A good afternoon to you from El Segundo on the first weekday of the off-season. Despite the absence of references to Roman general Cincinnatus (sigh), I still have nearly 90 minutes of interviews to transcribe over the next week or so and will get you those reports and stories as soon as my typin’ fingers will allow. But to continue the conversation and refresh the content on the site (and to make use of my first transcript before digging through 30-plus minutes of Rob Blake), we’ll start with number eight, Drew Doughty.
Doughty had a down season by a statistical measurement that seemed to align with an eye test that depicted a challenging second half to the season. He totaled eight goals and 45 points, right in range with his status quo if short of the highs he established last year, but with a minus-34 rating that was the second lowest in the league and a -1.7 CF%Rel that was his worst since his rookie season.
On Monday, Doughty defiantly defended his play this year. It wasn’t the first time he had done so. As recently as March 20, he referenced his ability to break up odd-man rushes, playing with added physicality and the rarity in which he was beaten one-on-one as among the features of his game he had improved this season. “I just feel better in my own zone. I just feel like I’m wiser, I just know I can read the other team’s plays better,” he said at the time.
Not all will agree. Those in hockey operations well acquainted with the standards he’d set in a distinguished career also saw lapses in his reads and defensive zone coverage as his season progressed, though we’re obviously grading on a curve with a player that’s among the very best in the world when he’s on his game.
“I think I saw the best of Drew probably the first four months of the season, three months of the season. He showed up every day and he did everything possible every game,” Rob Blake said when asked about the emotion he plays with. “Now, as the season gets down and we’re losing, he is so hard on him. He’s playing 30 minutes a night and he’s the most competitive guy, so I have no issues with Drew Doughty whatsoever. He’s going to buy in and he’s going to get better and he’s going to do the right things, but his passion for the game, I wish we would have a lot more of that.”
Blake spoke about the team’s immediate direction with his star defenseman, who was said to be fully on board with the attempts to rebuild the team back towards contention. “I’m not worried about him one bit.”
“Listen, if you play 30 minutes a night and you don’t win games and you’re on the ice for everything, empty-netters night after night, it’s hard. It’s a difficult season, for sure.”
The Kings allowed 16 empty-net goals this season; eight teams allowed more. So while that would certainly have an effect on his plus-minus, it’s not the full extent of why he dipped to such low-water even strength goal marks. The fact that Los Angeles was the second-lowest scoring team in the league and Doughty’s 1.78 on-ice GF/60 in five-on-five play was the lowest of his career were also significant factors.
But with that said – and I shared this back on March 20 – you would be wise to listen when Doughty speaks. You may not endorse his assessment that this was a season in line with other seasons of his, but there are few players who will speak as candidly or honestly as Doughty, and fewer who provide such intricate assessments of their own play and of opposing players. If he thought that he’d had a very poor season, he’d be the first to share that in no uncertain terms. So, again, there is stock to be taken here, even if you disagree with his premise.
“Everyone kind of seems to say that [I had a poor season], everyone else seems to think that. I don’t think that,” he said. “Yeah, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make things happen, but if you want to talk about my minuses, just go watch ‘em and you’ll figure out why I was minus. Probably 14 or 15 empty-netters and 10 shorthanded against. We had the biggest goal differential, so there are my minuses right there. Yeah, was I to blame for some goals? For sure. Was it more than other seasons? No, it wasn’t. Maybe I tried to do too much sometimes, and we didn’t score a lot of goals as a team, and yeah, that is frustrating. I only had eight goals this year. I was really frustrated with that, but going into this summer, that’s one of the areas I’m really going to focus on in fixing my game is my shooting abilities, and I’m going to score more goals next year, for sure.”
More from Doughty’s media availability is below; some of his answers have been shared for stories that will be written throughout the week. Lots, lots more to come, Insiders.
Drew Doughty, on whether a weight was lifted off his shoulders” with the season ending:
I mean, I don’t know if a weight was lifted off my shoulders, I’m still pissed off I’m going to have to watch playoff hockey without us in it. This season’s never going to be erased from my mind no matter how hard I try. It was a terrible season. It was a relief kind of it’s over in a way because it was so hard mentally and physically. It really was. I’ve never had to go through something like this, and as one of the guys, one of the leaders, I take a lot of responsibility for it, and I wish I could’ve done better to get us out of it. I don’t know. I guess a little bit of weight’s lifted off my chest, actually, to answer.
Doughty, on the preseason challenges and when he realized that something was amiss:
I think that yeah, preseason was a good tale of it. The problem with preseason is you kind of think we can get away with it because it’s preseason and then we’ll turn it on at the start of the season. When John was our coach at that time, he was worried right from the get-go, and when you have the type of preseason like that, your team’s not ready to start the season off, and because we started the season off so poorly, it just seemed like a domino effect. It was just getting worse and worse and we were never really able to turn it on. I think going into next year, exhibition’s really important. We need to be looking to win all those games and we need to find our game right off the bat. [Reporter: The team, did it relax coming off of last year? Was it a different mentality over the summer?] I don’t think so. I know guys were in shape. I saw our fitness testing, and guys were in great shape this year, and guys worked hard on the ice too. There were a lot of things going on with the team with weddings and stuff like that, but there’s no excuse. Everyone was still working their bags off to come, so no, I don’t think that anyone took it easy or came into the season relaxed. It’s just kind of the way things went.
Doughty, on whether the players deserve a share of the blame during another coaching transition:
It’s all on the players. Well, I shouldn’t say it’s ‘all’ on the players. It’s on the coaching and the systems put in place, but the majority of it’s all on the players and us not playing to the best of our abilities. We have great guys in the room. We have very good teammates, we’re all very good to each other and we love playing with each other. There’s no issues in that sense, but I think you can just see watching us out there that some guys weren’t playing with the hunger that they used to have. I think that was obvious. The majority of this is all on the players.
Doughty, on a suggestion that there was less team unity this year:
No, I don’t know where you would hear that. I know you guys want to think we were some tight-knit group in 12 and 14, but it was no tighter than it is now, I’ll guarantee you that.
Doughty, on whether he saw the “hunger” issues coming this season:
No, I didn’t think that was going to happen at all, I really didn’t. Me, myself, I come into every season wanting to win the Stanley Cup no matter what and be the best player I can be. All the best players on our team have that same mindset coming in, but when things don’t go well, we don’t work through it and work harder to become better and sometimes we’ll go in the opposite direction. We’ll get lazy and don’t work hard enough, so that’s kind of what I meant by those comments. I think just watching us out there you could see the lack of passion we played with some nights.
— Lead photo via Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire