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Kings set to make Doughty NHL’s highest-paid defender on eight-year deal

It’s not officially official — and it won’t be until July 1 when the Kings and Drew Doughty are authorized to cross the 'I's and dot the 'T's — but the Los Angeles Kings rearguard is about to ink the most lucrative contract for any defender in the NHL.

Amid rumblings that Doughty and the Kings were working on a new deal, reports began to trickle out Friday that the 28-year-old was on the verge of inking an eight-year extension that stands to keep him in Los Angeles for the next nine seasons, including the upcoming campaign. And while the deal can’t be formally announced quite yet as Doughty, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, is ineligible to sign an extension until free agency opens on Sunday, the Kings confirmed in a release that the deal has in fact been agreed upon.

“Drew Doughty is one of the best defensemen in the world and we are obviously excited to have reached this point in the process in which he has committed to the Kings long-term,” said Kings GM Rob Blake in a statement. “This is great news for our organization and our fans and we will comment further once the contract has been signed and formally announced.”

Doughty’s signing — which, again, isn’t official but actually is, if you follow — comes on the heels of what has almost inarguably been the best season of his career. Offensively, Doughty set a new high with 60 points, though his 10 goals this past campaign were tied for the fourth-most in his career. He played a mammoth role in any and all of the Kings’ successes this past season, averaging nearly 27 minutes of ice time while piecing together one of the best defensive seasons of his career. He was a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the fourth time and finished second in voting by a scant 14 percent of the total vote. If he had won the award, it would have been the second of his career and second in three seasons.

Getting Doughty under contract was a massive to-do on the Kings’ off-season list, as well. As evidenced by Friday's announcement, there was little desire on the part of Blake and Co. to let Doughty’s contract situation bleed into the coming campaign and no reason for them to wish for it do so. Statistically, Doughty has been the eighth-highest scoring defender over the past four campaigns and an all-situations savior for the Kings, averaging upwards of 27 minutes with the second-highest average of any defenseman since the start of the 2014-15 season.

This is to say that the fact the deal has been agreed upon and that it’s a max-term contract are almost secondary stories here, as it was a given that Los Angeles would be attempting to lock him up, and that if they did so, it would be an eight-year pact. No, the real headline here is the money. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger and Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Doughty’s new contract will carry a cap hit in the $11-million range. For the time being, the eye-popping reported dollar amount is set to not only make Doughty the highest paid King come the 2019-20 campaign, eclipsing the $10-million annual average value of captain Anze Kopitar’s contract, but the highest-paid rearguard in the NHL and second-highest paid player of any position. (Only superstar center Connor McDavid, with his monster $12.5-million AAV, is set to be paid more come 2019-20.)

Currently, the title of highest-paid defender belongs to Doughty’s fellow 2017-18 Norris finalist P.K. Subban, who is in the midst of an eight-year, $72-million deal that carries a $9-million AAV. When Doughty's reported extension kicks in, Oliver Ekman-Larsson will move into the spot behind Subban after signing a deal worth a reported $8.25-million per season, while Brent Burns and John Carlson, who signed his new contract earlier this week, will be even at $8-million apiece annually. They will be followed closely by Victor Hedman, Shea Weber, Dustin Byfuglien, Ryan Suter and Aaron Ekblad, as well, each of whom earn between $7.5 million and $7.875-million per season. Doughty, who is about to put the finishing touches on his first eight-year contract which carried a $7-million AAV, will leapfrog every aforementioned defenseman come the 2019-20 campaign with a cap hit that exceeds Subban’s by a mind-blowing $2 million.

It was well known, however, that Doughty was seeking to and would likely set a new financial bar for defensemen. In November 2017, speaking with The Athletic’s Craig Custance, Doughty said that he believed he would use Subban’s contract as a potential staring point for his upcoming contract and added that he felt he and fellow defenseman Erik Karlsson — more on him in a second — deserved “quite a bit more than that.” Suffice to say, Doughty appears to have got just that.

But as it pertains to Karlsson, and to Doughty setting the high-water mark for wages for blueliners come the 2019-20 campaign, the Kings all-star rearguard may not actually hold the NHL’s equivalent of Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Championship among defensemen when his extension kicks in. Rather, the throne is likely to belong to Karlsson, who can now use Doughty’s deal as the framework for his upcoming contract. Karlsson, like Doughty, is a four-time Norris finalist, but the former has one more Norris in his trophy case than the latter. In addition, Karlsson has outscored Doughty by 80 points over the past four seasons and has a points per game rate nearly one-third of a point greater than his Kings counterpart. Thus, chances are Doughty cedes the Cap Hit Crown to Karlsson when the current Ottawa Senators captain, who is rumored to be on the move or bound for free agency before he signs a new deal, inks his own contract, potentially one that comes close to matching that of McDavid.

For the time being, though, Doughty is set to stand alone as the highest-paid blueliner in the league. And even if it is going to cost the Kings a pretty penny to keep him around, you can rest assured that they couldn’t be happier to pay the price to keep their perennial Norris contender and No. 1 defenseman in the fold for the long haul.

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