Getty

What Doughty’s massive extension means for Kings, NHL

10 Comments

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.

Ilya Kovalchuk, LA Kings agree to three-year deal

Getty Images
22 Comments

DALLAS — The Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes has come to an end and the Los Angeles Kings are the big winners.

As the second day of the 2018 NHL Draft got under way, the Kings announced they’ve agreed to terms on a three-year contract which carries a $6.25 million cap hit per season.

“We are excited to add Ilya to the LA Kings organization. He gives us an added element of skill and scoring along with a desire to win. We will withhold further comment until July 1,” said Kings general manager Blake.

Kovalchuk last played in the NHL during the 2013 season before retiring to go play in the KHL. While he was “retired” the Devils still held his rights until his 35th birthday this past April. Any attempts to make a comeback prior to turning 35 meant that teams would have had to go through the Devils to make a deal.

After leaving New Jersey, Kovalchuk spent the last five seasons with SKA St. Petersburg helping them win two Gagarin Cups. This past February, he lead the Olympic Athletes From Russia to a gold medal at the Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“We just want him to do exactly what [Alex] Ovechkin does,” Kings president Luc Robitaille told Lisa Dillman of The Athletic.

“We made a big effort. We showed him we’re trying to improve our scoring. He’s as pure a goal-scorer as you’ve seen. We explained that to him and walked him through our team.

“We made the best pitch we could, knowing he was the one guy available that you didn’t have to give up anything to get.”

It was eight years ago that the Kings tried to acquire Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers before the Devils stepped in with a better offer. According to ESPN, the Thrashers GM wanted Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson and Wayne Simmonds in return, but then-Kings GM Dean Lombardi refused to give up those young pieces in return.

There were a number of teams in the Kovalchuk hunt this time as well, with many pegging the San Jose Sharks as favorites. GM Doug Wilson did a good job of clearing cap space in order to present an enticing offer for the Russian forward, but now the can shift their focus to John Tavares, if he decides to explore the market.

————

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.

Kovalchuk would be fantastic fit for Kings, Sharks

Getty
15 Comments

TSN’s Darren Dreger presented a fascinating update in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes: the 35-year-old is making a tour of California, meeting with the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

(Side question: does this mean Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray is just on vacation or something?)

Now, there’s no telling how interested Kovalchuk would be in signing with either team.

That said, it’s not that difficult to imagine both teams being of some interest to the veteran sniper. Kovalchuk is reportedly weighing winning more than getting the biggest paycheck possible, so it’s worth noting that both teams made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and each franchise appears to be in win-now modes. Each squad boasts lengthy recent histories of success that surely registered to Kovalchuk during his time in the NHL, too.

Oh yeah, the weather’s also nice around those areas. That cannot hurt.

Let’s consider the other vantage point, then, and daydream about how much Kovalchuk could potentially help the Kings or Sharks.

A dream combo in their twilight

The Sharks have money to burn this off-season, even with some RFAs to re-sign, such as Tomas Hertl. An unclear cap ceiling and a probable Paul Martin buyout make their exact ceiling tough to gauge, but even after retaining Evander Kane at a hefty fee, the Sharks boast a fat wallet.

Let’s assume that the Sharks a) fall short in the John Tavares sweepstakes but b) bring back Joe Thornton and sign Kovalchuk.

For hockey fans of a certain age, it would feel a lot like a generation’s Adam Oates being united with Brett Hull, albeit past their primes. (So maybe this would be akin to Hull joining Oates when the latter almost won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks?)

While you’ll get dissenters, combining the greatest passer of his time (Thornton) with the deadliest pure shooter (Kovalchuk) would feel like a fantasy hockey dream come true. Granted, that fantasy hockey dream would be from 2008, but it would probably still be a blast in 2018-19.

Hockey teaches us that those dream scenarios don’t always play out on the ice. Maybe Kovalchuk would mix better with Logan Couture. Perhaps the Sharks would rather load up Thornton with Kane and Joe Pavelski. There are probably even hypotheticals where San Jose moves the two around to try to put together three dangerous lines. And so on.

Considering how strong the Sharks looked with Thornton on the shelf, and how they have great assets including defensemen Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, it isn’t difficult to picture Kovalchuk to San Jose being mutually beneficial.

(And, hey, the Sharks have a history of landing some significant Russian players, right down to their early days.)

Speaking of delayed matches …

Speaking of Kovalchuk during his prime, it was no secret that the Kings were in hot pursuit of the winger when he hit the free agent market. Some would argue that his decision boiled down to the Kings or the New Jersey Devils.

The “What if?” scenarios are pretty fun there, as the Kings captured two Stanley Cups, including one by edging a Devils team that leaned heavily upon Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

As much as Los Angeles hopes to modernize post-Darryl Sutter, the truth is that this franchise likely still values winning now over any true notion of a rebuild. Anze Kopitar‘s $10 million cap hit runs through 2023-24, Jonathan Quick‘s deal is only one year shorter, and they’re on the hook for multiple years of Dustin Brown still. For better or worse, they may also extend Drew Doughty to a lengthy deal this summer.

