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Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi has one more task this summer: sign Drew Doughty, who is the most notable restricted free agent currently unsigned. According to a report from LAKingsInsider.com yesterday, the negotiations could last until September, as the demands from Doughty are high.
What is Doughty worth? How will other contracts that star RFA’s received this summer impact what the defenseman will make?
We all know Doughty is a talented player in the NHL with a bright future. He was a Norris Trophy finalist in 2009-10 after a 59-point output, only to finish third behind Duncan Keith and Mike Green. Doughty struggled to duplicate that campaign last year, recording just 40 points. Overall, though, he’s considered one of the league’s best young defenseman that is only going to get better.
Two players Doughty has been compared to this summer are Shea Weber, because he’s a fellow top defenseman, and Steven Stamkos, because they were drafted one after another in 2008 and are the same age (21).
There’s been speculation all off-season that Doughty’s camp was waiting for Weber’s deal to get done before moving along in negotiations with the Kings. Weber received a one-year, $7.5 million arbitration award last week, making him the NHL’s fifth-highest paid defenseman (salary-wise, not cap hit). Here’s the difference between the two players, though: Weber is an elite defenseman (and five years older); Doughty has shown signs he can be, but not consistently. Putting that into consideration, Doughty is not worth $7.5 million/year – yet.
When it comes to Stamkos and Doughty, it’s fairly similar to the Weber/Doughty debate. Stamkos signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract in July, also worth $7.5 million/year. Both Stamkos and Doughty had similar starts to their respective careers. They went through rookie seasons that had more downs than ups. In their sophomore year, each took the next step towards stardom with breakout seasons. The difference is the 2010-11 season, where Stamkos should what he is truly capable when on top of his game, while Doughty struggled with consistency. Also, forwards naturally make more money than defensemen.
So just looking at Doughty’s case up against Stamkos and Weber alone, the Kings blue-liner should not get a contract worth $7.5 million/year at this time.
Two other players that signed big extensions this summer were defensemen Brent Burns and Keith Yandle. Burns recently signed his extension with San Jose, which was worth $28.8 million over five years ($5.76 million AAV). Last month, Phoenix re-signed Yandle (who was an RFA) to a five-year, $26.25 million deal ($5.25 million AAV).
How does Doughty compare to those two? On the surface, he’s better than both of them. Burns, when healthy, is a really good top-pairing defenseman. But he’s only played two 80-plus-game seasons in his seven-year NHL career. Some people believe Yandle has overachieved the last few years; I’m not one. Yandle is one of the more underrated blue-liners in the game today.
Between Doughty’s sheer potential, his Norris Trophy nomination and Team Canada participation in the 2010 Olympics, he has a better resume than Burns and Yandle at a younger age.
Something else to consider is Doughty’s asking price. He reportedly has made it known that he wants to be the highest-paid player on the Kings roster. Currently, that title belongs to newly-acquired Mike Richards, who will rake in $6.6 million this season. (Anze Kopitar has the highest cap hit: $6.8 million.) That’s around the number you can expect Doughty to receive once the two sides come to terms, if the organization fulfills his wish.
Doughty doesn’t deserve the $7.5 million that Weber and Stamkos received, but he’s better than Burns and Yandle. A number somewhere in the middle would be $6.5 million. And if Doughty becomes the highest-paid Kings player, his salary and/or cap could potentially hover around $6.75 million on a long-term contract (six years? Eight?).
Then the question becomes, is Doughty worth that much to the Kings? As long as the stud rearguard continues to progress, absolutely he would be. Despite his step back in 2010-11, Doughty is still a top-flight defenseman and, as mentioned earlier, will only get better. If you take him off the Kings blue-line, it’s an average-at-best unit; otherwise, it’s a formidable defense corps. He’s a big part of the core that Lombardi and company expect to lead the team to its first ever championship.
Once Doughty signs on the dotted line – whenever that may be – the Kings can turn their focus to their ascension to being a Stanley Cup contender.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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