Drew Doughty

Kings and Drew Doughty agree on 8-year, $56 million contract

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After months of negotiating and a stress-filled summer for Kings fans all over California, the waiting (and worrying) has finally come to an end. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the Los Angeles Kings and restricted agent Drew Doughty have at last come to terms on an 8-year, $56 million contract. And not a moment too soon.

In an official press release, the Kings announced that the two sides had come to a verbal agreement.  Needless to say, the announcement ignited celebrations for hockey fans in Los Angeles; and shouts of denial from opposing fans who still  held out hope that their team would sign the restricted free agent an offer sheet.

“The Los Angeles Kings have reached a verbal agreement with restricted free agent defenseman Drew Doughty on a multi-year contract, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi announced tonight.”

By all measures, the two sides came together on a deal at the last minute. The Kings finally budged after insisting that he average cap hit of any deal would not exceed Anze Kopitar’s team high $6.8 million per season. From Doughty’s side, the young defenseman accepted an eight-year deal—a longer term than he may have preferred. The $7 million average salary per season will make him the third-highest paid defenseman—trailing only Shea Weber’s one-year contract and Brian Campbell’s ridiculous $7.1 million per season. Kings’ governor Tim Leiweke praised GM Dean Lombardi for getting a deal done that works for the team.

“Dean did a good job here. Dean is unbelievable with the budget and the forecasting and, as you know, he’s a professor when it comes to the boxes and forecasting where we’re going long-term. So he was passionate about protecting ourselves with some flexibility here. I feel good about the fact that we have someone that has the vision that Dean has, long-term, and is keeping the nucleus together. But he’s also smart, and he knows eight years is eight years. And this kid is 21 years old. He’s going to 29, and still in his prime, when he’s done with this contract. That’s a good thing for the franchise. The guy that isn’t mentioned here, Mr. Anschutz, he has broken the bank here. We are sending a very strong message to our fans. We’re committed to winning, and we just proved it again.”

Three weeks ago, there were reports that the Kings had offered the 21-year-old defenseman a 9-year deal worth $6.8 million per season.

From the Kings point of view, it’s easy easy to understand their excitement. The 8-year deal will eat up four of Doughty’s valuable “unrestricted years,” at a reasonable $7 million per season. One of the difficult parts of the negotiating process is that there’s no real comparable salary for a player like Doughty. He’s already become the second youngest player to be nominated for the Norris Trophy and proved he belonged among the league’s elite at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The timing also worked out for Los Angeles as well. There were plenty of artificial deadlines; but both sides understood that a deal needed to be reached by the end of the week or Doughty would miss regular season games. The Kings have two more preseason games in North America before leaving for Europe on Saturday night. People around the organization said they hoped to sign him in time to participate in a couple of preseason games before the regular season started in Berlin. With tonight’s deal, the team will decide if they want him to play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Avalanche before heading to their final preseason game on Tuesday in Hamburg, Germany.

For Doughty, he instantly becomes one of the highest paid defensemen (and players) in the NHL. He successfully skipped his “second contract” and jumped right to his huge payday at the tender age of 21. $7 million per season will buy quite a few cocktails for the man who recently reached the legal drinking age.

Symbolically, it shows that the organization realizes he’s an crucial piece to their puzzle. He’s now the highest paid player on a team that not only has playoff aspirations, but Stanley Cup dreams. No pressure there kid.

Now comes the tough part. As weird as it may sound after this prolonged three month ordeal, someone may want to tell Doughty that negotiating the contract is the easy part. Now he’ll have the next eight years to prove that he’s worth it. With that kind of money and the type of team the Kings have assembled this season, individual statistics may not be enough to justify that kind of contract.

All the sudden, the stakes have been raised for Drew Doughty and the LA Kings. A Norris Trophy? He has eight years. Legitimate playoff performer? He has eight years. Stanley Cup?

You get the idea…

Tuukka Rask leaves game for Bruins

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 7: Goaltender Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins looks up at the video on the scoreboard after making a save against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on January 7, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 4-0. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Times are a little tough for the Boston Bruins right now with losses in three consecutive games and speculation regarding the future of their coach.

What they do not need at this point is any kind of a significant injury to a key player, so it has to be a concern that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask had to leave Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the second period.

He was replaced in net by backup Zane McIntyre.

The Bruins have yet to offer an update as to why Rask left the game or what his status is. He allowed two goals on 22 shots before exiting.

Even though he has been slumping in recent weeks Rask’s play for most of the season (he entered play on Sunday with a .920 save percentage on the season) has been a big reason the Bruins have climbed back up the goals against rankings after doing little to improve their defense over the summer.

