EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Defenceman Drew Doughty didn’t report to the Los Angeles Kings’ training camp Friday while waiting for a new contract.
The 21-year-old Doughty is a restricted free agent seeking a lucrative long-term deal, but negotiations have stretched through several months. General manager Dean Lombardi has said the sides still have significant differences, and talks with agent Don Meehan apparently have yielded little progress in the past few weeks.
“It’s certainly disappointing he’s not here, because you can feel the excitement downstairs and everybody ready to go,” Lombardi told the Kings’ official website. “Let’s face it, we don’t have one of our best players here. He’s a guy that’s not only a great player, but he’s really well-liked. He brings a lot of life to your room.”
The rest of the Kings reported to their training complex Friday for physicals and fitness testing. Workouts begin Saturday.
Doughty’s absence is an early setback for the Kings, who have designs on becoming an elite club after making the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Lombardi added centre Mike Richards and forward Simon Gagne in the off-season to address scoring, the Kings’ biggest weakness last season.
Waiting must be weird for Doughty, who has done everything in a hurry since the Kings chose him with the second overall pick in the 2008 draft.
He became the second-youngest Norris Trophy finalist in NHL history after scoring 59 points as a 20-year-old in 2009-10, just his second NHL season. Only 19-year-old Bobby Orr ever earned earlier consideration for the award as the NHL’s top defenceman.
Doughty’s production declined to 40 points last season after a slow start and an early injury, but he’s still among hockey’s elite young talents at his position.
Lombardi still insists he’ll get a long-term deal done with Doughty, but it’s already taking longer than anybody anticipated.
“We’re going to continue to have dialogue,” Lombardi said. “He’s going to be a King for a long time. He’s a very special player and a special person, and eventually he’ll be here. The important thing is we’re certainly willing to continue to talk, but hopefully this will get resolved soon.”
Lombardi developed a reputation for intransigence while battling through several lengthy player holdouts during his tenure as the San Jose Sharks’ general manager, but the longtime executive was more limited by budget constraints in the Bay Area. He had mostly shaken that reputation while inking most of the Kings’ young core to long-term deals.
Jack Johnson, the Kings’ other young star on the blue line, agreed to a US$30.5 million contract extension through the 2017-18 season in January. Center Anze Kopitar, captain Dustin Brown and goalie Jonathan Quick also have long-term deals.