What the Kings, Capitals, Flames and Devils get in big NHL trading day

Sportsnet's Ryan Leslie joins The Jeff Marek Show to discuss the Calgary Flames' motivation for trading star goaltender Jacob Markstrom to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenceman Kevin Bahl and a top-10 protected 2025 pick.

In the middle of a thrilling Stanley Cup Final, Wednesday’s news cycle was overwhelmed by a trade market that’s eager to explode.

And, surprisingly, both moves involved a starting goaltender — a corner of the trade market that is rarely explored.

A couple of weeks ago we explored the potential of this summer’s goalie trade market, which had an interesting blend of teams broadcasting a need for a netminder, some who seemed keen to move one, and a salary cap rising by $4.5 million that generally should make for a more active trade scene overall.

Two of the goalies we mentioned in that piece, Jacob Markstrom and Darcy Kuemper, were at the centre of Wednesday’s two big trades.

And just like that, we’re off and running.

First, we’ll look at the trade between Calgary and New Jersey. After the two teams were reportedly working close on a pre-trade deadline deal to send Markstrom to the Devils, it ultimately didn’t get across the line and New Jersey picked up Jake Allen instead. Three months later, and one week before the NHL Draft takes off, they finally consummated the long-anticipated trade, which will leave some Flames fans wondering if the return for a netminder with two years left on his deal will truly be worth it.

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For the Devils, they get the ace No. 1 goalie they’ve so sorely needed for years. In three of the past four seasons New Jersey was within the bottom eight in team save percentage and it’s been the most obvious part of the roster that was holding back the huge potential of the team in front. It was just last year New Jersey finished with 112 points and knocked out the rival Rangers in the playoffs. They dropped back by 31 points this past season, missed the playoffs, and finished with the 30th-ranked save percentage in the league.

At the combine, GM Tom Fitzgerald had communicated that the 10th overall pick New Jersey holds at next week’s draft could be moved and many wondered if it would be used to acquire a goalie, flashing back to 2013 when the Devils acquired Cory Schneider from Vancouver for the ninth overall pick. But Fitzgerald didn’t have to move the 10th and still has it in his quiver for another potential roster upgrade elsewhere.

Instead, New Jersey sent 6-foot-6, 230-pound, 23-year-old defenceman Kevin Bahl back to Calgary, along with the Devils’ 2025 first-round pick that is top-10 protected. If, somehow, New Jersey is still picking within the top 10 of next year’s draft, the Flames instead would acquire an unprotected first-rounder in 2026.

Calgary also retained 31.25 per cent of Markstrom’s remaining cap hit, meaning New Jersey gets him for two seasons at a valuable $4.125 million AAV.

Markstrom had to waive his no-movement clause to get the deal across the line, something he says he was happy to do.

“This is a big challenge,” Markstrom said. “It’s a big team with high expectations. As a goaltending position there’s pressure and I’ve been on teams where there’s pressure on goaltending in a Canadian market, and I know what’s expected of me as a person too.

“People who know me know I just want to win hockey games and if we don’t win I’m the hardest criticizer of myself.”

Certainly going from the re-tooling, re-building, re-whatevering Flames who traded out Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov and Elias Lindholm during the season, to a New Jersey team that has some of the greatest potential of any NHL outfit, provides Markstrom with a far better shot at taking a run at the Stanley Cup. After the trade, the Devils still have a projected $16 million in cap space remaining and while some of that will go to RFA Dawson Mercer, most of it can be used to explore other roster upgrades. And, remember, they still have that 10th overall pick to possibly use.

Like when they traded Chris Tanev for a controversial return weeks ahead of the trade deadline, the Flames got into the off-season trade market early and a week ahead of the draft, when being on the clock adds pressure to a negotiation. Did they get enough? Could they have gotten more for a goalie with two years of control by waiting for every team to get to Las Vegas next week? These are the questions Flames fans may be asking.

But, with the deal done, so likely begins the Dustin Wolf era in Calgary, a 23-year-old seventh-rounder from 2019 whose credentials include a CHL Goalie of the Year nod, two WHL Goalie of the Year nods, and two Baz Bastian Awards as the AHL’s top netminder. He didn’t get that achievement in this, his third AHL season, but still finished top three in league save percentage. Meantime, Dan Vladar is still under contract as the veteran who will help guide him along. Wolf played 17 NHL games this past season and had an .893 save percentage.

And that was just the second-most shocking deal of the day.

About a month and a half ago we explored the three choices Los Angeles had with Pierre-Luc Dubois, who they traded a haul to get out of Winnipeg in 2023, paid him an $8.5 million AAV for eight years before he even played a game, and then watched him putter along to a 40-point season and eventually devolve into a fourth line centre.

Keep him, and bet on a 25-year-old player who’s shown glimpses before to bounce all the way back as an impactful 1C — or possibly move him to the wing? Trade him now when he doesn’t have any protection, before a full no-movement clause kicked in on July 1, knowing the market probably wasn’t flush with suitors. Or buy him out — a crazy thought — but one that made some financial sense given his age meant Dubois could be paid out for one-third his remaining contract value, as opposed to the two-thirds that are due when a player is 26 or older.

