Puckin' Around With Spector
by Lyle Richardson on 09/21/11 at 05:04 PM ET
By the time you read this, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty will either be re-signed to a new contract, or his standoff with management will continue.
Plenty of opinions have bandied about in recent weeks – pro and con – over the Doughty contract saga, most focusing on what the Kings are believed offering (over seven years at $6.8 million per) and what Doughty’s agent is seeking (five year, $7 million per, an earlier shot at UFA status) for his client.
It remains to be seen what Doughty eventually gets, but it’s a good bet it’ll be lucrative, ranking him among the highest paid players on the Kings, as well as amongst the highest paid in his group of players aged 21-25 under their second NHL contracts.
Puck Daddy blogger Harrison Mooney recently asked if Kings fans would forgive Doughty if he returns from a possible contract holdout.
That, of course, will depend on his performance.
If Doughty becomes a Norris trophy finalist whilst carrying the Kings to the Stanley Cup next June, most of his critics will be too busy singing his praises to remember any harsh opinions they may have had of his salary demands, and the few who do will keep silent for fear of ridicule.
If he plays well and helps the Kings not only make the playoffs but advance beyond the first round of the playoffs, it’ll probably mollify most of his critics, who’ll predict better things next season without a pesky contract standoff robbing him of valuable training camp/preseason prep time.
If he struggles through the first half or the entire season, finishes with lesser numbers than those he put up in last season’s concussion-hampered performance, and is a non-factor in the playoffs, the knives will be unsheathed.
His critics will not only take him to task, calling him spoiled, greedy, lazy and misguided, they’ll alsocall on management to trade his sorry ass.
Doughty would slink away into the off-season to lay low, avoid the press and lick his wounds, emerging briefly later in the summer to issue a vow to improve the following season.
Even without his contract negotiations degenerating into a media and blogosphere sideshow, Doughty was going to face considerable expectations heading into this season. The standoff in his contract negotiations merely heightens them.
He had a tremendous sophomore campaign in 2009-10, helping the Kings to their first post-season appearance in nearly a decade, and at only 20 years of age becoming a finalist for the Norris Trophy.
Factor in he was also arguably the best defenseman for Canada’s gold medal-winning men’s ice hockey team at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and suddenly Doughty was being considered the second coming of Bobby Orr, or at the very least, of vintage 1990s Rob Blake, the Kings last great defenseman.
But a concussion early last season took him out of the lineup for six games, which following his return seemed to take some of the starch out his game.
The numbers were still impressive – 13 goals, 40 points, +13 – but not an improvement over the remarkable 16-goal, 59 point, +20 performance of the previous year.
In the 2011 first round match-up against the San Jose Sharks, Doughty was outstanding in Game Two – with two goals and four points – but a non-factor for much of the series, won by the Sharks in six games.
Prior to the contract debacle, the concern entering this season was whether or not he shook off whatever lingering after-effects remained from his concussion (psychological, if not physical) which hampered last season’s performance, and elevate himself into the superstar defenseman he was expected to become.
Clearly, Kings management believes he can become that superstar. Their willingness to lock him up for at least seven years for the same salary per season as Anze Kopitar, their highest paid player, is attributable as much to that belief as to the desire to retain him over a longer term for a more affordable salary.
Ultimately, whatever he and Kings management eventually settle on is irrelevant. It’s going to be lucrative, and at the end of it, he’ll be eligible for UFA status, and the Kings will then have to decide if he’s worth top dollar to retain, and he’ll have to decide if he wants to remain a King.
That’s the business of the sport and isn’t going to change.
While the potential for bad blood between himself and/or his agent and management could linger over the tenure of his new deal and potentially impact his future with the team, the treatment he receives from the fans will also become a factor, especially if, in their estimation, he fails to meet their expectations.
What matters is not only if Doughty can earn that new salary, but also earn back the respect and goodwill of the Kings fans disgusted and disappointed by the contract standoff.
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About Puckin' Around With Spector
I’m Lyle Richardson. You might know me from my website, Spector’s Hockey, my thrice-weekly rumor column at THN.com, my weekly column at Eishockey News (if you read German), and my former gig as a contributing writer to Foxsports.com.
I’ll be writing a once-weekly blog here with my take on all things NHL. Who knows, I might actually find time to debunk a trade rumor or two.