Notebook! Doughty, Kovalchuk deals official; Blake, Doughty weigh in

Adam Pantozzi/NHLI

Rob Blake and Drew Doughty spoke via conference call with local and national media Sunday, with Blake highlighting the Kings’ focus through negotiations with Doughty and Ilya Kovalchuk while sharing an outlook of how the team should stack up in the fall. Doughty, who notified Blake during the NHL Draft that he’d chosen to represent himself in negotiations, also discussed the balance between lifestyle and the team’s competitive ceiling in articulating his decision to re-up with the club.

“I can’t even explain how amazing this contract process was for me,” said Doughty, whose eight-year, $88-million contract begins in 2019-20 and extends through the 2026-27 season. “Compared to my last contract when I was locked out and we were negotiating for five months, this one took a couple of days. I wouldn’t say that the word is necessarily ‘relieved,’ I’m just so happy and so excited that it came together so quickly and that Rob and Mr. Anschutz were so easy to work with. They made it easy for me.”

“It’ll be nice not to have to answer the questions, ‘hey, are you coming to Toronto’ because every time I’m out in public around [London, Ontario], that’s the question. ‘You’re coming to the Leafs, right?’ Nah, I’m not coming to the Leafs, everyone. So, I am relieved in that sense, but I’m just so excited and so honored, I couldn’t be happier to be in LA for another eight years, I’m just so happy.”

Kovalchuk, who had traveled back to Russia for the World Cup and attended Russia’s upset of Spain in penalty kicks, will return to Los Angeles and hold a separate, informal media availability at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo on Saturday, July 14.

But beyond the team formally announcing that Doughty and Kovalchuk had officially signed their contracts, there wasn’t much else to share from LA HQ, where the Kings were not expected to be players for major pieces in the remaining free agent market.

“As far as anything else going, we’ll pay attention today, but we’re pretty tight against the cap in all aspects,” Blake said.

Noah Graham/NHLI

A number of bullet points!

-Blake said it wasn’t difficult to go to the third year with Kovalchuk, and that adding a third year wasn’t due to any sort of a hold up. “The process prior to that was him narrowing down the teams and us explaining exactly why we thought it was such a good fit for us,” he said.

“That process, we had him in a couple weeks prior. Let him know our situation, where we thought he’d fit within our team, what we wanted to accomplish. And then around draft time, his agent approached us on the Friday before the draft and said he’s narrowed it to four teams, and [Los Angeles] would be his first choice. They just negotiated it right then and had it done that night.”

-While it wasn’t the only factor – more on the team’s commitment to winning in a moment – lifestyle was certainly a “big factor” for Doughty. This footnote was shared on Friday, but Doughty is not particularly enamored with massive cities and feels right at home in the comfortable suburban enclaves of the South Bay, where he’s building a house and remains in close proximity to his teammates.

“I’ve been in LA for already ten years now and everything about being in LA is just amazing,” he said. “The hockey organization is top class and being able to live there, in California, you get to live your own life. I’m building a new house there, ready to start my family there, I’m getting married this summer. I love being in LA, I love being by the beach – and I know Dean used to hate when I said that – but it’s amazing. Driving to the rink in nice weather every day makes you want to be there more and that was definitely a factor in re-signing there. I never wanted to leave there, to be honest.”

Equally as important as lifestyle considerations was Doughty’s burning competitiveness to win.

“Rob and Luc both made it apparent to me from the start of the season that we’re here to win, we’re not here to rebuild,” Doughty said. “We’re going to continue to move pieces around, have good draft picks, develop our prospects and make a better team. That was my only concern at the start of the season with potentially signing with LA was that I didn’t know what our team was going to look like down the road and they solved that problem right off the bat for me. They told me they’re going to do whatever it takes to get back to that winning team we had back in the day, and that was really the only concern I had. I never had a concern with the organization, it’s first class and living there is so easy and so fun. Once they told me that, I knew I was signing in LA for the entire season, I just didn’t let that be known.”

-As shared above, Doughty negotiated his own extension with the team. “He did a good job,” joked Blake, who noted it was the first time he had negotiated with a player directly.

“That came about in the weekend prior. I talked to Drew a few times, and he had always instructed me to hold on, and then he called me during the draft, and he said, ‘listen, just deal with me directly.’ So we started that negotiation Monday or Tuesday. It wasn’t really odd in the sense that I think we both had the same idea to get accomplished. We both wanted to get a deal done. It wasn’t a difficult process this week. They were good conversations, and he kind of knew what he was looking for, and we knew what we could fit in, but again, I think when you have two sides that want to accomplish the same thing, things will get done.”

It’s getting to the point where it’s a broken record, but throughout much of the past season it was becoming clearer and clearer that Doughty’s interests and the team’s interests were in lockstep together, and that a quick agreement would be consummated.

“We maintained from day one with Drew that he was a priority to get signed,” Blake continued. “One of the best defensemen in the league, durability-wise and production-wise and performance-wise, he’s one of the best that I’ve ever seen. Two Stanley Cups with this organization, he was a priority from day one to get signed, and we’re fortunate to keep him in this organization.”

Doughty said that when he roomed with Dustin Brown on the road that the two had conversations about negotiating their own contracts with the team (and both ultimately did so). Informing his agent that he’d be negotiating his own contract “was one of the toughest calls I’ve ever had to make,” he said. “Mark Guy, he was my agent from the day I was 15 years old until now, so I’ve known him for almost 15 years. I love him, he did a great job for me, and it just came down to saving money. They understood that .They obviously didn’t want me to go in that direction, but they understood, so I think things closed out really smoothly.”