Seeking free agent fixes could very well be the Kings’ path for some time, and few opportunities seem as promising as adding Kovalchuk, even at 35.

The most enjoyable scenario if they landed him:

  • After logging around Brown and Alex Iafallo last season, Kopitar could set up reams of quality scoring chances for Kovalchuk, a player who would ideally be far more capably of burying such chances.
  • Meanwhile, a healthy Jeff Carter skates with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, giving the Kings a truly dangerous one-two punch of scoring lines.

Now, it wouldn’t be shocking if Carter mixed better with Kovalchuk. (The fact that they’re both such dangerous shooters could really open up passing lanes, amusingly enough.)

Either way, a productive and useful Kovalchuk would be a boon for the Kings. Honestly, I’d argue that the Kings would want Kovalchuk more than the other way around … which is consistent with their feelings a decade ago, apparently?

***

The bottom line is that all Kovalchuk talk is speculation, as he cannot sign with an NHL team until July.

So, yes, these discussions are largely hypothetical. That’s really part of the fun, though, as imagining possible outcomes sometimes ends up being more entertaining than boring old reality.

Draft weekend maneuverings could very well alter the landscape and force a single, no-brainer choice for Kovalchuk. As of this writing, there would be a lot to like about the Sharks or Kings signing Kovalchuk, though.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: How Caps could have kept Schmidt; tough ice in Vegas

Getty
1 Comment
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• If your team is looking to sign a great right winger in free agency, they may be in trouble. Sportsnet looks at the 10 best right wingers that are scheduled to hit the market. (Sportsnet)

• It was a tough year for the Montreal Canadiens, so don’t expect them to part ways with the third overall pick. (NHL.com)

Johan Franzen‘s wife opens up about the difficulties the former Red Wing is having with post-concussion syndrome. Sad story. (FranzenResidence.com)

• The outcome of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final will affect Alex Ovechkin‘s legacy. (New York Times)

• There’s no doubt that losing Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft was a huge blow for the Caps, but keeping him would have been too costly. (Washington Post)

• Why does the Kings’ Stanley Cup ring have a “#FTF” on it? Dustin Brown explains in the latest edition of “Beyond the Ice”. (NHL.com/Kings)

• Former Leafs captain Mats Sundin has some words of advice for the organization as they continue their search for the next captain. “It would be easy to say Auston, he should be the captain. Saying that, it has to be a player and a person that wants to carry that responsibility and actually play better wearing the ‘C’.” (Toronto Sun)

• It won’t be easy, but the Capitals need to adjust to the difficult ice conditions in Vegas. (NBC Sports Washington)

• If Game 1 taught us anything, it’s that the Golden Knights are able to play their game whether they’re ahead, tied or behind. (SinBin. Vegas)

• Now that his hockey career is over, Radim Vrbata will head back to the Czech Republic. He’s also planning on taking the next year totally off. (Arizona Sports)

• A number of people are disappointed that USA Hockey hired John Vanbiesbrouck as assistant director for hockey operations years after he directed a racial slur at Trevor Daley. (Color of Hockey)

• Speaking of the Vegas ice, the heat in Nevada has already started causing problems for the ice crew. (TSN)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Hall, Kopitar, MacKinnon are 2018 Hart Trophy finalists

Getty Images
7 Comments

Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils, Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Hart Trophy, given to “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”

The award, voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, will be handed out on June 20 at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas.

Hall and MacKinnon are also up for the Ted Lindsay Award, which is given to the “most outstanding player in the regular season” and voted on by members of the NHL Players’ Association.

The Hart Trophy race was an intriguing one this season and narrowing it down to a final three is certainly a tough task. Other than Hall, Kopitar and MacKinnon, you could have made cases for Claude Giroux, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, and maybe even a few more depending on your definition of “value” to ones team.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Taylor Hall: The Devils forward finished seventh in goals (39) and sixth in points (93) while helping lead the team to a 27-point improvement and back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years. How valuable was Hall to his team? He finished 41 points ahead of teammate Nico Hischier. Among his season highlights included a streak that saw him record a point in 26 consecutive appearances, as well as a 19-game point streak. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Brian Boyle said earlier this month. “It just seems like you’re on the bench and thinking to yourself, ‘We need a play here,’ and he seems to make it every time.”

The Case for Anze Kopitar: Already a Selke Trophy finalist, the Kings forward had an incredible bounce-back season in 2017-18 with career highs in goals (35), assists (57) and points (92). In reaching the 90-point mark, Kopitar became the team’s first player to hit that total since Wayne Gretzky in 1993-94. Like Hall, Kopitar was a big offensive force for LA, finishing 31 points ahead of his next-closest teammate, Dustin Brown, who ended the year with 61 points.

The Case for Nathan MacKinnon: A career season ends with MVP consideration for MacKinnon, who led the Avs with 39 goals and 97 points as they posted a 47-point improvement that ended with a postseason return. Only McDavid (1.32) had a better points per game average than the 22-year-old forward (1.31), who recorded 13 three-point games this season.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Ted Lindsay Award

Jack Adams Award

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award
King Clancy Trophy
Calder Trophy

Bill Masterton Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

————

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.