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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.

US routs Norway 9-3 at hockey worlds, Czechs blank France

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HERNING, Denmark (AP) — Captain Patrick Kane scored two goals for the second straight game and added an assist to lead the United States to a 9-3 victory over Norway for its sixth straight win at the ice hockey world championship on Sunday.

The Czech Republic beat France 6-0 for its second consecutive shutout.

Kane scored with a slap shot from the right circle on a power play to open the scoring and added another power play goal almost from the same spot for a 2-0 lead.

The forward leads the tournament with 15 points for five goals and 10 assists.

“A good performance by the team tonight,” Kane said. “We had a lot of different guys to contribute and chip in, which is good to see, and give us a lot of confidence going into the next game against Finland.”

Dylan Larkin and Cam Atkinson had a goal and a couple assists, Charlie McAvoy got a goal and an assist in another high-scoring victory for the U.S.

“Our goal is to keep winning, to keep getting better,” Atkinson said.

Alec Martinez, Anders Lee, Colin White and Neal Pionk had a goal apiece.

Norway got its goals from Kristian Forsberg, Ken Andre Olimb and Mathis Olimb.

David Pastrnak and Roman Horak had two goals each and Dmitrij Jaskin and Martin Necas contributed one each for the Czechs.

Goaltender David Rittich stopped 10 shots for the shutout.

The United States tops Group B in Herning with 16 points, four more than Finland that plays Germany later Sunday.

Denmark has 11 points in third followed by Canada on 10, which has played one game less. Norway remains on three points.

The Czechs are third in Group A in Copenhagen with 12 points. Sweden leads with 14 points, a point ahead of Russia in second. Switzerland is fourth with nine and plays Sweden later.

Golden Knights vs. Kings: PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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On one side, you have one of the teams of this generation, a Los Angeles Kings squad with two Stanley Cup victories on its resume. On the other, you have the brand-new Vegas Golden Knights, an expansion franchise riding a magical run to a Pacific Division title during their first season.

If that’s not a sexy enough narrative to build intrigue, consider the clashing styles.

While the Kings have opened things up since moving on from Darryl Sutter, they’re still a button-downed team, they still allowed the fewest goals in the NHL this season (202). Meanwhile, the Golden Knights have hit the ground running. Whether you think they’re for real or that their pixie dust is running out, there’s little denying that Vegas pushes the pedal to the metal. Few teams push the pace like Vegas, so it’s little surprise that the Golden Knights finished in the top five in scoring.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Golden Knights broke just about every record imaginable for an expansion team, especially in the NHL. They finished the season with a 51-24-7 record for 109 standings points, trailing only Nashville and Winnipeg in the West.

Despite Jeff Carter missing a big portion of 2017-18, the Kings secured the West’s first wild card spot after missing the playoffs last season and seeing massive front office changes. Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty carried the Kings to a 45-29-8 record for 98 points.

It’s true that Vegas finished 11 points ahead of Los Angeles, yet they were closely matched during head-to-head meetings. The Golden Knights won the first two games of their season series (Nov. 19 in regulation, Dec. 28 in overtime) and then the Kings won the last two (Feb. 26 in OT, regulation win one day later).

Let’s break down what could be the least predictable series of the first round.

SCHEDULE

FORWARDS

Vegas: The Golden Knights combined two parts former Panthers (Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault) and a light-scoring former Blue Jacket (William Karlsson) to form one of the deadliest lines in the NHL. Karlsson topped the Golden Knights with a stunning 43-goal, 78-point season. Marchessault wasn’t far behind, while Smith was very productive but limited a bit by injuries.

Like Karlsson, Erik Haula enjoyed the season of his life – or a huge breakthrough? – by scoring 29 goals and 55 points.

More familiar faces rounded things out nicely. James Neal extended his streak of 20+ goal-seasons with 25, while David Perron finished third on the team with 66 points. Motivation has been an asset for Vegas all season long, and Karlsson, Perron, and Neal rank among the forwards who still have new contracts to earn.

Los Angeles: Anze Kopitar likely deserves more Hart buzz than he gets, but then again, isn’t that often the story with the Kings’ perennial Selke candidate? He generated a whopping 92 points, blowing away his previous career-high of 81. The second-closest Kings scorer among forwards was Dustin Brown, who rode shotgun with Kopitar to a redemptive 61-point season. Three Kings forwards passed 20 goals in 2017-18: Kopitar (35), Brown (28), and Tyler Toffoli (24).

That said, Jeff Carter was certainly on pace to do so. Despite being limited to 27 games played, Carter scored 13 goals and nine assists for 22 points.

Advantage: Golden Knights, although Kopitar is most likely to be the best forward on the ice.

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DEFENSEMEN

Vegas: The beauty of the expansion experience is that players received the best opportunities of their NHL careers, and that seemed especially true on defense. Colin Miller (41 points, 19:20 minutes per game), Nate Schmidt (36 points, 22:14 ATOI), Shea Theodore (29 points, 20:21 ATOI), Deryk Engelland (23 points, 20:16 ATOI), and Brayden McNabb (15 points, 20:09 ATOI) all enjoyed some of the best work of their careers.

As a group, they enabled Gerard Gallant to unleash the hounds without suffering too much in their own end.

Kings: Released from the shackles of Sutter’s system, Drew Doughty generated 60 points this season, the best output of his impressive career. Doughty earns his hype, while the Kings also employ two underrated blueliners in Jake Muzzin (42 points, strong possession stats) and Alec Martinez (25 points, though with shaky possession numbers). As mentioned earlier, the Kings limited opponents scoring thanks to some great high-end players.