Without paying an agent’s fee, Doughty recoups some of the expenses lost to state taxes or withheld from paychecks in escrow payments.

“[Agents] do a lot of work for you and they do a great job, but I knew I was in a position where I knew what kind of money I was going to be asking for and they were willing to pay me that, so it was easy for me,” he said. “My agent did an amazing job for me forever and I’ll be friends with him until the day I die but in the end, if you punch the numbers in and they’re taking three percent, the amount of money I saved doing the deal myself is ridiculous.”

Though he represented himself, Doughty still relied on a lawyer provided by the NHLPA to look over the contract right before it was finalized. “I didn’t just look at the contract myself and sign it, that wouldn’t have been a smart move for me,” he said.

“Maybe [an agent] could’ve gone out there and gotten me more money and then that payment wouldn’t matter, but I was proud to do it on my own and [Rob Blake] was unbelievable to work with, [Luc Robitaille and Mr. Anschutz], they made it so easy for me. If it had been difficult and I didn’t think things were going to close out, I would’ve had to rehire them. It just came down to saving money, and I’m happy I made that decision.”

There is protection in the contract. “It’s the first four years a [full no-trade clause],” Doughty said. “It’s the same exact as [Kopitar]’s.” Over the last four years, he said that he’s able to give the Kings a list of seven teams to whom he would accept a trade.

-As for Kovalchuk, Blake reiterated much of what had been shared in the courtship process, up through when it was announced that the team had come to terms with the goal scoring winger: that he wants to win and is motivated. In addition to the more intangible aspects of what Kovalchuk provides, Blake also spoke about his role (which John Stevens also weighed in on here).

“Where he plays on the power play and the way he scores goals with his shot is something we’ve coveted or looked for in that type of position,” Blake said. “He can play with really good players. If it’s Kopitar or Carter as our centermen, he’s going to have some really good centermen around him. The other thing, too, I think that intrigued us is him wanting to come back to the NHL, his primary focus is winning. He’s been able to do it on the Olympic stage and the KHL, so he’s going to bring that excitement about the opportunity to win. There were some intriguing aspects with that, for sure.”

-There were some rumblings a week ago that the team might still test the trade market in a push for offense even after coming to terms with Kovalchuk, but nothing concrete materialized. “We had felt that a scoring-type winger was something we needed to add,” Blake said. “Like I said, there were different ways to do it, whether it’s through UFA or through a trade and that, and we weren’t sure we had Kovalchuk done until just prior to the draft, so you explore a lot of different options right until then.”

As noted in Friday’s Doughty story, it’s imperative with a number of veterans locked into lucrative contracts that the team gets good value out of its potentially high-yield assets that don’t (yet) carry expensive price tags. Blake acknowledged the importance of that youth on his phone call. “I think if you look, we’re going to get a really good look at Gabe Vilardi,” he said. “Kempe’s in that mix, obviously Iafallo, Danny Brickley’s another free agent we signed on the back end. There are some young kids pushing, and we’ve been able to maintain some draft picks the last couple years here that will start to push for this lineup in the years to come, also.”

Paul LaDue, a restricted free agent, will be among the players whose merit-based role should widen.

“I think Paul LaDue deserves a chance to play regular here. He’s earned that last year stepping in and out of the lineup there,” Blake said. “We have some other kids in the minors that are going to get a good look in camp. I think our roster, for the most part, is fairly well set, forward and D, and you’d expect these guys to push for spots, yes.”

-On the Kovalchuk signing, Doughty said he was happy with having another one-time option on the power play.

“I can see Kovalchuk sitting in that Ovechkin spot there and putting pucks in the net for us,” he said. “He’s obviously still really hungry and I’m really excited at the signing. I think it’s going to really help our team a lot. It’s no secret that we don’t score enough goals and he brings that to the table. I’ve talked to all of the guys on the team and everyone’s really excited about the signing.”

He also called John Tavares’ signing in Toronto “nuts,” and admitted that he found out about it from his dad right before taking the call.

“That’s a great deal for him,” Doughty said. “I had a feeling he wasn’t going to stay on the island. I think we’re the same age, so that’s pretty cool, too. He’s moving home and that’s a dream of a lot of young kids that grew up in Ontario, to play for the Leafs, so he’s going to fulfill that dream. I’m really happy for him and I’ll personally congratulate him once I get off of the phone here.”

-Doughty has both English and Portuguese ancestry and though the Seleção das Quinas are no longer involved in the tournament, he’s still excited to watch England’s attempt to advance deep. “I haven’t missed many games,” he said. “I get home from the gym and if I don’t go golfing, I just sit and watch the World Cup all day. England is my last team that I can cheer for, Portugal’s out. England has a good young team, they can surprise some teams. I’m not completely sold that they won’t win the thing, I think they have an outside chance. I’ve been watching the games with my dad when England plays and then going over to my grandpa’s house when Portugal played. It’s a lot of fun, I wish we had the World Cup every summer, but it wouldn’t be as big of an event if it was that way.” Soccer is tremendously important in the Doughty family. “I was just as good as soccer as I was at hockey,” he said in November, and his sister, Chelsea, was named after the London-based team.

It’s a special time for Doughty – he had just recently return from Wayne Simmonds’ wedding in Toronto and will be heading up to his cottage north of the London area for Canada Day. His own wedding is in August, and both Simmonds and Trevor Lewis will be in the wedding party.

Harry How/Getty Images

-Lead photo via Noah Graham/NHLI

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