I wasn’t planning to talk hockey on the blog for at least another month, but since there has been a lot of talk in the last week or so about LA Kings star defensemen Drew Doughty, who is still without a contract, and the possibility of him holding out to start the season, I decided to write this. Apparently, Kings GM Dean Lombardi offered Doughty a 9 year contract worth $6.5 million per season before the draft – and Doughty rejected it. And you can see Doughty’s reasoning there. If Shea Weber is worth $7.5 million at the age of 26, why would Doughty want to lock himself in until the age of 30 at a deal that pays less than that, especially in the current climate of constantly raising NHL salaries? Personally, I think Doughty will eventually sign for around $7 million per season, and the deal will be shorter than 9 years. But right now with no deal, and nothing else to talk about in August, the rumors of Doughty holding out are running rampant. Here are the 9 reasons why that won’t happen.
1. Cap Space – The Kings have almost $10 million in cap space for next season, and absolutely nothing to spend it on. There are no good UFA’s left, and any major trades that were going to happen in the offseason have already happened. Lombardi has indicated that the Kings are now a cap team – not an internal budget team – which means the Kings have lots of cap space and money to spend on Doughty. Even if you think Doughty is asking for far too much, you sign him anyway. The Kings have cap flexibility next year when Jarrett Stoll, Willie Mitchell and Dustin Penner all become UFA. True, the Kings may try to resign some of these players, but the truth is none of them will command any sort of major raise. So if there’s cap space for them this year, there’s cap space for them next year. Another year also gives some of the Kings prospects, who may be a little green right now, time to develop.
2. No Trade Market – Teams who make major trades in the offseason, do it early. If you try and trade Doughty now, you’ll find takers, but you won’t get market value for him as every GM will know you’re only doing it because you cannot resign him. If you let him sit out, and try and trade him later, the market will go down further. If you really feel you’re better off without Doughty (and I’d say you’re crazy if you do), you use the aforementioned cap space to sign him for this year, and trade him before or at the draft next year.
3. Dean Lombardi’s Job Security – Lombardi is known as a hard ass when it comes to contracts. He digs his heels in, and doesn’t let go. But the same can be said for Doughty’s agent, Don Meehan. But Lombardi has a history with holdouts. In 2002 when he was the GM of the San Jose Sharks, Lombardi let Nabokov and Stuart hold out to start the season. The Sharks got off to a horrible start, and although he did eventually get both under contract, the Sharks never recovered – and actually finished last in the Pacific division that year and Lombardi was fired. He has admitted that his decision to let them hold out “arguably” cost him his job. Do you really think he’ll risk the same thing? If you get fired from one job, you don’t turn around and do the EXACT SAME THING that got you fired on your next job.
4. The Mike Richards Trade – When the Kings traded top prospect Brayden Schenn for Mike Richards it sent a message to everyone that the Kings were no longer content to be a team with potential – a team who could win the Stanley Cup at some point. They want to win it sooner rather than later. If they didn’t, they would not have traded a 19 year old, that the Hockey News called the Best Prospect in Hockey, for someone 7 years older than he was. The Kings are not in a make it or break it year this year, but they do need to put the best team on the ice this year as possible – and that includes Doughty. Finishing in a low playoff seed and losing in the first round is longer acceptable.
5. They Have No One to Replace Doughty – True, the Kings are stacked with Defensive prospects. Voynov, Hickey and Muzzin may all be ready for the NHL this coming season, but will most likely have to spend it in the AHL as there is not room for them on the big club. Deslauriers is coming along nicely, but he’s still a year or two away from being ready for the NHL. Jack Johnson may be able to put up similar offensive numbers as Doughty, but he is nowhere near the complete player Doughyt is – and never will be. Doughty is the Kings’ leader in Time On Ice, plays 5 on 5 against the other teams top offensive unit, plays the penalty kill and the power play. The Kings have one of the best defense cores in the league – and major part of that is Doughty. Without him, no matter how good these rookies do, they will be average.
6. Perception Problems – It is no secret that Lombardi has been trying to sign a big ticket UFA for years now, and he always comes up short. Gaborik, Hossa, Havlat, Kovulchuk and Brad Richards are all players he has taken a run at, and lost out on. Part of the reason is that players want to play for a team with more of a winning history than the Kings, part of it is players want to play in the Eastern conference, part of it is that Lombardi doesn’t offer the same money as others, and part of it is a perception about LA, the city itself, which for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to appeal to hockey players. In order to draw these big ticket free agents, you have to show you are a winning team, who treats their players well. Letting your top defensemen sit out will not endear you to future free agents.
7. AEG and Marketing – Among Kings fans, there has been a debate for past two seasons about who is the face of the franchise – Kopitar or Doughty. But outside the Kings fanbase, the answer is clear – it’s Doughty. Watch any broadcast for a Kings game other than the Kings home broadcast, and the first player that gets mentioned is Doughty. AEG, the owners of the Kings, have put Doughty front and center in all Kings advertising. They want stars on their team – and have been a driving force in making Lombardi go after big ticket free agents in the first place. They want to make money, and Doughty is a HUGE part of that. If they unthinkable happens, and Doughty and Lombardi are both unwilling to give, I believe AEG will step in and force Lombardi’s hand.
8. No One Holds Out Anymore – Remember last year when everyone was convinced that Carey Price was going to hold out on the Canadians and Bobby Ryan was going to hold out on the Ducks? Neither of those things happened. Since the salary cap era started, no one really holds out anymore. Sure, it could take until mid-September to get a deal done, just like it did with Ryan last year, but it will happen. But just like Luke Schenn, Zack Bogosian, Kyle Turris and Brad Marchant, who are other notable RFAs this season who still have not signed, Doughty will get done.
9. What Else is Doughty Going to do? – Doughty is a RFA, and will be for the next four years. Unless an offer sheet comes along – and none have so far – Doughty has three options – sign with the Kings, go to the KHL or sit out. Doughty loves hockey, loves LA, and loves the Kings (he grew up a Kings fan for God’s sake). Doughty is most likely holding out now to get Lombardi to come down in terms of the length of the contract. But with training camp over a month away, there really is no pressure to get a deal done now. It’s amazing how many of the players who were scheduled for arbitration signed on the day of their hearing. It’s because agents and GM’s work best when on a deadline. When there’s still weeks to go, there is no pressure.
I honestly do believe that the main reason why there has been so much holdout talk is sheer boredom. Doughty is the biggest name without a contract next year, and we're in the dog days of summer, when absolutely nothing is happening in the NHL. People need to write about something, don't they? The reason the deal is not done is because of Lombardi's negotiating tactics. After that 9 year, $6.5 million dollar offer was made - apparently the day before the entry draft - and Doughty rejected it, he didn't even talk to Doughty's agent for almost a month. I don't question Lombardi's tactics, but to blame Doughty for the slow progress - as many have done - is unfair. Now they're talking again. And I have little doubt that before the season begins, Doughty will be resigned. I don't know for how much or how long, but he will be.