Drew Doughty’s quiet climb back to stardom

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What happened to Drew Doughty?

For a hearty chunk of the 2011-12 season, it was an unavoidable question that followed the Los Angeles Kings defenseman. After a protracted contract negotiation that essentially robbed him of training camp, Doughty sputtered. In his first 19 games (through October and November), Doughty managed just two goals and seven points. Worse yet, he just didn’t seem to carry that “dynamic” air that forced the Kings to hand him an eight-year, $56 million deal before he turned 22.

A different kind of Phaneuf’d

Considering his (relatively) modest 40-point contract year last season, it was tough to shake the feeling that he was going down Dion Phaneuf’s path. While Phaneuf isn’t a “bust” by any means, most would admit that he’s fallen well short of the next Chris Pronger/Scott Stevens-type hype he initially generated. To some degree, it seemed like Doughty was regressing in a similar fashion.

The playoffs’ best blueliner

Maybe Darryl Sutter steered Doughty back in the right direction or everything simply began falling into place. Whatever the case may be, if the NHL handed out a “Norris Trophy” in the playoffs, Doughty would be a no-brainer (all apologies to Bryce Salvador and perhaps Dan Girardi). Doughty is tied with Salvador for second in playoff scoring among defensemen with 11 points (one behind Girardi) but he’s done so in 15 games compared to 19 for Salvador and 20 for Girardi. Doughty is averaging 26+ minutes per game as he gets surprisingly little credit for the Kings’ stingy ways.

While plus/minus is a faulty stat, it’s worth noting that Doughty is a +12 and is another bullet point in the argument that Doughty is just as – or at least almost – as big a reason for the Kings’ dominance as headline-hogging forwards Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar.

Slipping under the radar

Doughty’s brilliant turnaround has been overshadowed by a few factors. I’d guess that his two-season mini-slump dropped him a bit lower on peoples’ radars, for one. Also, with Brown/Kopitar and Jonathan Quick producing more highlight-friendly banter, Doughty’s dangerous point shots, playmaking savvy and underrated work in his own zone gets knocked off the marquee.

It’s also true that there isn’t the falling-off-cliff drop between Doughty and other Kings defensemen. Willie Mitchell is the only guy who approaches his time on ice totals, yet the defense corps is well-stocked with defense-first (Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene) guys and rising offensive blueliners (Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez). The fall from Doughty to, say, Voynov isn’t as severe as Zdeno Chara to (pick an unfortunate Bruins defenseman for comparison, really) because the team is so well-balanced. Everyone seems slotted in the Kings’ system well enough that it isn’t quite as obvious how important Doughty has been.

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Doughty’s rebound hasn’t been instantaneous, yet it feels necessary to highlight his work admit all the praise for the Kings’ other stars. It seems clear that we can truly call Doughty an “elite” defenseman again, which is great news for GM Dean Lombardi and a discouraging development for the rest of the NHL.

(And we might just have to celebrate that fact by handing him the Conn Smythe Trophy by the time this is all over.)

Canucks avoid arbitration with Boucher, Horvat remains RFA

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The Vancouver Canucks still have some work to do this summer, but at least none of their players will take part in salary arbitration hearings.

After coming to an agreement with Michael Chaput, the Canucks reached a one-year, $687,500 deal with forward Reid Boucher on Monday.

Boucher, 23, has 112 regular-season games under his belt. He spent most of his career (82 of 112 games) with the New Jersey Devils before bouncing to the Nashville Predators (3 games) and then the Canucks (27 games) last season. He averaged a little more than 12 minutes per night with the Canucks, much like with the Devils in 2016-17.

While the arbitration hearings are covered, the Canucks face two lingering RFA situations: Brendan Gaunce, and most importantly, Bo Horvat.

Coyotes sign Langhamer, so only Duclair needs a deal

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The Arizona Coyotes handed a one-year, two-way contract to goalie Marek Langhamer on Monday.

Langhamer would be paid $660K at the NHL level and $67,500 in the AHL, according to AZ Sports’ Craig Morgan.

Langhamer turned 23 on Saturday. He got about the smallest cup of coffee you could ask for with the Coyotes last season: he appeared in one game for 16 minutes, allowing a goal on eight shots.

It was quite the year for the Czech-born goalie, who played seven games in the ECHL and 25 in the AHL along with that brief NHL appearance. He also played in the AHL and ECHL during the 2015-16 season, so he’s been bouncing around.

As a seventh-rounder (184th overall in 2012), Langhamer likely doesn’t take opportunities for granted.

The netminding situation is interestingly fluid in Arizona. Both Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue stand ahead of Langhamer – at minimum – but those two only have one year remaining on their current deals. If nothing else, there’s likely a “prove it” vibe at multiple levels now that Mike Smith is in Calgary.

