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.)

2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class to be named Monday; Selanne + who?

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The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class is expected to be announced on Monday, and every indication is that Teemu Selanne will be on the list. Beyond that, well, there are a lot of question marks.

NHL.com notes that there’s at least a possibility that Selanne will be the only NHL name to be part of this class, which would mark a first since 2010 (when Dino Ciccarelli was the lone addition).

It’s a nice way to continue what’s been a buffet for hockey fans: the 2017 Stanley Cup Final’s conclusion, the expansion draft and then the 2017 NHL Draft. The HHOF announcements are nice appetizer before free agency gets, well, frenzied?

“The Finnish Flash” was also an obvious top choice in last year’s poll to see who should be in the class.

Now, that doesn’t mean he is the only interesting name.

For one thing, Daniel Alfredsson will be eligible for the first time, much like Selanne. “Alf” falls in the “Maybe” category with some interesting, debatable other options: Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Chris Osgood, and more.

The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class included Eric Lindross, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov, and Pat Quinn.

Florida Panthers aren’t afraid to change, but will they actually improve?

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Change is often a necessary thing in sports, and the results can be swift and brutal. There’s a fine line between rolling with the punches and blindly swinging, however.

The Florida Panthers’ history as a franchise makes you wonder if they’ll ever find the right balance between stability and innovation. Amid all these years of flip-flopping and regime tweaks, there may only be one unsettling constant: the on-ice product being middling-to-terrible.

Just look at the way they burn through coaches.

Six of their 14 head coaches were behind the bench for fewer than 82 games, including Tom Rowe, who was seemingly thrown out with the analytical approach last season.

Their GMs haven’t fared much better. Dale Tallon’s probably received the longest leash of them all, and this past year or so made a mess of that situation. And it’s arguable that things have only degraded as Tallon aims to clean up supposed “messes.”

The Panthers didn’t just lose cheap 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas; they also shipped Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights. Smith was a golden boy of sorts to the more stats-leaning members of the franchise, and while he struggled last season, it sure seemed like the Panthers were eager to get rid of him.

The same could be said about Jason Demers.

MORE: Welcome Demers to the trade rumor mill

As abrupt as the Gerard Gallant firing felt, the Panthers didn’t necessarily give the analytical approach much time. At least from an “optics” standpoint.

Now, parting ways with Marchessault, Smith, and possibly Demers may end up being reasonable in hindsight. Still, there’s no denying that Tallon made some mistakes in his stead; the “computer boys” didn’t sign an atrocious Dave Bolland contract and didn’t pick Erik Gudbranson over superior talent.

The bottom line is that the Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since John Vanbiesbrouck led them to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. There’s legitimate concern that this franchise will keep making the same mistakes – and keep changing the cooks in the kitchen – while the results leave much to be desired.

Will Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau share the same frustrating path as Jay Bouwmeester and others before them?

This summer could serve as a serious fork in the road, as Tallon has some building blocks in place and an estimated $20 million in cap space. Even if the Panthers remain a budget team, they’re likely to have some room to work with.

Perhaps they’ll finally make the right changes?

Related

Panthers look to be aggressive in adding scoring

Devils will give top pick Hischier a chance to make team right away

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There’s at least some question regarding whether Nico Hischier is ready to jump straight from being the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft to becoming an immediate part of the New Jersey Devils’ roster.

If he went back to junior, it would break a lengthy trend of No. 1 choices going to the big time right away.

Devils GM Ray Shero seems pretty optimistic that he can handle that jump, though, as you can see from this presser via MSG:

MORE: Devils pick Hischier over Patrick

As one would expect, Shero said that the Devils won’t rush him if it’s “apparent” that the Swiss-born forward isn’t ready. Still, Shero seems convinced that Hischier has the size, skill, and smarts to earn a spot.

Much like Nolan Patrick with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hischier didn’t deny that he wants to make the big time right off the bat.

“Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s my goal, so it is important for sure,” Hischier said on draft night. “I really want to achieve my goal, but I still know I have to prove a lot of things to play there.”

Hey, maybe Taylor Hall could even ease his adjustment?

Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

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Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

/waits

Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.