The clock started on July 1. That was the day that unrestricted free agents could sign new contracts, but it was also the day that players who are due to become restricted free agents next summer could sign contract extensions.
Among that group, the Kings have perhaps the most high-profile player in Drew Doughty. The Kings didn’t sign Doughty to an extension this summer, although there’s still time — Anze Kopitar signed his big extension during camp a couple years ago — and beyond that, there’s no particular rush. Doughty wants to stay in L.A., the Kings want him and Dean Lombardi is on record as saying the Kings would never lose Doughty to an offer sheet.
There were some preliminary talks this summer between the Kings and Doughty’s agent, but it doesn’t appear as though anything is imminent. I asked Doughty today if he gave much thought to his contract situation this summer.
“It hasn’t really come up,” Doughty said. “They were really up in that Kovalchuk stuff and some other things. I think everyone knows that I want to stay here in L.A. and I want to be a King, but there’s no rush. I’ve still got all the way up until next summer, so there’s a lot of time. I just want to focus on the season right now.”
The timing could probably be better for the Kings. Management types have expressed concern about the upcoming collective-bargaining negotiations, and the fact that the payroll/salary-cap landscape might change dramatically in 2012. It might be risky — both for the Kings and Doughty — for Doughty to sign a long-term contract without knowing if the landscape will change dramatically 12 months later.
Of course, every team has to deal with that, but the Kings might be in a more precarious spot given that they have three core players — Doughty, Jack Johnson and Wayne Simmonds, not to mention Jonathan Bernier — due to become restricted free agents next summer. Doughty said he hadn’t given much thought to how the CBA negotiations might impact his negotiations.
“Not really,” Doughty said. “To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it at all. When the times comes, I’ll sit down with my agent and talk it over and kind of look more into that stuff. But until we start talking contract, I’m just going to continue to focus here on camp.”
A big part of that focus has been on adjusting to a new partner. For much of last season, Doughty paired with Rob Scuderi, but the current plan is to pair Doughty with Willie Mitchell, who signed a two-year contract with the Kings last month.
“It’s been good,” Doughty said. “We’re having a lot of fun, off the ice and on the ice. Off the ice, we’re kind of the same personality types, and that kind of goes onto the ice as well. So we’re already building chemistry off the ice, and now on the ice we kind of can’t wait to get into a game get even more used to each other.”
Doughty was a Norris Trophy finalist as a 20-year-old last season. This time last year, he talked about improving his shooting, and this summer Doughty said he worked to elevate his overall game.
“Not really one thing in particular, just really everything,” Doughty said. “Working harder in the gym, trying to get stronger. Every time I was getting on the ice, I was trying to get quicker and faster, and still trying to work on my shot as much as I could. I just worked on every little aspect, trying to get better.”
Doughty finished with 16 goals and 43 assists last season, and coach Terry Murray will look to Doughty for strong offensive production again. Murray has stressed the need for defensemen to be aggressive and active in breakouts, and Doughty said the coaches have made that a point of on-ice emphasis early in training camp.
“They have,” Doughty said. “Teams are so good, positionally and defensively, these days that on the forecheck, they’re always going to have three back on the rush. We really need that fourth guy, that defenseman, to beat his forechecker and get up the ice. That will help us create a lot more scoring opportunities, and that’s kind of what the coaches have been harping on us about, to get up the ice. So we’re working on that in practice, and trying to translate it into game.”