Every summer there’s an offseason story that just won’t go away. Last season it was Ilya Kovalchuk and next season it will probably be a power struggle over a new collective bargaining agreement. But this year? This is the year of the Drew Doughty contract talks. It’s only a week until the Kings open their training camp and with each passing day, it looks like camp will start without the talented 21-year-old under contract. Just a hunch, but this probably isn’t how the organization wanted to spend their last few days of the offseason as they look to contend in the West this season.
For the first time in months, there has been an update on the negotiations with concrete numbers—outlining an offer with both a specific dollar amount and years for a potential contract. Respected NHL insider Nick Kypreos from Sports Net sent out this message late Thursday afternoon:
“Where does LA go next after Doughty rejects multi offers including 9 yrs/61.2M. The 6.8 aav would have matched Kopitar’s as Kings highest”
Presumably, the 9-year term is the Kings’ idea. A deal of that nature would take Doughty until he was 30-years-old and would eat up four of his unrestricted free agent years. On the flip side, there have been rumors that the Doughty camp is looking for a 5-year deal that would take him right up to unrestricted free agency.
Pro Hockey Talk reached out to Don Meehan at Newport Sports, but he preferred to not make any comment at this time.
On the financial side of the deal, the $6.8 million cap hit would equal Anze Kopitar’s team-high average salary. Like Doughty, Kopitar thrived from the moment he stepped foot onto NHL ice and earned a hefty raise before proving himself with a “second contract.” Regardless of any other specifics within the negotiations, LA Times writer Helene Elliott is reporting that “it doesn’t appear that an agreement is imminent.”
Doughty was the 2nd overall pick in the 2008 Draft—the highest defensemen picked in a deep defensive draft. In 2010, he burst onto the international stage when he made the Canadian Olympic team and thrived in Vancouver. At the end of the season, he was the second youngest Norris Trophy finalist. After his second season, at the tender age of 20, he looked to be on the fast-track to superstardom.
But something happened on the way to becoming the next Raymond Bourque. Doughty started the 2010-11 season slowly and suffered a concussion at the beginning of the season. It took about half the season before he finally found his stride—yet his year-end statistics were a far cry from the numbers he had posted the previous season.
Here in lies the dilemma from the Kings perspective. Do they play Doughty like the superstar that he was in 2009-10? Or do the pay him like the star he was in 2010-11. Even in a down year, Doughty was clearly the best defenseman on a team loaded with plenty of talent on the blueline. He plays against some of the toughest competition on a nightly basis, kills penalties, and still lead the defensive corps in points per game. He did all of that in an “off year.”
The fact remains that while he was the Kings best defender last season, he was one of the league’s best defenders the previous season. If he were to make $6.8m – $7m next season, he’d be in the Joe Thornton/Jarome Iginla/Zdeno Chara stratosphere of salaries. Not only are those players leaders of their individual teams (each is a captain), but those are all major award winners. Iginla’s won an Art Ross and a couple of Rocket Richard Trophies. Thornton’s won a Hart and Chara’s won a Norris. They’ve proven over time that they are elite players.
Everyone assumes that Doughty will be an elite NHLer for years to come—but he hasn’t proven it over time. Yet.
Eventually this story will come to an end with Doughty signing with the Kings. He’s a restricted free agent and the Kings desperately need him if they want to get to where they want to go this season. The sooner the deal is done—the better for all parties involved. But make no mistake: the specifics of the deal will have ramifications for the next 10-15 years.
If the Kings can find a way to lock him up to an extended contract, they’ll have their young core securely in place for the foreseeable future. If he signs a two or three year contract, the Kings will be able to negotiate with the young defender as he would set up for the big payday that would dictate the rest of his career.
But if Doughty signs a five-year contact, just about every GM in the league will start putting their pennies in their piggy bank for a spending spree in 2016. A 27-year-old, unrestricted free agent elite defenseman? It would make the Brad Richards sweepstakes look like child’s play.