Once again, the Kings have managed to put themselves in the middle of one of hockey’s messiest offseason stories. Last year, they dipped their toe into the Ilya Kovalchuk situation and ended up getting stuck in free-agent quicksand for a month. Now it’s Drew Doughty’s contract, a situation they hoped to have resolved more than two months ago. Remember, at one point, the Kings hoped to have Doughty signed prior to the start of the free-agency period, so they knew how much money they could offer Brad Richards in their low-profile attempt to sign Richards. Now, no Richards, no Doughty.
Perhaps that was part of the problem. From their perspective, the Kings went big early, deciding in July that they would be willing to give Doughty a contract equal to — or actually, in total, greater than — the one they gave Anze Kopitar in 2008. They thought that would be enough. By all accounts, it isn’t. Thus the problem. The Kings showed, in July, what they claimed (and still claim) was their best hand, and for two months they have remained adamant that they won’t budge. Other offers have been exchanged, at different levels, but nothing has significantly changed. So here we are, as one talented league pundit put it, waiting for one side to blink, and with Doughty’s side — if reports are accurate — potentially seeking $7 million a year for a 21-year-old defenseman with 239 NHL games but with a Norris Trophy nomination under his belt.
Don’t discount the past here. Dean Lombardi has publicly talked about the situation he faced in San Jose in 2002, when goalie Evgeni Nabokov and defenseman Brad Stuart held out. Both players eventually signed during training camp, but the well-regarded Sharks finished last in the Pacific Division and Lombardi was fired late in the season. Lombardi has publicly said that he believes the two holdout situations contributed to him losing his job. Who represented Nabokov then? Don Meehan. Who represents Doughty now? Meehan. Lombardi told me recently that he doesn’t think Meehan is holding the ghost of 2002 over his head, but Meehan didn’t achieve his high level of success in this industry by having a short memory. There’s no question that, generally speaking, past situations or personality conflicts can sometimes come into play.
So, on-ice sessions start Saturday. The Kings aren’t nearly the same team without Drew Doughty. In the short term, his absence would most benefit rookie Viatcheslav Voynov, who would see increased reps, but Doughty’s absence would loom over the locker room. In a season in which expectations and hopes are high for the Kings, how much of an impact would this make? Should the Kings bite the bullet, and give Doughty what he wants, or hold their line and continue the staring contest?