What Doughty’s massive extension means for Kings, NHL

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The Los Angeles Kings announced an eight-year extension for star defenseman Drew Doughty days before it can become official.

While they didn’t confirm the money involved, the estimate is at about $88 million overall (or $11M per season), according to TSN’s Darren Dreger and LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen.

If accurate, Doughty will become the NHL’s highest-paid defenseman from a cap hit standpoint, as P.K. Subban‘s $9M currently represents the peak.

Of course, that’s where the fun starts, because Doughty is likely to have company in that range – if he isn’t surpassed – by Erik Karlsson. With that in mind, this contract carries massive implications, not just for the Kings or Doughty’s accountant, but also for other NHL defensemen and the league as a whole.

Let’s consider some of those impacts.

Kings take on another huge risk, arguably a necessary one

Los Angeles fired its primary architect when it let ex-GM Dean Lombardi go during the summer of 2017, yet his fingerprints remain all over this team. By handing this hearty extension to Drew Doughty, the Kings are tethered even more dramatically to this core group, for better or worse.

On one hand, still-relatively-new GM Rob Blake’s hands were tied. This team’s window to be competitive seemed like it was slammed shut heading into 2017-18, yet the team performed better than many expected, and they managed to make the playoffs. Doughty remains an absolutely vital piece to future bids to contend, right up there with Anze Kopitar.

And now he has the contract to match Kopitar.

Consider the massive amount of term and money devoted to players who are either in the waning years of their primes, or have already regressed. These are the guys who are least 30 years old and locked up for three or more seasons:

Doughty, 28, extension will kick in starting in 2019-20. $11M (approx.) per year through 2026-27.
Kopitar, 30, $10M cap hit through 2023-24.
Ilya Kovalchuk, 35, $6.25M through 2020-21
Dustin Brown, 33, $5.875M through 2021-22
Jonathan Quick, 32, $5.8M through 2022-23
Jeff Carter, 33, $5.272M through 2021-22
Dion Phaneuf, 33, $5.25M through 2020-21
Alec Martinez, 30, $4M through 2020-21

No doubt about it, Drew Doughty is still an elite defenseman today. He should be once his extension kicks in at age 29.

That said, in the four seasons since the Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup, they failed to win a single playoff series and missed the postseason twice. Those disappointing outcomes came with younger versions of those core players.

Kings management is taking a massive gamble that those players can play at or near that level for at least the early parts of Doughty’s extension. Even worthwhile gambles like signing Kovalchuk come with obvious risks, as he’s the oldest of that bunch and hasn’t tasted NHL action in a long, long time.

Yeah, this plan isn’t for the risk-averse.

Setting a new bar

Considering how the Ottawa Senators bought out Alex Burrows for relatively minimal savings, it sure feels like Erik Karlsson’s days are even more numbered after Doughty set a new standard for what a top defenseman could/should make.

(That smile you can almost feel is from GMs who signed their gems to better bargains earlier. As usual, Steve Yzerman is doing so, in this case thinking of Victor Hedman‘s $7.875M through 2024-25. Assuming everyone sticks to the plan, the Arizona Coyotes must be relieved that they chiseled something out with Oliver Ekman-Larsson before this deal was signed.)

It’s not just Karlsson who should be nodding in approval.

Despite this signing taking a big name out of the potentially robust 2019 Summer of Defensemen (and really good Columbus Blue Jackets), there are other interesting names. Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis is probably rubbing his chin thinking of what he might do with his megabucks, assuming his mountain man beard would permit it.

This deal could reverberate beyond the 2019 summer, too. Someone like Roman Josi (sorry Predators fans, it was a good run with cheap defensemen) must be smiling ear-to-ear to see that Doughty didn’t take a big hometown discount to stay in Los Angeles.

Oh, and thanks to how this may impact the future of Karlsson and others, the Doughty deal could also expedite the process for some big trades to stay ahead of the cap game.

In other words, this contract is almost as big for the rest of the NHL as it undoubtedly is for Doughty and the Kings. Will Los Angeles end up regretting this investment?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.