For almost a full year now, it has been reported that the Los Angeles Kings are looking to acquire a young, dynamic, left-shot defenseman. Many people have speculated that this player would be acquired to play alongside Drew Doughty, finally giving him an elite partner. While I understand this idea and its merits, it’s the wrong move for the Kings. If the team does acquire the much sought-after left-shot defensemen, he should play on the second pairing with Matt Roy, leaving the Mikey Anderson-Doughty pairing alone. Here are some reasons why.
Kings Shouldn’t Mess With Success
One of the more compelling reasons to keep the Anderson-Doughty pairing together is the success they have found, specifically this season. Facing some of the most difficult matchups in the league, most frequently playing against the opposition’s best players, they have posted fantastic numbers. With this pairing on the ice, the Kings see 57.9% of the expected goals, 60% of the possession, and they’ve outscored opponents 23-17. The expected goals and total goals numbers are impressive, while their possession numbers make them a top-five pairing in those categories. Simply put, the Kings are a better team with those two on the ice than without, while relying on them to consistently deal with the league’s superstars.
The two players also complement each other extremely well. Doughty is having a fantastic season but recently became more of an offensive defenseman instead of the 200-foot, two-way player he was. That’s not to say he hasn’t been good defensively; he has, but he’s seen a dip in that area recently. While Anderson has developed into a fantastic shutdown defenseman in the NHL, his defensive analytics place him in the top 10% of the league, and his chance suppression numbers are impressive. Allowing just under 3.5 entries with a chance against per 60 minutes. Meaning when a player enters the zone on Anderson’s side, they’re often unable to create a chance.
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With the puck, this pairing provides a great balance as well. Anderson’s biggest limitation is his offensive impact, but that doesn’t mean he is useless with the puck. He provides a safety valve for Doughty, who tends to make very high-risk plays in his own zone. Doughty impressively successfully completes a zone exit 23.25 times per 60, but he also fails 6.36 times per 60, making him one of the high-risk, high-reward defensemen in the league when exiting the zone. Compare that to Anderson, who only completes 16.72 zone exits per 60 but only fails to do so 2.54 times per 60. Anderson is a safe pair of hands who can help compensate for Doughty’s high-risk playstyle. Anderson’s consistent defensive play and safe handling of the puck is facilitating Doughty’s best offensive season of his career.
The Player Coming to the Kings
Another factor is the player coming to the Kings and how they would work on a pairing with Doughty. The most common name floating around is Arizona Coyote’s defensemen Jakob Chychrun, and while I’ve said in the past that I’m not overly confident in that deal happening, he is the kind of player the Kings are looking for. He’s a great two-way defenseman who excels with their offensive impact. With that in mind, I’ll use Chychrun as the template for how they would gel with Doughty.
Unless the team is getting one of the truly elite offensive defensemen in the league —players like Adam Fox or Cale Makar — it will likely have to accept a high-risk, high-reward player if it’s looking for production from the back end. Once again, using Chychrun as a template, there’s an issue with playing someone like him with Doughty. Chychrun’s numbers are very similar to Doughty’s, with 24.31 successful zone exits per 60 minutes but 7.5 fails per 60. This is a trend you see in many offensive defensemen — players like Victor Hedman, Rasmus Dahlin, and Quinn Hughes, to name a few, produce similar issues. Of course, the Kings will not get any of these players, but it does give a sense that defensemen with a positive offensive impact come with an innate risk in their game.
This isn’t meant to say Chychrun, Doughty, or similar defensemen aren’t good, but their playstyles would clash with one another. There would be two options if a team were to play a dynamic, left-shot player with Doughty. Accept the risky playstyle from both, and deal with the high number of chances against, or ask one of them to change their playstyle. While this is possible, and I’m sure one of the players could do that, it seems counterproductive. A team shouldn’t trade for an offensive player to then instruct them to stop playing their game, and the Kings shouldn’t tell Doughty to change his game. While putting a newly acquired superstar defenseman with Doughty looks great on paper, it would be far less effective in practice.
Balance Across the Blue Line
Another benefit of keeping the Anderson-Doughty pairing together — and shifting whatever player is added to the second pairing — is better balance across the blue line. Assuming whoever is brought in replaces Olli Maatta, and everything else stays the same, here’s what the team’s defense would look like.
|Mikey Anderson||Drew Doughty|
|New LHD||Matt Roy|
|Tobias Bjornfot||Sean Durzi|
That is an extremely well-balanced six that should have chemistry throughout. Often times a team wants a more offensive defenseman paired with a shutdown player — the Kings would have that on all three pairings now. Roy, who is often referred to as “steady Eddy,” would be the dream partner for someone like Chychrun. A stay-at-home player, he would provide freedom for Chychrun or a similar player. This also allows the Kings to continue sheltering the third pairing. It’s possible that Brandt Clarke will make the team next season, and having the option to play him behind two top pairings would be beneficial.
Keeping Anderson & Doughty Together is the Best Option
This is all irrelevant if the Kings don’t acquire a new left-shot defenseman, but they are closing in on a year of searching — eventually, that player has to come in. If, or perhaps more accurately when, that player is added to the lineup, it should not be next to Doughty. The Kings should not break up a pairing that is working well and would gain more value from spreading out their talent. Anderson complements Doughty perfectly, and Roy would be a better partner for whatever dynamic player is brought in.