Based on the way Drew Doughty has played for the red-hot Los Angeles Kings lately, it seems almost unfathomable his worth to the team was questioned over the summer. But that was exactly the case during those negotiations – and neither side was wrong.
As you’ll recall, Doughty missed all of training camp due to a contract impasse, finally settling on an eight-year, $56-million pact for an annual cap hit of $7 million.
Right now he’s earning every penny.
But when the actual negotiations were occurring, the Kings didn’t have an extensive rap sheet on the young defenseman. Sure, there were the flashes of brilliance in his 16-goal, 59-point sophomore campaign – but that was followed by a backslide in production last year, when Doughty was slowed by a concussion. The question was also out there as to his style: Was Doughty an offensive defenseman who relied on natural talent or would he put in the work to become a complete player who can be one of the best blueliners in the NHL?
During the contract negotiations, a certain two-week period was the crux of the dispute: The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. As you’ll recall, Doughty was fantastic for Canada en route to the gold medal.
It was the Kings rearguard who paired with Chicago Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith to form Canada’s best duo, usurping the Hawk’s usual partner in crime, Brent Seabrook. That defenseman would become known as ‘Olympic Drew’ in L.A.’s talks with Doughty’s agency, Newport Sports. Needless to say, Newport wanted ‘Olympic Drew’ money for its client. The Kings, according to an insider, wanted to see ‘Olympic Drew’ all the time.
Well, now they’ve got him. And that’s where a leap of faith and $7 million a year got the franchise.
Once again, Doughty is in top form and he’s doing it everywhere on the ice, not just in his rushing ability. He’s playing against top lines, he’s absorbing punishment and he’s dishing it out, while still being that puck-moving presence that makes a team hum. The rust that came at the beginning of the season is long gone and the Kings are back to the Western Conference final for the first time since 1993.
And though the contract is big, who else would you want on your blueline right now and for the foreseeable future? Zdeno Chara is Norris-worthy and his cap hit is $6.9 million. Erik Karlsson may win the best defenseman trophy over the Slovakian giant this season and no doubt his people will reference Doughty’s deal when they head into their own negotiations with the Ottawa Senators this summer. Having said that, Doughty is much more physical than the sublime Swede and helped his team knock off the top two seeds in the West – and I’m sure Karlsson would have traded the Norris for another crack at the Stanley Cup this year.
Doughty’s Olympic buddy Keith comes in at a lower cap hit ($5.5 million), but nearly twice the term. And Nashville’s twin powers, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, will both command money in the range of a $7-million cap hit in the off-season, too.
So good on the Kings for recognizing the elite talent who was developing on their blueline. For a team that almost missed the playoffs altogether, Los Angeles is now clicking on all cylinders because its best players – Doughty, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and especially Jonathan Quick – have been the drivers for success. I’m sure it wasn’t fun to go back and forth in that room and debate the future merits of Doughty’s career, but now everyone involved is reaping the rewards.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.