ideal commercial return for Winnipeg includes having quality young players at the helm who can help the team be competitive now and in the future as well. Los Angeles could offer a package for Dubois built around Gabriel Vilardi and Alex Iafallo. Jets may add Jansen Harkins as part of a larger trade. There may be more pieces than this but Winnipeg’s main consideration is staying competitive.
A relatively simple conclusion here is that the Canadians could not offer Dubois what the Kings offer. They don’t have a Velarde type they’d be willing to deal with. Kirby Dash won’t be a tough hit from the Canadians, and that’s the most likely piece the Jets will follow due to his age and the three years remaining on his contract at a very reasonable $3.4 million USD. Not only are the Canadiens not interested in trading Dach, but none of the young baserunners on the NHL roster appear to be off-limits.
Meanwhile, both teams are aware of DuBois’ contractual expectations, although formal negotiations have yet to begin. Neither the Kings nor the Canadians were given permission by Gates to talk about the details of the contract with DuBois acting.
It also seems plausible that the Jets are trying to pit the Kings and Canadiens against each other in an effort to increase their bid.
How can Montreal re-establish itself as DuBois’ main target?
The Canadians deal largely in futures, which is of little interest to a team looking to retool and actively avoid rebuilding. But one thing we do know about Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes is that they have the ability to get creative when it comes to situations like this. About a year ago around this time, they learned the Chicago Blackhawks were saving Dach but needed a first-round pick in exchange, and the Canadiens’ second first-round pick at No. 26 wasn’t going to get done. So, Gorton and Hughes traded a popular player in Alexander Romanov, whom they considered about to repeat with the arrival of Kayden Gohle, and got the 13th pick from the New York Islanders.
It’s not quite the same situation, but it showed Gorton and Hughes being able to go get the asset they’re looking for despite not having the assets to make it happen. In this case, if the Jets aren’t interested in futures, then maybe Gorton and Hughes can hold what they offer the Jets to a team. He is Rebuilding in order to acquire the kind of NHL-ready talent the Jets are interested in securing in this trade.
It’s the layer added to this deal that somewhat complicates things for the Canadians, and that’s the contract. We believe that if a deal is struck with the Kings, the terms of an eight-year contract DuBois will sign with the Jets will be traded to the Kings quickly thereafter. It’s hard to say the same for the Canadians, who seem more reluctant to blow their entire salary structure for Dubois.
And then there’s this: No matter what the Canadiens want to do, this contract will make DuBois the highest-paid player on the team. How will he deal with being a Quebec homegrown who is suddenly the highest-paid player in the Canadiens and thus seen as a semi-captain even though Nick Suzuki, the current highest-paid player, retains the captaincy? How will he deal with the inevitable stress that will accompany every recession? How does that compare to what his reality would be like in Los Angeles?
These are minor concerns, but we’re told they’re very real when it comes to DuBois’ thought process of deciding between the two options. – Arbon Basu
What puts Los Angeles ahead?
In Vilardi, and Iafallo assumes, the Kings have the kind of roster player Winnipeg could plug into the specter of serious roster action this season.
At the age of 29, Ivalo could be immediately utilized as a complementary winger who can move up and down the line-up and still has two years left on his contract. He was a quiet, respected veteran in the Kings’ locker room and losing him would be a blow. But the Western New York native has no commercial clause, and the Kings already had two other $4 million suites in Trevor Moore and Victor Arvidson. Last December, Kings GM Rob Blake signed Moore to a five-year extension that includes a modified 10-team non-trade clause for the 2023-24 season. Moore’s contract may be what makes Buffalo expendable now.
The centerpiece of the Jets’ return from Los Angeles is the 23-year-old Velarde, who can play wing and center back, who broke ground last season with 23 goals and 41 points in 63 games. Velarde has been struggling with back issues during his development in the rookie level and in the AHL and needs to continue to monitor that. But he has a natural attacking ability and could touch 30 goals if given a full-time top six role which he is not currently playing in Los Angeles.
