Whether fans like it or not, the Los Angeles Kings seem determined to add a high-end forward to the roster this summer.
It appears that the rumors from two weeks ago regarding the Kings’ interest in Pierre Luc-Dubois were accurate. The Sean Durzi trade on Saturday felt like a precursor to another deal and the Kings look to be closing in on that second deal.
An LAHockeyNow source confirmed on Saturday that the Kings were moving toward a Dubois deal and mentioned the name, Gabe Vilardi. The source said that nothing was definite, but that’s what they were hearing.
I'm also hearing that the Kings are moving closer to a deal for PLD. Heard rumblings that Gabe could be involved, but nothing concrete yet.
It's going to be an interesting next few days.
— Austin Stanovich (@AStanovich68) June 24, 2023
Saturday night more reports came out about the Kings moving for a Dubois deal. And Sunday morning reports indicated a deal involving Vilardi and Alex Iafallo.
Again, nothing is concrete here. But there’s smoke, and when there’s smoke, there’s fire.
I’ve made my opinions about a potential Dubois trade known, in isolation, I don’t think it’s a great deal for the Kings. But, as it looks like this deal could be happening, I’ll go over some of the pros and cons. Looking particularly at Dubois vs Vilardi.
Dubois or Vilardi:
Even if a player like Iafallo is added, this trade will feel like Vilardi for Dubois. Or at the very least, those are the main pieces and the players who will be compared.
Again, I’ve said before that I don’t think the gap between Dubois and Vilardi is big enough right now. And there’s a possibility that Vilardi equals or possibly surpasses Dubois in the near future.
However, I think some of the discourse surrounding the Dubois vs Vilardi debate has gotten out of hand.
Several people said they wouldn’t want the Kings to make this deal because Vilardi is as good, or better than Dubois right now. But he just isn’t.
There are a lot of similarities between these two offensively. Both are big bodies with exceptional hands in tight spaces. They both use their frame and puck skills to win battles along the boards and in the corners to create offense.
Vilardi is a better pure shooter but I’d give Dubois the edge in playmaking. Dubois is not a slouch when it comes to putting pucks into the net though. He’s scored 27-or-more goals three times in his career — four more than Vilardi’s career-high of 23 — and scored at a 30-goal pace last season.
Had both players played 82 games last season, they both would have grabbed 30 goals, but Dubois would have finished with 71 points to Vilardi’s 53, an 18-point swing.
At this moment, Dubois is a more productive player. He’s shown it more consistently at the NHL level and while Vilardi is the better shooter, Dubois scored at a similar pace last season.
Vilardi’s stellar defensive metrics last season is the root of most people’s argument for Vilardi being equal to or better than Dubois. And yes, Vilardi’s defensive metrics were fantastic last season.
He passed the eye test too. He’s always been a player with great hockey IQ and he showed that on the defensive side of the game last season. But Dubois is a solid defensive player in his own right and context is important here.
Dubois posted fine, if not spectacular, defensive metrics last season as a top-six center. While Vilardi did so as a third-line wing.
That isn’t to take anything away from Vilardi or to say he isn’t better defensively than Dubois. He is, but it’s important to note that Dubois plays the premium position in a top-six role. Granted, I’d move Dubois to the wing if this trade goes through.
There are people who think Vilardi could move back to the middle and replicate those numbers. Maybe he can, but that’s still an unknown. You know Dubois can do it, even if they’re both better at wing.
Another important factor to note is that both Vilardi and Dubois started most shifts in the offensive zone. And this skews heavily in Vilardi’s favor. Vilardi started 54% of his faceoffs in the defensive zone compared to 60% for Dubois.
Vilardi is more trusted by coaches, again, he is the better defensive player, no question.
Room to Grow & Off-Ice Intangibles:
Another big reason people want to keep Vilardi is the thought that he’s just scratching the surface of the player he can become. And that’s fair, but it’s important to remember that, despite a 282-game gap between them. Dubois is only one year older than Vilardi.
Vilardi’s time out with an injury early in his career is why people assume he has significantly more growth left than Dubois. I get that, but it also runs on the assumption that Dubois is what he is and won’t get any better either.
At 25, Dubois is about to enter his physical prime and there’s no reason to assume he can’t improve at all.
Even if Vilardi continues to improve and becomes a consistent 30-goal 60-plus-point player, it’s possible that Dubois takes another step up and becomes a true star.
I wouldn’t consider either of these possibilities as a guarantee, but I think the idea that Vilardi will absolutely improve and Dubois can’t is false.
There’s also the health issue. Rob Blake pointed out that Vilardi’s never played a full season since being drafted. Missing 20 games last season last season if you include the playoff game he missed.
That’s great if Vilardi becomes a better player than Dubois, but irrelevant if he’s never fully healthy.
Dubois did miss nine games last season with an injury, but he’s consistently played the full season in his career. Both with production and health, there is more certainty with Dubois.
Another big narrative surrounding Dubois is the “locker room cancer” tag. I touched on this in my last article discussing Dubois, and I think it’s a little ridiculous.
Sure, he’s demanded trades from two different teams. Both of which had well-documented locker room issues outside of Dubois, especially in Columbus. John Tortorella isn’t exactly known for fostering a positive locker room environment and most reporting suggests he was the bigger problem there.
And there’s been reports of issues with the leadership group in Winnipeg, a group Dubois isn’t a part of, for a while.
Maybe Dubois does have attitude issues, but there’s a lot of assuming going on with those claims. It’s as likely that he’s been unlucky with two bad situations he wanted out of.
People spouted the same “locker room cancer” about Jack Eichel, and going further back, Jeff Carter. Acquiring those players worked out for their respective teams. And neither had any locker room issues.
The truth is, we don’t know if he’s a locker room issue. And speculating on it without actually being inside that locker room is pointless.
Dubois reported $9 million asking price is far too high for the Kings and should be too high for anyone given his production history. If the Kings can get him down closer to the $7 million range it becomes more reasonable.
Dubois’ agent Pat Brisson’s connection with Rob Blake can’t be overlooked. The two are good friends and even coached together at the Jr. Kings when their sons played there, alongside Kings Assistant General Manager Nelson Emerson.
With a difficult extension for Dubois needed. The relationship between Blake and Brisson might be a difference-maker.
That also brings me to possibly the biggest hurdle in this deal. Vilardi’s contract.
It was reported that the Kings and Vilardi haven’t discussed an extension. Which by itself doesn’t mean a whole lot. However, given the context of what’s going on, it’s interesting.
If Vilardi and the Kings are struggling to find an extension to agree upon, this trade makes even more sense. But it raises the question, would Vilardi sign an extension in Winnipeg?
Winnipeg would likely want a long-term extension in place before agreeing to a deal. And it’s difficult to know if Vilardi would be open to that.
This could be the big stumbling block. Winnipeg has some negotiating power with Vilardi because he’s a restricted free agent, but he also has arbitration rights. And Winnipeg won’t want this to go that route.
They need to get some quality players locked in long-term there. If Vilardi won’t commit to that, I can’t see a deal happening.
An Okay Trade All-Around:
When I look at the potential of a Vilardi+Iafallo for Dubois trade. I just kind of go, “meh.”
Dubois is better than Vilardi right now, but I’m not sure there’s a big enough gap to make this deal worth it.
I get why the Kings would do it. Especially if they believe Dubois has another level to reach. You get the better player now, who doesn’t have any health concerns and is entering the prime of his career.
But it feels like an unnecessary move given the Kings’ issues in other areas, particularly in net.
If this deal goes through, I doubt it’s the only Kings deal we see in the next few weeks.