This season: 82 games, 10 goals, 50 assists, 60 points, 54 penalty minutes, +23 rating, +4.6 CF%Rel, 1.008 PDO, 26:50 time on ice
The good: How much time do you have? Would you like a pillow or a comfortable place to sit? I hope you’re not late for an appointment. If you are, here are the Cliffs Notes: Drew Doughty played 112 more minutes than any other player in the league, habitually faced top competition, and while earning an All Star Game invite posted terrific possession rates when compared to his teammates en route to career-highs in assists and points, a postseason First Team All-Star nod and, for the fourth time in his career was a Norris Trophy finalist. And, lest we forget, he was the team’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy nominee. That’s amazing! It’s also, essentially, the status quo. Doughty is the best defensive defenseman in the game, and he also happened to put up 60 points, which provides few comparables, if any. They are, essentially, Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman – the Kings will also speak highly of Marc Edouard-Vlasic’s full package, which contains brilliant defensive awareness – and even when Hedman is deemed the league’s best defenseman by the NHL Network, it draws murmurs and raised eyebrows from a collection of observers that extends beyond the team’s fanbase. “He’s a guy that I really look up to,” Hedman told LA Kings Insider at the NHL Awards. “Even though it’s just a year difference in age, just the way he plays the game, his stamina on the ice, he plays 30 minutes and is up and down the ice all the time. Kills penalties, plays on the power play, and he’s just a complete player. That’s what I’m striving towards becoming, and I think I made some good steps in the past four or five years, and he’s been a big inspiration for me, so it’s an honor being nominated alongside him.”
What unnecessary assortment of stats do you need to further enhance your appreciation of one of the greatest defensemen to have ever lived? He led the team in time on ice for the 10th straight season, appeared in 82 games for the fourth straight season and is two games away from Anze Kopitar’s franchise record 330 consecutive games played. Despite a sub-50% zone starts ratio, in which he faced the league’s most elite skaters, he finished with a +4.6% Corsi-for percentage relative to his teammates. His on-ice 28.7 SA/60 was over two shots better than the Kings’ overall suppression rates, and he graded well in chance-suppression rates. Again, he’s the best defensive defenseman in hockey, who also finished third on the Kings in scoring. “I think he’s been able to do that without sacrificing anything without the puck. I think his defensive game is as good as it’s ever been,” John Stevens said. “The one thing that’s probably down a little bit from his highs is his goal scoring, and we think that the way he shoots the puck and moves across the line, it’s always going to be something he’s going to contribute with his goal scoring. But, I think he’s had as good a year he’s had since he’s been a pro. He’s been asked to play with young guys all along, and whoever he plays with he makes them better, but it’s a great example of a guy that’s really put up his best offensive numbers and really continued to be a real sound defensive guy, and it’s been really important to him. That’s why your team wins, because of guys that think the game like he does.”
There are certainly negative aspects of Doughty’s temperament that came to light at inopportune times in 2017-18, and they’re shared below. But one aspect of his personality that the team loves is his willingness to immediately move past any recent on-ice event, good or bad. Whether he dove to break up a two-on-one, or whether he was on for a questionable goal against, he forgets it immediately and hops over the bench without any sort of festered recollection, and that type of approach isn’t easy to come by in a sport where mistakes are made on every goal and turnovers exist on every shift. “He’s a rare breed. His recovery is second to none,” Stevens said. “His ability to come off a shift and be ready to go again is as good as I’ve ever seen, and he doesn’t exude a lot of energy the way he skates. He’s such an efficient skater that if you looked at him or other guys, even a guy like Muzz who’s a bigger, heavier guy, it takes a lot more energy to get around the ice, where Drew, it looks effortless at times.” The temperament and improved conditioning – along with incrementally decreasing TOI averages – are why he’s able to repeatedly play 82 games at such a high level.