Depth might be something the Golden Knights can exploit, though. Dion Phaneuf generated OK offense since joining the Kings (10 points in 26 games), but the big-name defenseman continues to leak chances. If Vegas can force Los Angeles into trading blows rather than slowing things down, it could be a long couple of weeks for players like Phaneuf. That’s especially true if Muzzin can’t play due to injuries.

Advantage: Kings. Few defensemen are prepared to log huge minutes at a high level like Doughty, who’s easily the best defenseman in this series.

GOALIES

Vegas: What a weird year of goalies for Vegas, especially since they generally did such a great job weathering all the turbulence. Five different netminders suited up for Las Vegas, as Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban both suffered through injuries, occasionally at the same time.

Fleury generated the best save percentage of his career, posting a .927 mark while going 29-13-4 in 46 games. He’d be getting serious consideration for the Vezina if injuries didn’t railroad the quantity to go with all of that quality.

“MAF” has quietly been impressive, for the most part, lately. He’s generated a .920 or better season in three of his last four campaigns. Even last year (.909 save percentage), Fleury helped the Penguins with excellent postseason work.

Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick enjoyed one of the best years of his career, going 33-28-3 with a strong .921 save percentage.

Much like Fleury, Quick has been a polarizing goalie. Analytics-minded fans have often criticized Quick, while mainstream pundits sometimes exaggerate his accomplishments. In 2017-18, Quick earned the accolades.

Advantage: Golden Knights. Fleury’s generated better numbers this season and in recent years. Both goalies have plenty of postseason experience, so they have the confidence of their teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Vegas: The Golden Knights’ power play generated 53 goals, gave up five shorthanded tallies, and enjoyed a 21.4-percent success rate (tied for eighth in the NHL). Their PK gave up 44 goals while scoring eight shorties, killing 81.4 percent of their penalties (tied for 10th). Overall, special teams is a net positive (+12) for Vegas.

Los Angeles: The Kings topped the NHL by killing 85 percent of their penalties, while their 39 power-play goals allowed was second-best in the NHL (Los Angeles also scored five shorthanded goals). Los Angeles scored 49 power-play goals and allowed four shorthanded goals, generating a PP% of 20.4 (tied for 17th). Consider that a net positive of +10.

Advantage: Kings. The Golden Knights get the nod for balance, but it’s tough to ignore the fact that the Kings boast one of the best penalty kill units in the NHL. Like many facets of this series, it’s close.

X-FACTORS

Vegas: You’d think that the Kings will be on their best behavior but …

/Cuts to a shot of a car rolling into Sin City, with bright lights blinking and casinos never sleeping. Vince Vaughn may be in this montage.

Home-ice advantage could be significant for Vegas. The question is: how significant will it be?

Los Angeles: Normally, when you hear the word “experience” thrown around, it’s tough to resist rolling your eyes.

You can keep a straight face this time. The Kings have two Cups to their name, and in each case, they didn’t exactly set the NHL on fire during the regular season. (This is a team with two championship banners and zero division titles during that run, after all.)

The Golden Knights are in their first season against a team that knows all about the pressures, the grind, and the matchups that come with playoff hockey. Maybe that veteran edge will allow the Kings to control the tempo?

PREDICTION

Kings in six games. The Golden Knights are the ultimate underdogs, so why not keep that going by doubting them even though they won their division and hold home-ice advantage against Los Angeles? This could be a weird one, even by first-round standards.

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.

Rocket Richard race: Jets’ Patrik Laine to miss time with bruised foot

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The Winnipeg Jets received some good news about Patrik Laine on Thursday. After leaving Tuesday’s win over the Los Angeles Kings after blocking an Alec Martinez shot, the 19-year-old Finnish sniper could miss only between four and 14 days, according to head coach Paul Maurice.

“There’s nothing broken and he’s got a bruise,” he said. “When he gets his foot in the boot and feels comfortable, he’ll be back playing.”

That Laine isn’t expected to miss any time once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin next month is great news for the Jets, who are pretty much locked into that No. 2 seed in the Central Division. What’s a shame is that this injury could derail his chances at the Rocket Richard Trophy.

With nine games to go in the regular season, Laine is one goal back (44-43) of Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who have also played 73 games. The Jets forward began a scoring surge in the middle of February that’s resulted in 18 goals in his last 16 games, vaulting him up the list of the NHL’s top goal scorers and right on the heels of Ovechkin.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Maurice emphasized that they’re going to take their time in letting Laine heal. He’s not only a huge threat at even strength but also on a third-ranked power play (23.3 percent) that has seen him score 19 times with the extra man. No use rushing him back until he’s 100 percent ready to go and can continue to be dangerous once the playoffs begin.

“We don’t know how quick these things drain. It’s not really about pain tolerance. We’ll give it a few days,” he said. “We want him to be able to skate, we want him to be able to play and in the situation that we’re in, we don’t want him hobbling around the ice. We want him to be able to move pretty comfortably, so we’ll take as much time as we need until we get to that point. I just can’t give you the day.”

With files from Scott Billeck

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Tobias RiederAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Tanner PearsonJeff CarterTrevor Lewis
Kyle CliffordAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Andy AndreoffNate ThompsonTorrey Mitchell

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Alec MartinezDion Phaneuf
Jake MuzzinChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

[NHL on NBCSN: Kings, Wild continue pursuit of important points]

WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET

WILD
Jason ZuckerEric StaalNino Niederreiter
Zach PariseMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Tyler EnnisMatt CullenCharlie Coyle
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik

Ryan SuterMatt Dumba
Jonas Brodin – Ryan Murphy
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk