Drew Doughty, Chuck Kobasew

Drew Doughty looks to become highest paid King

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Not all of the news regarding the Los Angeles Kings revolved around Brad Richards today. While the organization was giving its best sales pitch to the most sought after unrestricted free agent on the market, their best restricted free agent made his intentions clear. A report as surfaced on Friday that Drew Doughty would like to be the highest paid player on the team next season. This is on a team with Anze Kopitar making $6.8 million per season. Clearly, neither Drew Doughty, nor his agent Don Meehan believes the second contract should “bridge” the player to their veteran years.

The Fourth Period had the story and an update on the negotiations between Doughty and the Kings:

“It was originally believed that Doughty’s salary would hover around the $6 million to $6.5 million, per year, but that no longer appears to be the case.

While both parties anticipate a deal at some point, negotiations have been categorize as moving ‘slowly,’ a source with knowledge of the situation told TFP.

Doughty’s agents, Don Meehan and Mark Guy, have been relatively quiet, only to relay the two sides are ‘still having discussions.’”

There’s no question that Drew Doughty has the potential to be one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Two years ago he became the second youngest player to ever be nominated for the Norris Trophy—the youngest was a guy named Orr. He had a break out performance for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and was drawing comparisons to Ray Bourque.

That was then.

This season Doughty came to camp in poor shape. He had an extremely slow start to the season due in large part to his poor conditioning; then to make matters worse he suffered a concussion early in the season. Once he rounded into shape and shook off the effects of the concussion, he showed signs in the second half of the player that has all the potential in the world. He finished the season with 11 goals and 40 points in 76 games. Despite his slow start, he still led all Kings defenseman in goals, ice time and plus/minus. Then again, a guy who is asking for this kind of money should lead his team in most major categories. Even though he was widely regarded as the Kings best blueliner last season, he didn’t even lead the defensive corps in scoring.

The Kings organization wants Doughty to show a higher level of commitment before they give him a superstar contact offer. There were thoughts that he’d be offered a short-term deal similar to Jack Johnson’s previous contract to prove himself to the organization. Once he proved his dedication, the Kings would reward him with a long-term deal like they did with Johnson.

Dean Lombardi has repeatedly tried to build Los Angeles by paying players on what they’ve accomplished—not their potential. When they perform on the ice, then they are compensated for their accomplishments. With these desires, it looks like Doughty just wants to skip over the “proving” portion of his career and jump straight to the payday. Two seasons ago he looked like he was on his way; but it’s hard to give a lucrative multi-year deal to a player who took a noticeable step back in his third year.

On free agency day, the elephant in the room is the Kings active pursuit of Brad Richards. If they had a contract in place with their young, star defenseman, they’d have a concrete idea of the amount of money available to lure the former-Stars forward. Los Angeles management (and ownership) clearly has a plan in place, but it would be much easier if Doughty’s deal was done before the free agent madness started. It’s doubtful that another team would tender an offer sheet for Doughty, but if they did it could certainly back the Kings into a corner like the Sharks were a season ago.

The Kings have all summer to sign the restricted free agent and we have every reason to believe a deal will eventually be finalized. The only question at this point is “how much will it cost to get a deal done?” Apparently each side has their own opinion.

Looking to make the leap: Nikita Zaitsev

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 26: Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev #2 of Russia dumps the puck in as forward Cody Eakin #21 of Canada tries to block the puck during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Group B game between Canada and Russia on December 26, 2010 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. The physical part of the game will be different for him in the NHL, but the way he moves the puck and skates and how defensive you now have to be to play, it just really makes you think he can be really successful for the Leafs.”

That quote was from former NHL defenseman Ryan Whitney, speaking in May about newly minted Toronto defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, who went up against Whitney in the KHL.

So needless to say, expectations for Zaitsev this season are fairly high.

And they’re high for reason. At 24, the undrafted blueliner has a wealth of professional experience — seven full campaigns, split between Novosibirsk and CSKA Moscow — and really came into his own over the last few years. He routinely led CSKA in d-man scoring, and was named a KHL first-team all-star in ’14-15.

That pedigree should translate into plenty of opportunities in Toronto.

And hey, Toronto has plenty of opportunities to offer.