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After shooting down the idea of buying out the player, Kings GM Rob Blake did find a taker for Dubois and he didn’t even have to retain any money. Simply, this was a hockey trade. The goalie-needy Kings picked up Kuemper, who comes with some risk of his own after he lost Washington’s net to Charlie Lindgren at 34 years old and still has three years left on a contract with a $5.25 million AAV.

But the Kings absolutely had to upgrade in the crease this off-season after they had to start David Rittich in a couple playoff games versus Edmonton. In Kuemper, they get a Stanley Cup winner from just two seasons ago, but who questionably is in decline. Of course, they offloaded a contract that is regarded as one of the most problematic in the league today — if Dubois stays on that level from here, the Kings will have avoided the land mine. But there’s a world where Dubois finds himself again in Washington, and Blake looks back on the move in regret. It could be the one that costs him his job in a year.

But why would the Capitals make such a swap? For one they clearly believe in Lindgren for now, who led their charge to the playoffs in the crease. They also believe in pushing forward and taking no more steps back with this team, as Alex Ovechkin nears Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record. Without Nicklas Backstrom anymore, or Evgeny Kuznetsov, their centre depth was wearing thin and was beginning to require upward movement from the system (Hendrix Lapierre). Now, in theory, they could have a new No. 1 centre at best…or an awful long-term contract at worst.

Washington finished with a minus-37 goal differential this past season and were 28th in the league by goals per game. Improving the offence was a priority.

“We’re going to look outside, too, I think trades and free agency, we need to add something in that area,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said at the end of the season. “We need to get a little more skill, more goals.”

We’ll see if Dubois actually ends up helping there, or if Markstrom is the key piece that helps the Devils reach their full potential.

For more on both of the big trades made Wednesday, we turn to our scout Jason Bukala for a closer look at the players involved.


To New Jersey: Jacob Markstrom
To Calgary: Kevin Bahl, conditional 2025 first-round pick

The Devils acquired the goalie they desperately needed to have in their lineup last season.

In the lead up to the 2024 trade deadline it felt like Calgary was going to move on from Markstrom and the Devils seemed like the perfect fit. For whatever reason the deal didn’t happen until Wednesday. Perhaps it came down to the reality that Markstrom was in complete control of his next destination due to the fact his contract is armed with a full no-movement clause.

Markstrom is coming off a bounce-back season. He posted a 2.78 GAA and a .905 save percentage in 2023-24, compared to a 2.92 and .892 the previous year.

Markstrom has the ability to steal games. The more structured New Jersey plays in front of him, the better he will be. Markstrom, like all NHL goalies, delivers top results when the game isn’t too busy in front of him. One thing to note, however, is his inability to “start on time” some nights. There have been many games the past few years where he needed to make a key save early to allow his team time to get their legs, but wasn’t completely set for the drop of the puck.

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New Jersey wins this trade. They acquired the best player in the deal, convinced the Flames to retain 31.25 per cent of Markstrom’s contract, and moved a top-10 protected first-round pick in next year’s NHL draft.

Calgary acquired a serviceable third pairing NHL defenceman in Bahl. Bahl brings a combination of size, physicality and occasional offence to the Flames. The bulk of his ice time will always come at even strength and on the penalty kill. Bahl is an average-plus skater and distributor launching the attack from the defensive zone. He gets in the way on the penalty kill. Bahl blocks shots and uses his long reach to attempt to keep the play to the perimeter. He was credited with 153 hits and 103 shot blocks last season.

The Devils should be a better team next season. They should be a playoff team. The protected first-round pick shouldn’t be an issue if New Jersey rebounds and plays better hockey. I’m currently projecting next year’s draft class to be deeper than the current one. If the pick falls somewhere in the 20s, it will still provide significant value to the Flames.

I have to admit I would have liked to see the Flames acquire another pick in the transaction given the fact they retained salary. I would have certainly requested a mid-round selection in next year’s draft.

To Washington: Pierre-Luc Dubois
To Los Angeles: Darcy Kuemper

Bear with me as I try to present how torn I am about Washington acquiring Dubois from the Kings.

Dubois has seven years remaining on the deal he signed with Los Angeles just last year after being acquired from the Jets. He didn’t come close to maximizing his value for the Kings this past season. Dubois was healthy and played all 82 regular season games, but only produced 16 goals and 24 assists, with a minus-9. His inconsistent effort was frustrating to watch and clearly the Kings felt the path forward for their group didn’t include Dubois.

Acquiring veteran goaltender Kuemper doesn’t come without risk. The veteran goalie just turned 34 last month and has three years left on his deal that pays $5.25 million per season. Kuemper leans high-end backup more than pure starter for me at this stage of his career. He’s a big body (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) who backstopped the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup in the spring of 2022. But Kuemper isn’t the same goalie now. His lateral push and overall quickness are average for the NHL at this stage. He played only 33 games this past season for the Caps, resulting in a 3.31 GAA and .890 save percentage.

Dubois’ best shifts come with power and goal scoring. When fully engaged he’s hard to check. Still turning just 26 years old next week, Dubois could have some of his best hockey ahead of him, but I’m approaching things with guarded optimism. My trust in Dubois is 50/50 at best. Acquiring him is a massive risk for the Caps, but at some point Dubois has to take a long look in the mirror and play with more desire and pride.

Time will tell. But as I write this I’m torn about whether or not I would recommend him to any team in trade.

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