After a long, drawn out summer stalemate punctuated by veiled threats and preparations to start the season without their number one defenseman, the Los Angeles Kings have reportedly agreed to a new contract with restrict free agent Drew Doughty, according to numerous sources Thursday night. At $56 million over eight years, Doughty will become the third-highest paid defenseman in the NHL.
“Let’s go win some Cups,” vowed Kings’ Chief Executive Tim Leiweke, clearly thrilled to get whom he had previously termed “the cornerstone of the franchise” under contract for the next eight years.
The Kings stepped on the gas this summer, trading for former Philadelphia Flyer star centerman Mike Richards and inking free agent sniper Simon Gagne to a two-year, $7 million deal. Arguably, the most important piece of the puzzle was the one who became a Kings fan when Wayne Gretzky donned the silver-and-black in the mid-1990’s. According to an ESPN report, Doughty’s room growing up was a shrine to the Kings, with old jerseys of Gretzky and Kelly Hrudey affixed to the wall, Gretzky posters pinned to another and Kings paraphernalia including a pillowcase and phone scattered around the room.
Line in the sand erased
Kings’ General Manager Dean Lombardi had repeatedly stated that the Doughty contract would not exceed the average annual salary of Anze Kopitar, who has five years and $37.6 million remaining on his contract, with a cap hit of $6.8 million. Lombardi was also seeking to sign the defenseman to upwards of a nine-year term. Reportedly, Doughty (represented by agent Don Meehan) was seeking an annual salary in excess of $7 million, with a somewhat shorter term. Given the differences between the two sides and Lombardi having publicly announced the team had made its “best” offer, a solution to the impasse did not appear to be in sight as recently as a few days ago.
The end game, however, may have begun as early as August 3rd, when Predators’ defenseman Shea Weber was awarded a one-year, $7.5 million contract in arbitration. Weber, although six years’ Doughty’s senior, has often been cited as a potential comparable to the young defenseman. Nevertheless, the situation dragged on for nearly two more months before Lombardi finally raised the ante, breaking the stalemate between the two sides.
Fans were almost uniformly on the side of management during the impasse. On the popular Kings’ message board LetsGoKings.com, posters expressed strong sentiment that $6.8 million per year was more than fair, especially considering Doughty’s slightly-regressive second season (40 points, after being nominated for the Norris Trophy with a 59 point sophomore season). However, fans are a forgiving breed, and the reaction upon hearing the news was euphoric, particularly given the extended length of the deal.
Hitting the ice
Doughty will undergo a physical on Friday in El Segundo, and should see ice time in Los Angeles’ exhibition game Saturday in Las Vegas versus the Colorado Avalanche, an annual event dubbed “Frozen Fury”. He had been working out in London, Ontario with the hometown Knights.
A big season is expected
Given the team’s rising status over the past two years and with Doughty back in the fold, anticipation of a success campaign in Los Angeles is as high as it’s been since the Gretzky era. Terry Murray called the team “a much better hockey club today than what it was the first year I got here”, and many pundits have pegged the Kings as co-favorite with the Sharks to win the Pacific Division. With Richards, Gagne and now Doughty in hand — and let’s not forget about the inimitable Colin Fraser while we’re at it — the Gretzky statue in Los Angeles might finally portend great things to come after a long, dark period that lasted pretty close to 40 years, with a blip or two of success in between. Better late than never.