Drew Doughty has spent three seasons with the LA Kings. He made the team out of camp as a rookie, had a solid inaugural season and appeared poised to become one of the best young defensemen in the league. In season two, promise intersected with production and Doughty exceeded every level of expectation by playing like an experienced and perennial All-Star as evidenced by his Norris Trophy nomination, one that, if he had won, would not have surprised anyone. He manned the blue line for his country, earned Gold and was a significant factor on both ends of the ice for team Canada, a team of super stars. From Mike Babcock, team Canada’s coach:

“I think Doughty’s been one of the best defensemen in the National Hockey League this year. I think he’s that good. I’m so impressed with how he plays offensively and defensively. Is he going to be star-struck at this tournament? I don’t believe that for a second.”

The Olympic stage showcased Drew’s talents. The playoffs affirmed it further with 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points in 7 playoff games – a point per game. He performed like an elite defenseman. Mike Babcock was right – Drew Doughty was one of the best defensemen in the NHL.

Doughty came into camp without being in top shape and then suffered an injury that affected his numbers. In the second half, he returned to form and was again one of the best players on the ice each and every night. He put up respectable numbers, 11 goals, 29 assists and 40 points with a +13. By comparison, the other star defenseman, Jack Johnson, had 5 goals, 37 assists and 42 points but with a -21. Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi were a + 4 and + 1, respectively, and those are the team’s defensive defensemen. Matt Greene was a + 3.

So, who is the best defenseman the Kings have on this team that consistently brings a balance of offensive numbers and defensive prowess? Drew Doughty.

Here we are. Summer of 2011. He wants to be paid like one of  the best NHL defensemen in the league. He wants to be paid commensurate with his elite talent. What is that number? That depends on the length of the contract.

Do the Kings expect to cut into his free agent years? His prime? Where on the open market he will receive in the future, taking into consideration escalating salaries, a rising cap and Drew continuing to establish himself as a defenseman in the mold of a Niedermayer, Lidstrom and other household names, numbers well into the $7 and potentially $8 million dollar per season range? If so, then the Kings should be committed to paying close to those dollars now. If the team is not, then there is no reason for Drew to sacrifice those prime years, take significantly less dollars than he will earn at that time, solely on the boot-strapped premise of “necessity” to win the Cup. A $1 million dollar cap hit in any given season will not keep the Kings from being a contender and raising the Cup. If it does, then Doughty’s contract is the least of this team’s problems. The different between $6.8 million per season and $7.5 million per season is even less than that – a whopping $700,000.00. That’s a little more than what we pay Davis Drewiske to not play.

If the Kings aren’t willing to pay that amount for the prime years, then let’s sign a 5 year contract. Once again, why isn’t $7.5 million dollars reasonable for one of the top defensemen in the league? Are we really supposed to believe, using the same analogy, that $700,000.00 per season is going to keep this team from being a contender? Is 5 years too short? I certainly hope the Kings intend to win the Cup in the next 5 years and, if they will be a contender year in and year out, why the insecurity of Drew walking when he reaches UFA status? Are we back to money again? Then, pay him to keep him longer and the problem is solved. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t expect Drew to commit long-term, take away his best years where he will earn the most amount of money but, today, accept a big discount for it.

Now, if the Kings don’t believe Drew Doughty is “worth” that kind of money, then there is simply a difference of opinion on the value of this player to this team and that means the Kings don’t place top value on a defenseman that has proven himself as being the best the Kings have on each end of the ice as of today and is poised to become the most coveted young blue liner in the NHL. I don’t believe that for a second. If the Kings didn’t place such a value on Drew, they wouldn’t offer him a 9 year contract. You don’t offer nearly a decade if you don’t believe you have something very special.

You can argue that Dean Lombardi will set a precedent with other players if he pays Drew too much. But I ask you, what elite level forward, defenseman or goaltender do the Kings have that is one of the best in the NHL today and has a future as bright as Doughty? In other words, who is the comparable? Jonathan Quick? Is he one of the top goalies in the league? No. Jonathan Bernier? He hasn’t even earned a number 1 role with this team. As for defensemen, Jack Johnson is already under contract and nobody else even comes close to Drew’s status. At forward, our star centers are already under contract and none of our wings are generational talents. Sounds like a case of fearing fear and not a hypothesis based on common sense or the current state of the franchise. Now, if the Kings do develop a 40+ goal scoring top 6 forward or a defenseman of Drew Doughty’s caliber, why shouldn’t he be paid top dollar? Nobody is there yet…except Drew Doughty.

**

Why did I write this article? Today, I challenged myself to see Drew Doughty and Don Meehan’s perspective and this was the result. Did this give you that perspective? Did it make a dent?