The Los Angeles Kings are a team that was built around defense. Their two Stanley Cup championships we were in part thanks to a stingy goalie, and an even stingier defensive core.
After the Kings’ championship in 2012, they lost Rob Scuderi. The next season, the Kings were able to rebound after that loss and made a deep run through the post season before eventually being eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.
The Kings’ most recent Stanley Cup championship played out much of the same way. A team composed of much of the same guys from 2012 marched through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning three game sevens on the road and hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years. Then came the offseason where they lost blue line center piece, Willie Mitchell.
Due to the team’s’ recent history, most thought the Kings would be able to handle the loss of another veteran who ate up big time minutes on the back end. Like the past, some of the younger players would step into bigger roles and be leaned on more and it would overall help in their progression. But in the end, the majority of the load fell onto the shoulders of one player, Drew Doughty.
On top of losing Mitchell during the offseason, the Kings defense fell victim to some things outside of their control. The first was Slava Voynov’s legal troubles. Voynov played just six games this season before he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. Voynov has not been on the ice for a game since.
The second was injuries. In the past, the Kings have managed to stay clear of the injury bug for the most part. This year was different. Alec Martinez missed about a month and a half of action because of a concussion he suffered in a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in early February. After watching the hit it’s really no surprise Martinez suffered a concussion, he got crushed.
Robyn Regehr suffered a hand injury when he blocked a shot during a 6-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues in December. Regehr went on to miss 15 games because of the injury. Jake Muzzin missed the first six games of the regular season because of an upper-body injury.
Andrej Sekera, who was brought in at the trade deadline to help on the blue line, only played in 16 games for the Kings after he was brought to Los Angeles. Sekera suffered a leg injury that kept him off the ice for the final six games of the regular season.
Outside of Doughty, the only other Kings’ defensemen that played in every game this season was Matt Greene. Behind Doughty and Greene was Muzzin with 76, Brayden McNabb with 71, Regehr with 67 and Martinez with 56 games played. These games lost to injury forced plenty of movement on the blue line for the Kings.
What was the answer to all of the holes and movement on the Kings’ blueline? Give Doughty more minutes.
To say Doughty led the Kings in ice-time is an understatement. Doughty capped off the regular season averaging just one second under 29 minutes at 28:59. Muzzin, Doughty’s defensive partner, finished the season with an average 22:41. That’s more than a seven minute difference between first and second. Regehr was the only other defenseman to crack the 20 minute threshold at 20:19.
Contributing to Doughty’s high nightly average was his work load on a nightly basis. Doughty played more than 34 minutes in a game against the Blues in December. He played between 33 and 34 minutes three times this season, 32 and 33 minutes five times, 31 and 32 minutes nine times and finally between 30 and 31 minutes 12 times. That’s a total of 30 games played where Doughty played more than 30 minutes of a game.
While most players would not be trusted with that heavy of a work load, those that would may not even be able to skate for over 30 minutes every game. But in the case of Doughty, he excelled with the heavy burden night in and night out.
Of course, this helped Doughty’s on ice production. The two-time Stanley Cup champion scored seven goals and recorded 46 points last season, his highest career point total outside of his second year in the NHL when he recorded 59 points. Even with a more defensive role than Doughty has had in the past, he was still able to be the effective puck-moving defenseman that the Kings drafted him to be.
Because of those offensive skills and the defensive responsibility in his game, Doughty has been nominated for the James Norris Memorial Trophy which is given to the top all-around player at the defenseman position. Doughty is going up against P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens an Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators.
Doughty proved this season that he can carry a heavy work load if needed. But a defenseman should be high on the Kings’ priority list this offseason in order to help Doughty next season and so on.