Jim Neveau, Senior NHL Columnist
All summer long, a drama has been brewing in Hollywood that is threatening to shape the course of coming events in a big way. No, we’re not talking about the long-awaited finale to the HBO show “Entourage”. The saga being discussed here is the one revolving around Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who is seeking a new contract from the team since he’s a restricted free agent. He is looking for a significant raise from the nearly $3.5 million he made in the 2010-11 season, but according to reports that surfaced today, he may be looking for a raise that is bigger than anyone could have anticipated.
According to Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.ca, Doughty has declined a nine-year, $61.2 million contract from the Kings. He also has turned down others offers besides this generous one, according to Kypreos, and reactions of shock cascaded throughout the internets. The $6.8 million salary he would have earned with this contract would have made him the team’s highest paid defenseman by $2.5 million over Jack Johnson, who just signed an extension earlier this year, and would tie him with Anze Kopitar as the highest paid player on the team.
Before we get to whether or not Doughty was nuts to turn down that kind of money, let’s take a quick peek at his career stats. He has respectable numbers on offense, scoring 33 goals and dishing out 93 assists in 239 career games. Last season he was eighth on the team in scoring, bagging 40 points. He has been even better in the playoffs, scoring five goals and adding six assists in 12 career postseason contests. Needless to say, Doughty is a solid performer on both sides of the ice, and so he definitely has to figure prominently in the Kings’ future plans.
Among the multitude of questions that this latest development brings up is a simple one: how on Earth can Doughty have turned down such a deal? It is highly unlikely that he would get an offer that’s any better than this one, whether it be from the Kings or on the open market, and to turn down that kind of money after only having been in the league suggests either some serious hubris or a lack of common sense. Either way, it is a surprise that Doughty would spurn that type of offer, and it leaves both him and the Kings in an interesting position.
The issue that’s arisen now is where the Kings will go from here with their offer. Assuming that the report by Kypreos is true, are the Kings going to ratchet up the dollars to make Doughty their highest paid player? Will they sign him to a one year contract a la Alexander Semin or Zach Parise? Or, as some have already begun to suggest, will they attempt to trade him since he has been thus far unwilling to sign?
There are two scenarios that are the most likely to play out at this point. Conventional wisdom would dictate that the team will likely cave and give him a slightly higher salary than the $6.8 million offered, but they will almost certainly lower the term on the deal. The fact of the matter is that Doughty is an extremely talented player, but he doesn’t have a very long track record with which to justify giving him a big deal. He is looking for elite level defenseman money, and while that’s all well and good in a sport where you have to strike while the iron’s hot financially, he simply hasn’t done enough to be the highest paid player on a team, much less one like the Kings, who already have a ton of salary on the books for many years to come.
If that is the route that the Kings choose to take, you’re probably going to be looking at a deal of four to five years in length, with the money probably working out to around $7.2 million a season. Paying a guy with only three years of NHL experience more than Anze Kopitar is not something that Kings GM Dean Lombardi wants to do, but that might end up being what it takes to get him signed.
Of course, Doughty probably wouldn’t want to sign for such a brief period of time. He is likely looking for some long term security judging by the deal that Los Angeles offered him, but there is little reason to believe that his annual salary will exceed that $6.8 million threshold. Since that won’t be the case, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Doughty’s camp asked for a one-year contract to get him into the fold for the 2011-12 season, and to afford him the opportunity to re-sign with the team with a longer time frame to work with.
As for the possibility of Doughty being traded, it really doesn’t exist. There is no way that the Kings would be willing to part with a guy that they clearly feel is part of the future of their team, so barring an insanely lucrative offer for the defenseman, Drew isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and if he does, then there needs to be a Congressional investigation as to whether or not Lombardi lost his marbles.
Another minor possibility could be a holdout by the youngster. While it would be stunning to see something like that in today’s day and age, but if you’ll recall, Jack Ferreira, special assistant to the GM for the Kings, had some comments on this back in August. He told The Press-Enterprise “they don’t want to make a deal. They’re not ready to make a deal….I would not be surprised if he was a holdout.”
Those comments came a month ago, but if the team is taking things seriously enough to make statements in the media like that, then it could be a serious possibility. One thing to keep in mind, however, is something that Greg Wyshynski brought up in his piece on Ferreira’s comments: they could have just as easily been a negotiating ploy to make Doughty look like the bad guy. If the current reports of his rejection of the latest contract offer are true, however, then apparently those comments didn’t have that effect on his approach to these proceedings.
The Doughty contract saga may not be the only drama surrounding the Kings this off-season (the team’s battle with the Oilers over Colin Fraser being another), but it has put a bit of a damper over what largely has been a successful effort to revitalize the team. Bringing in Mike Richards gives the team some solid depth up the middle, and it has made them into a bona fide contender for the Pacific Division. Whatever way the Doughty situation turns out, there is one common theme that can be assigned to it: it has taken way too long in the eyes of fans in the City of Angels, and they won’t rest easy until #8 is back on the ice with his name on a freshly signed contract.
James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site’s NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.