Vilardi is also an RFA with arbitration rights and a new contract is due. He’ll likely enter a bridge deal but he’ll make more than $850,000 with the one-year deal he signed last summer. But he won’t be earning anything near Dubois’ money and could slip down the right wing (where he played mostly last season) for Winnipeg if he decides to move on from longtime fixture Blake Wheeler.
Could Cheveldayoff try to take a future asset out of the Kings, especially if these two major hunks haven’t been around for long? Blake earned the 2024 second-round spot on Saturday by sending defenseman Shaun Dorsey to Arizona State, which netted $1.7 million in cap space as well as opening up a spot on the right side for either Brandt Clark or Jordan Spence. The Kings gave up their 2023 first-round draft picks in the Vladislav Gavrikov/Jonas Korbesalo deal, but they now have second-round picks for this year and next.
Blake may be reluctant to mortgage more draft capital as Los Angeles prepares to sit out another first round pick Wednesday after sending the 2022 pick to Minnesota for Kevin Fiala. The Kings currently only have five draft picks in this draft and in 2024. They’re also off in winning mode now for what could be the final seasons for franchises Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty.
Although he hasn’t become a big producer at the NHL level, Blake, 20, has been a no-go for Quinton Byfield when it comes to trade discussions and it doesn’t look like Cheveldayoff can pry a 6-foot-5 forward even if a long term is extended. For Dubois and out to LA Velarde is the next best thing when it comes to a young scoring talent (with an upside) that the Kings have a level of comfort in parting with.
There are questions that come with Dubois as a featured player, but Blake, who was interested when he asked out of Columbus, is clearly interested in who will take over the first-center role when the soon-to-be 36-year-old Kopitar starts to slow down.– Eric Stephens
What better play for Winnipeg than here?
Getting the most out of Dubois’ trade – and any transaction that follows – will take every ounce of Cheveldayoff effort. If the Kings package rumored to include Villarde, Ivalo and others is allowed, it may be a ploy to get Montreal to increase their bid. If the Canadians are allowed to re-appear to the public, perhaps it will be a ploy to get Los Angeles to do the same.
Right now, I don’t think the Canadians can match the Kings’ group of players who can help the Jets now and in the future either. Veterans like Josh Anderson and Christian Dvorak won’t, nor will future-based packages.
Velarde was giving the Jets a defensively responsible young player with great hands and excellent finishing instincts. There is an idea that Velarde could grow into a center at the NHL level, despite his struggles at the position earlier in his career. His shot is a plus, his touches around the net are exceptional and he thinks the game is quick enough to finish playing through traffic in the middle of the ice.
And don’t condone the status of Villardi’s contract. He’s a restricted free agent this summer and ineligible for UFA status until 2027. Winnipeg is supposed to extend beyond 2027 here and now but that’s already at least three seasons – and likely four – of the team’s domination.
Buffalo would give the Jets a left winger who could play on the second or third line as needed, with plenty of defensive responsibility to score nearly 40 points in 82 games. He’s tied for a $4 million contract for this season and next.
Velarde is a promising second-line right winger already and could excel in a good second-line position helping out at either end of the rink. Iafallo plays a straightforward and responsible brand of hockey, which makes him a good complement to a team richer in creativity and skill. If there was a package to be had, Cheveldayoff would do well.
I’m not sure what Montreal can do around that. I like Dach very much as a player; I don’t understand that Montreal wants to transfer him. The Canadiens are also slated to pick the fifth overall in the draft. I understand they want to make that choice. I can’t find a mix of quality young roster players that helps meet my perception of Winnipeg’s desires. If the Canadiens don’t pull some kind of miracle show out of the woodwork, Cheveldayoff will have to get the most out of the Kings.– Murat Ates
(Photo: Jonathan Kosob/NHLI via Getty Images)
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