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…

Canucks sign free agent defenseman Philip Holm to one-year deal

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The Vancouver Canucks announced on Friday that they have signed free agent defenseman Philip Holm to a one-year, entry-level contract.

Before signing with the Canucks Holm had been rumored to be on the verge of joining the Toronto Maple Leafs, but that obviously did not come together.

“Philip is a mobile, two-way defenseman who adds depth to our blue line,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning in a statement released by the team. “He made strides in his development last season with Vaxjo and played a strong series with Sweden at the World Championships We’re pleased to welcome him to the Canucks organization.”

The 25-year-old Holm has spent the past seven seasons playing professionally in Sweden for Vaxjo HC and Djurgardens IF.

He is regarded as a smooth skating, puck-moving defenseman and had a pretty strong season for Vaxjo this past year, scoring four goals and adding 17 assists in 52 games. He was the top-scoring defenseman on the team.

He also had three points (one goal, two assists) in seven games for Sweden at the 2017 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships. Sweden won the Gold Medal at the tournament by defeating Canada in the championship game.

The Canucks already have six defensemen under contract for 2017-18 (and they do not seem to be in a hurry to trade any of them) but it was a unit that clearly needs an upgrade, so Holm should be an opportunity to make an impact next season.

Sabres fire AHL coach Dan Lambert

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The Buffalo Sabres continued to overhaul their organization under new general manager Jason Botterill on Friday when they announced that Dan Lambert, the coach of the Rochester Americans, their AHL affiliate, has been relieved of his duties.

“I would like to thank Dan for his hard work and contributions to our organization during the last two seasons and I wish him the best in the future,” said Botterill in a statement released by the team.

“I felt this was the right move for both the Sabres and Amerks and we will begin the process of searching for a new head coach immediately.”

The 2016-17 season was Lambert’s only season as the head coach. The team ended up finishing with a 32-41-3 mark.

When he was hired by the Sabres Botterill talked about wanting to improve the team in Rochester and this appears to be the first step in that process. The entire Sabres organization took a pretty significant step backwards this season with the NHL team finishing with a worse record than it did a year ago. That resulted in general manager Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma all being replaced.

The Sabres have yet to hire a replacement for Bylsma.

Now both of the top teams in the organization are in need of a new head coach.

Report: KHL team in talks with Capitals’ Orlov

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After losing in the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs again and entering an offseason where they have several free agents, it is expected that the Washington Capitals roster is going to be look very, very different next season.

One of those upcoming free agents already seems to be drawing some interest, and not from an NHL team.

According to a report from Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko, the KHL’s CSKA Moscow is in talks with defenseman Dmitry Orlov.

Orlov, who turns 26 in July, is slated to be a restricted free agent this offseason. He has played in every game for the Capitals the past two seasons and has emerged as a solid defenseman on the team’s blue line. He has posted pretty dominant possession numbers the past two seasons and has tallied 29 and 33 points during that stretch. He played nearly 20 minutes per game for the Capitals this season and should be in line for a pretty significant pay raise.

Along with the Orlov news, the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan mentioned on Twitter that another KHL team may also be in talks with restricted free agent Evgeny Kuznetsov, though she downplayed the possibility of him leaving. Given that Kuznetsov is one of the top offensive players in the league that would certainly be a shocking move, but it still seems like a long-shot to think that he would leave the NHL.

The Penguins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final has been filled with challenges

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PITTSBURGH — When a team wins the Stanley Cup there is always an expectation that it should be able to come back the next season and contend for it once again. So it shouldn’t be a huge shock that the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team with an All-Star cast of forwards led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, are back in the Stanley Cup Final for a second year in a row (and for the fourth time in 11 years) thanks to their thrilling 3-2, double overtime Game 7 win over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.

What is a shock is how they managed to do it.

Getting back to the Stanley Cup Final two years in a row is a heck of a lot easier said than done.

Keep in mind the NHL has not had a repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. It has only had two repeat champions since 1990 (the Red Wings, and the 1991 and 1992 Penguins). Only six teams have even made it to the Finals in back-to-back years. It is a grueling task that requires not only a talented, well-coached team that is playing well at the right time of year, but also a lot of luck.

And luck is not just limited to puck luck or getting the right bounces. It is also about having the right matchups and having the right players healthy all at the same time.

All of that seemed to be working against the Penguins this postseason in what has been a run that has, in a lot of ways, defied the odds. Not only did they have to get through two of the top-three teams in the NHL this season in the first two rounds, but they had to do it with an injury list that seemed to grow by the day, leaving them with what was at times an undermanned defense.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan talked extensively about their journey so far after their Game 7 win on Thursday night.

“It’s been hard. It’s been a really hard playoffs, and I give this group of players so much credit,” Said Sullivan. “They find ways to win, and we’re not perfect on some nights by any stretch. But this group of players has a will to win as a group more so than any other group I’ve been around.”

“I think it starts with the leadership group we have. We’ve got a group of veteran players. I think they have a certain perspective that they understand the opportunity to play this deep and compete for the Stanley Cup doesn’t come around every year. And when it does, when a team like ours puts itself in the position like we have, we have to maximize this opportunity. It’s a great opportunity. And our veteran guys know it. They’ve been around the game a long time, and they understand when they have something special, and we believe we have that with the chemistry of this team. We did it last year, and we’re finding ways to do it again this year. But it’s hard to win. This is the hardest trophy in sports, in my mind. It’s a war of attrition. And I don’t think any team has endured more injuries than this group of players has endured, and we continue to find ways to win.”

The injury situation has been especially brutal.

After entering the playoffs without their best defenseman (Kris Letang), forcing the team into a defense-by-committee approach that is almost unheard of for teams going this deep into the playoffs, they have also had to spend time without Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley for stretches.

All of that, combined with the daunting path through two of the NHL’s best teams, resulted in a style of play that has not been quite as consistently impressive as their run a year ago.

Until Game 4 of their series against the Senators the Penguins had been dominated on the shot chart and were bleeding chances against, spending the entire postseason to that point defending and relying heavily on the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury to get through.

“I mean, just the competition,” said Chris Kunitz, the Game 7 hero on Thursday night when asked about the different challenges they have faced this year.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. It’s tough to overcome them, or sustain maybe that pressure that we had last year. It felt like we were in more of a flow. This year it’s been back and forth. It’s been tough,” he continued. “We’ve had great individual performances. We had great goaltending. It’s something every night. We haven’t dominated the play that maybe we wanted to. Maybe we’ve done a better job these last couple of games. But it’s something we’re going to have to get better at playing a 60-minute game if we’re going to have a chance to beat Nashville.”