It’s been a busy night, with Jack Johnson signing his seven-year, $30.5-million contract extension and the Kings beating Columbus, so I’ll try to re-set the table a little bit. Here are the links to the items on Johnson’s contract from tonight, followed by Dean Lombardi’s extensive comments about the Johnson contract and an update from Lombardi about the progress of contract negotiations with Drew Doughty, who is due to be a restricted free agent this summer…
Question: It’s a bit unusual, but definitely not unheard of, to get a long-term extension like this done during a season. What led you to the point of getting this done now?
LOMBARDI: “It is unusual, but we’re still very much in a new system. Don’t forget, the object here is to watch these kids develop, and then put all of them within a (salary-cap) number that works. This is something we had been looking at for a while. I think it’s just the nature of the process, if you’re going to get ahead of this and take a realistic shot at keeping your young players together for the long haul. Quite honestly, this has been going on for over a month now. There’s two things that allowed us to pursue this.
“First, the player had no problem doing a six-, seven- or eight-year deal. That’s very unusual these days, that players, at that stage of their career, will commit to a franchise. He was very sincere about that from day one, and stuck to it. A lot of guys will say it at the beginning and then back off, thinking there will be greater riches down the road. So once we had a player who was committed to that long of a structure, we could go ahead. If you look at it, the three years of restricted are based on what that arb [arbitration] number would probably look like, based on the way he has performed so far. Then, on the unrestricted years, you look at guys who signed last year, whether it be a Michalek or a Paul Martin, and the key is to try to gauge where your player is going to be. The longer you wait, the higher that AAV [salary-cap hit] is going to go. So if you look at his AAV, and look at the market for available defensemen, it’s very reasonable, assuming he continues to get better.
“That’s where you have to make a reasonable assumption that this player is going to continue to progress. If he does, you’re sitting there with a contract and you can fit in other guys. The only other way you can do it, as we’ve seen, is to put out those 20-year deals with bogus years. There are teams out there that have done it, which means they have a competitive advantage. The only way to beat that is to do it early, and keep that AAV down. That’s the second part. Number one is the commitment. Number two is the development. In Jack’s case, I don’t have any doubt that he’s not going to get complacent on us. That’s always your fear, when you step up for a young player, that he’s going to go, `Well, I’ve got it made,’ and stop trying to be the best he can. I have the utmost confidence, in terms of Jack, that this is not going to happen. If anything, it’s going to make him more confident, and drive harder. That’s the other thing that allows you to step up.
“It went back and forth for a month. It was very amicable. Every time we looked at something, we put it up on the board and looked at how it impacted Doughty and Simmonds and all our young players, and pieces we might want to add. All that research was done. When you have a guy who is willing to commit to seven years, it allows you — once you get that number locked in — it allows you some flexibility with the other guys. Sure, we would like to do Doughty on a similar term, but you don’t have to now. It’s good to have one in the bank. And don’t forget, Drew is three years younger than Jack, in terms of being removed from free agency. So he [Johnson] was a good target to focus on, in terms of the fact that he was willing to do it, and he’s the type of player who is going to do his best to be better.
“Getting that term in there allows us some flexibility with the other guys. You don’t have to get the long-term deal. Maybe it is smart to chip away at it, and then get them (long-term) when they’re Jack’s age. So I think it made sense for everyone. I think it’s a fair deal. Like I said, the key, whenever you’re doing this, is your belief that the player is not going to get complacent, and I don’t sense that in Jack at all.”
Question: What is the update on negotiations with Doughty?
LOMBARDI: “We’ve had very kick-the-tire discussions on Drew. Part of it was gauging where his play was. Again, Drew is two or three years younger than Jack, so there is a greater period there of growth. We can let it play out a little. We’re obviously going to sign him, and term is not an issue. Now that Jack is in, it gives us a little reference point. Like I said, we have some flexibility in terms of term, and we’ll start pecking away at that. But it’s hard to do three or four (players) at once, because you get confused as to what the mission is. Jack was committed for seven or eight years, and never wavered from that. It was, `OK, let’s get this done, put it in the bank and go do the other one [Doughty].’ So we’ve got one long-term deal in, and if we have to do the other one short-term, we’ve still got the free-agent rights and we can try again later. But it’s nice to have one in the bank.”