With Langhamer settled, the Coyotes only have one RFA left to sign, but it’s a tricky one with forward Anthony Duclair. When it came to Duclair, GM John Chayka kept it pretty vague with the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan.

“We’re still trying to determine the best value for the player and the team moving forward,” Chayka said.

Predators are one Johansen deal away from a salary cap work of art

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If you need to kill some time, play this game: which Nashville Predators contract is the biggest steal?

If Viktor Arvidsson is as much of a difference-maker as his limited NHL reps indicate, his $4.25 million cap hit over seven years is certainly in the running. Still, there are plenty of choices.

  • The defense alone is bargain-filled, making P.K. Subban‘s $9 million cap hit easy to stomach.

Ryan Ellis‘ $2.5 million cap hit doesn’t run out until after 2018-19. Mattias Ekholm‘s less of a “well-kept secret” following Nashville’s run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, yet his $3.75M steal runs through 2021-22. Roman Josi can be a bit polarizing but at $4M for three more seasons, it’s not controversial to say that he’s probably at least worth the money.

  • The offensive bargains begin with the top line.

Arvidsson has the makings of a legit first-line winger, and that deal is highly likely to be regrettable … for his agent and accountant.

Filip Forsberg‘s $6M isn’t as audacious as some of those defensive steals, but it’s still pretty nice. That total also makes it easier for the Predators to try to control costs for their one remaining big consideration: Ryan Johansen, who still needs a deal as an RFA.

  • Calle Jarnkrok is a pretty nifty get at $2M per season, especially if he grows with a contract that runs through 2021-22.
  • Scott Hartnell took quite the homecoming discount at $1M for 2017-18.
  • As you go deeper, the Predators enjoy some nice deals on players who are under ELC’s or second contracts: Kevin Fiala ($863K), Frederick Gaudreau ($667K), Ponuts Aberg ($650K) and Colton Sissons ($625K) could all be helpful contributors at low costs.

This tweet really sells the point, in case this post hasn’t: GM David Poile hasn’t been slowing down much since being named GM of the Year. And he might just be the best executive in the NHL right now.

  • It’s all pretty immaculate; even if you’re not a fan of Pekka Rinne, his $7 million cap hit expires in two seasons. By then, the Predators could very well transition to Juuse Saros, possibly echoing the Penguins with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray along the way.

Overall, it’s an enviable situation, as Nashville’s clean cap ranks with Pittsburgh and few others as the best-looking in the NHL. That’s especially true when you consider the fact that the Lightning are allocating $8.8 million to the shaky duo of former Rangers in Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.

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Still, the Predators aren’t done for the summer, as Johansen stands as a tricky situation. They don’t have the helpful deadline of arbitration looming, so the two sides are just going to have to figure something out … eventually.

Even so, Cap Friendly pegs them at $13.43 million in cap space, so they have room to work with their first-line center.

While teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks stocked up on high draft picks, the Predators’ greatest moves have largely come through shrewd drafting, savvy trades, and forward-thinking contract extensions. One can debate which setup is the best, but Poile’s work places Nashville in the upper crust, and their built to stay there for years to come.

Related: Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel could help Penguins compete for years.

Okposo to fans: ‘Thinking about your support brings a tear to my eye’

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In a lengthy and heartfelt letter, Kyle Okposo thanked the hockey community – especially but not only Buffalo Sabres fans and teammates – for their support after his hospitalization.

Okposo also shared some personal details about how a seemingly innocent hit affected his sleep and caused alarming weight loss, dropping him below 200 lbs. for the first time since he was 17. He said he checked into a hospital expecting to get help sleeping, only to go to ICU after a negative reaction to medication.

As scary as that experience was, it helped him put his career and life in perspective. Okposo also realized just how much fans, teammates, and people associated with the sport can help each other in times of need.

It’s a really great letter and worth reading in full (especially considering his praise for new Sabres management), but here’s one of the more inspiring excerpts:

When I turned my phone on, I had 500 messages waiting for me. Current players, former players, former coaches – everyone reached out. Even now, fans see me in Minnesota or Buffalo and say, ‘I’m just really glad you’re doing OK.’ It’s overwhelming, and it makes me proud to be a part of the hockey community. We’re a tight-knit group and we stick together. Thinking about your support brings a tear to my eye.

The messages from my Sabres teammates meant a lot in particular. I’ve only played with those guys for one year, with Matt Moulson being the exception, and we didn’t have the type of season that we wanted. The fact that all of them were so supportive through this shows that the bond between teammates really does transcend what happens on the ice.

Okposo noted that he appreciated playing in “Da Beauty League” last week, even though his team got “whacked.”

Read more about him being involved in that here, and how happy Zach Parise and others were to see him play in this article. Okposo also reaffirms the belief that he’ll be ready to go for Sabres training camp in that letter.