Henrik Lundqvist, J.T. Miller lift Rangers over Red Wings

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This was not the type of game we have been seeing from the New York Rangers in recent weeks.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Rangers had been on a 12-game run where they scored 50 goals (4.1 per game) and also allowed 50 goals. Their balanced scoring depth, combined with a shaky defense and slumping Henrik Lundqvist had produced some high-scoring, 1980s style hockey where any team seemed capable of scoring six or seven goals on any given night.

On Sunday, they played a complete shutdown game in a 1-0 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings that featured only 40 shots on goal between the two teams, few scoring chances, and only a single goal. That goal did not get scored until 1:56 into the 3-on-3 overtime period when the Rangers capitalized on a two-on-none rush between Mats Zuccarello and J.T. Miller.

As Zuccarello carried the puck into the zone alone, he froze Red Wings goalie Jared Coreau and set up Miller with a perfect pass that allowed him to easily deposit the puck in the net for his 16th goal of the season.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault blamed the quality of the game on “horrendous” ice at Joe Louis Arena. Whatever the reason, it was a big performance for Henrik Lundqvist in net as he stopped all 21 shots he faced to record his second shutout of the season and his first since November 1.

For the Rangers, the two points brings them up to 61 points on the season and gives them an 11-point cushion in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The good news for the Red Wings is they at least gained a point in the standings for the fifth consecutive game, a stretch that has seen them early eight out of a possible 10 points. The bad news is they left a second one on the table in a game that was there for the taking, in a game where they also lost their leading scorer, Thomas Vanek, to another injury.

Vanek exited the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return after playing just six minutes.

Goalie nods: Corey Crawford gets a chance to snap out of slump for Blackhawks

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: Goalie Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on against the Washington Capitals during the second period at Verizon Center on January 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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With starting goaltender Corey Crawford stuck in his worst slump of the season, and Scott Darling coming off of a 30-save shutout on Friday night, it seemed possible that the Chicago Blackhawks would stick with the same goalie arrangement on Sunday evening against the Vancouver Canucks.

If nothing else Darling has at least made an argument that he probably deserves a little more playing time than he is getting, and that is still true today.

He just will not get that opportunity against the Canucks.

Coach Joel Quenneville is going back to his starter, Crawford, for Sunday’s game.

After a great start to the season, Crawford has struggled mightily since returning to the lineup following an appendectomy in December and enters Sunday’s game with only a .902 save percentage in his past 10 appearances. He has allowed at least three goals in seven of those games. Before this most recent he was sitting at .927 on the season and looked like one of the top contenders for the Vezina Trophy.

The Blackhawks are not used to seeing Crawford struggle like this, especially in recent years as he has become one of the league’s top goaltenders, finishing with a save percentage of .924 or better in three of the past four full seasons. He is too good to continue playing the way he has recently. Perhaps Sunday is the day he starts to get back on track against a team that he has a pretty strong track record against.

The Canucks, entering the game one game out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, have yet to announce their starter.

Elsewhere…

— Jared Coureau and Henrik Lundqvist went for the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers in their afternoon tilt on NBC, while Matt Murray and Tuukka Rask faced off in Pittsburgh for the Penguins and Boston Bruins.

— After starting 12 consecutive games Mike Condon goes again for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are expected to go with Joonas Korpisalo.

Thomas Greiss returns to the net for the New York Islanders on Sunday after getting Saturday night off and looks for his third consecutive shutout. He has stopped all 55 shots he has faced in his past two games against the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars. The Philadelphia Flyers will go with Steve Mason after Michal Neuvirth took the loss against New Jersey on Saturday.

Darcy Kuemper is expected to get the start for the Minnesota Wild when they take on the Nashville Predators. Pekka Rinne goes for the Predators.

Red Wings lose Thomas Vanek against Rangers

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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This is not the news the Detroit Red Wings needed on Sunday afternoon.

Forward Thomas Vanek left their game against the New York Rangers following the first period for undisclosed reasons. The team announced that he will not return to the game.

Vanek has been a steal for the Red Wings this season after signing him to a one-year, $2.6 million contract in free agency. When healthy he has been arguably their best, most impactful forward this season and entered play on Sunday tied for the team lead in goals (12) and total points (31) even though he had already missed nine games this season.

He played 6:58 in the first period before exiting the game after being shaken up near the Rangers’ net.

He already missed time this season due to a hip injury.

Given his success this season with the team, as well as the Red Wings’ current spot in the Eastern Conference standings that has them several points out of a playoff spot, he has been a popular name mentioned in trade speculation in advance of the trade deadline, something that he seems well aware of.