There are the familiar scouting reports: No defender is as good at defending an odd-man rush. He closes immediately and ruthlessly on those who enter the zone. His deft plays against forecheckers in setting up a breakout is such subtle, composed artistry that won’t find its way into a Kings box score. He is as pure of a savant at reading and digesting the on-ice fog of war as there is. Paired with Derek Forbort, who does a good job forcing opponents to chip the puck deep instead of carrying it into the offensive zone, Doughty is among the best of the best puck-retrieving and zone-exiting orchestrators in the entire game. “He’s so smart, he’s skilled,” Clayton Keller said at the NHL Awards. “There’s nothing bad about his game. That’s why he is where he is, and he’s obviously really tough to play against. Good stick. He’s not afraid to use the body. It’s tough, because pretty much every time I was out there, he was out there, too. You’ve really got to work on your chances and just capitalize on the bounces that you get.”
The bad: Doughty is an easy first ballot Hall of Famer and a modern comparable to players like Ray Bourque or Scott Niedermayer, so the unfocused critiques that call gratuitous attention to his on-ice outbursts represent the inability of some to see the forest from the trees. But, as we all saw, there were continued issues that related to his handling of calls he disagreed with. It wasn’t just the Chicago game, which served as the flashpoint during a second half grind in which they missed out on a divisional playoff seed by two points, but also a Nashville game in the first half of the season in which his unsportsmanlike conduct was tacked on to an interference call before Roman Josi scored a power play goal in the second half of the double-minor as part of a 4-3 Predators win. Doughty acknowledged that the, um, stern rebuttals of the officials have “kind of been a repetitive thing that I’ve been trying to fix,” and that it’s on him to fix it.
Doughty, who was otherwise effective in the brief playoff run, was suspended for Game 2 after his hit to the head on William Carrier in Game 1. Stevens and Rob Blake and Doughty’s teammates deserve recognition for supporting his cause, but even as there was a highly controversial non-intervention the night after, that wasn’t a good hit. It was a blow to the head that ran afoul of Rule 48 and would have likely resulted in a one or two-game suspension in the regular season, and league discipline was applied for a game the Kings were already down Jake Muzzin and Derek Forbort. It’s worth listing in this section, even if it isn’t particularly fair: we’re talking about one half-second moment in the NHL, and Doughty had only once been fined since the start of his career in 2008 despite playing more minutes than all other NHL skaters other than Ryan Suter over that span.
Going forward: The most status quo-ey of all status quos. Another full season in which he puts up between 50 and 60 points, faces the most challenging competition, and outplays them over an 82-game span. By default, he opens the year as a Norris Trophy favorite. It just depends which other players around the league remain healthy and construct their own deserving credentials.
You may have heard that Doughty signed an eight-year, $88-million contract on July 1 that goes into effect in the 2019-20 season. For one more season, the Kings will continue to get outstanding value out of one of the most important players to any team in the league. Afterwards, he’ll be comfortably compensated through his 37-year-old season, and though the durable Doughty projects as a player who will play deep into the next decade, to what degree will his all-situational excellence wane? It’s an interesting side conversation, but not something that matters at all in the upcoming season when the Kings will bank on a core that collectively posted outstanding statistics in 2017-18. There were no hold-ups in negotiations in which he represented himself, and from all indications, Doughty, Blake and the organization understood early in the year that they’d be able to come to a number that was fair for both player and team without any headaches. Earlier in Doughty and Stevens’ tenures with the organization, it took some time for the player and coach to connect, but over the past 10 months, Doughty spoke highly about the new atmosphere in the Kings’ room one season after the bottom dropped out on the Kings’ efforts, and how the club’s approach, under Luc Robitaille, Blake and Stevens, resulted in a refreshing reboot in which the players were having fun and enjoyed coming to the rink.
“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 last month. “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.”
Player evaluations: #3 DION PHANEUF | #6 JAKE MUZZIN | #7 OSCAR FANTENBERG | #8 DREW DOUGHTY | #9 ADRIAN KEMPE | #11 ANZE KOPITAR | #13 KYLE CLIFFORD | #19 ALEX IAFALLO | #22 TREVOR LEWIS | #23 DUSTIN BROWN | #24 DEREK FORBORT | #27 ALEC MARTINEZ | #32 JONATHAN QUICK | #44 NATE THOMPSON | #52 MICHAEL AMADIO | #70 TANNER PEARSON | #73 TYLER TOFFOLI | #77 JEFF CARTER | KUEMPER / CAMPBELL | THE OTHERS