It’s likely one of the big reasons Zaitsev chose the Leafs over other interested suitors like Calgary, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (per Sportsnet). The Leafs are still in the early stages of their rebuild, and it shows on defense — based on current projections, Zaitsev could open as a top-four guy alongside Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Matt Hunwick, leapfrogging the likes of Martin Maricin, Roman Polak and Connor Carrick in the process.

The great unknown, of course, is how his success in the KHL will translate into North America. Every NHL club is hoping to land the next Artemi Panarin, but it’s important to remember that 1) Panarin is a forward, and 2) jumped onto a line next to Patrick Kane.

The transition for defenders has generally been tougher, something folks in Philly saw last year with the failed Evgeny Medvedev experience.

Of course, Zaitsev has a few more things going for him than his fellow Russian. He’s younger than Medvedev by nearly a decade, and is a coveted right-handed shot (Medvedev’s a lefty).

And like most players coming over from the KHL, Zaitsev’s on a one-year, performance bonus-laden contract that amounts to a “prove it” deal in the NHL.

That should be enough motivation to help him make the leap.

And if it’s not, there’s always the leap back to Russia.

‘Canes extend GM Francis, who’s ‘rebuilt our organization the right way’

Ron Francis
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The Carolina Hurricanes locked in a key part — arguably the most key part — of their rebuild on Tuesday, signing GM Rom Francis to a contract extension through the 2018-19 campaign.

“Ron has rebuilt our organization the right way, stocking our team and system with young players who will help this franchise compete for the Stanley Cup year in and year out,” club owner Peter Karmanos said in a release. “I’m thrilled that he will continue to see the job through.

“The future is very bright for the Hurricanes in Carolina.”

Francis, 53, has been on the job in Carolina for the past two years, and has done a terrific job of stockpiling young talent through the draft and via trade: Noah Hanifin, Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Haydn Fleury, Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier, to name a few.

Francis was also instrumental in hiring head coach Bill Peters. At the time of the hire, Peters was something of an unknown — an under-the-radar assistant with no NHL head coaching experience — but has since developed into one of the game’s more respected bench bosses.

Peters was named the bench boss for Team Canada at the most recent world championship, and led the country to gold.

This fall, he’ll reprise his role as Mike Babcock’s assistant for Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.

“When you go back a couple years ago, there were a lot of questions about who we had hired,” Francis explained in July, when he extended Peters’ contract through 2019. “[Peters] wasn’t really well known, but in the two years he’s been here, he’s done a tremendous job.”

For all the praise Francis has received during his short time on the job in Carolina, there is one area of concern — goaltending. This summer, Francis made the curious move of bringing Cam Ward back on a two-year deal, resurrecting the Ward-Eddie Lack tandem that struggled at times last season.

It’ll be interesting to see how that move plays out.

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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In a lot of ways, the 2015-16 season represented more of the same for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The results were nearly identical to 2014-15, right down to finishing in the basement of the East (69 points last season, 68 the one the year before).

Indeed, Brendan Shanahan is probably correct in saying that the Maple Leafs earned the No. 1 pick “the hard way,” or at least “earned” the higher draft lottery odds that helped them land Auston Matthews.

The big question, really, is how long will fans be patient with the Maple Leafs taking baby steps in the right direction?

Off-season

Naturally, the team tried to make more a leap forward in seeking Steven Stamkos and, to a less dramatic extent, Jimmy Vesey.

They fell short in those regards, but that doesn’t mean that management merely idled while hoping for improvements from in-house development.

The Maple Leafs made bold changes in net, ending the Jonathan Bernier era while betting big on Frederik Andersen and also bringing in a promising backup in Jhonas Enroth.

Beyond those big moves in net, the Maple Leafs made some minor adjustments. They handed surprising money and term to Matt Martin while taking short-term fliers on veterans Milan Michalek and Roman Polak.

On paper, this team still looks quite a few steps away from being a playoff contender, but perhaps we’ll start to see things come together?

A lot of that rides on the work of Matthews, Morgan Rielly and other young players (William Nylander, Mitch Marner) who may or may not make a lasting impact on the regular season roster.

Will the rebuilding plan start to pay dividends? PHT explores the iconic franchise on Tuesday.

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.