It took longer than either side might have liked, but Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings finally found common ground.
The Kings officially signed the 21-year-old restricted free-agent defenseman to an eight-year deal Friday after he flew to L.A. hours after the two sides reached agreement on deal worth an average of $7 million per season.
Doughty had 11 goals and 40 points last season, a comedown from 2009-10 when he finished with 16 goals and 59 points, was a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defensemen as well as a second-team All-Star and an Olympic gold medal winner with Team Canada.
With the season set to start next week in Sweden, Doughty said he knew it was time to reach a deal.
"I definitely didn't want to miss that," he said after the deal was announced on Thursday. "This was never in mind, even being out for this long at all, but I knew I had to be there for the start of the season. I missed the boys a lot, and missed being in L.A., and this just felt like time to get it done and I'm really happy and really excited."
He also said there was never a question of signing anywhere else.
"I've been a Kings fan since I was a kid, and I was never thinking about going elsewhere," he said. "I knew it was just a matter of time before it got done. I hope we can win many Stanley Cups in that time, and I'm going to do everything I can to help lead us to that."
Kings coach Terry Murray was delighted to have his top defenseman back.
"I'm real happy for Drew Doughty and I'm real happy for the team, all the players in the locker room," he told Kings Insider. "There's no question that with him coming back in, there's just going to be a real good feeling in the locker room."
The Kings have preseason games Friday night at Anaheim and Saturday against Colorado in Las Vegas. Murray said he's hopeful Doughty will be able to make the trip to Las Vegas and skate beforehand with some of the players who won't be dressing that night, then get him some practice time in Europe before the opener. Doughty, who has been skating with the OHL London Knights, told the Los Angeles Times' Helene Elliott he could play Saturday night if asked.
"I think I could play," he said. "I haven't skated with an NHL team or anything like that yet, but I think I'm in great shape. I worked really hard this offseason, in the gym and on the ice. If they want me to play on Saturday, I guess I'll play."
The Kings leave for Europe after Saturday's game and begin the season in Stockholm against the New York Rangers on Oct. 7.
Team governor Tim Leiweke was relieved that the negotiations finally came to a successful end.
"He's a special kid and he's a good kid," he told Kings Insider.. "These things are never easy, and sometimes people take them personally, but I think he's going to be fine. I guarantee you we're fine. I'm happy that we got it done."
Leiweke said the signing indicated the franchise's commitment to winning -- the Kings have not won a Stanley Cup since entering the NHL in 1967.
"We are sending a very strong message to our fans. We're committed to winning, and we just proved it again." he said.
"When you look at the commitments that we made this summer, when you add this to Mike Richards and his long-term deal, and Jack Johnson and the commitment we tied up there, and then going out and adding Simon Gagne, we spent more money this summer than in the history of this franchise. We always said, if we get close, we will come with our guns blazing, and we just blazed. I'm glad it's done. I want our fans to understand that now, this is all about creating an environment to win the Cup, and that's what Drew is going to help us do. We don't look back. We only look forward now, and eight years is a good forward."
Doughty, who turns 22 on Dec. 8, statistically already ranks among the best defensemen to ever play for the Kings. His nine career game-winning goals ranks fourth all-time among Kings defensemen and his 17 career power-play goals ranks ninth all-time. He's also 12th on the Kings all-time list in career goals (33), 13th in career assists (93) and points (126), and tied for 15th on the all-time list in career plus/minus rating (plus-16).
Doughty led the Kings and finished fifth in the NHL last season in ice time with an average of 25:38 per game. He led all Kings defensemen with 11 goals (eighth overall on the team) and his 29 assists tied for fourth overall on the team. He also finished fourth overall on the team in both plus/minus (plus-13) and blocked shots (101). Doughty finished the 2010-11 season with 11 multi-point games -- the Kings were 9-2-0 in those games -- and he logged 25 minutes or more of ice time in 41 of the 76 regular-season games he played in.
The Kings selected Doughty with the second selection in the first round of the 2008 Entry Draft. He has 33 goals and 126 points along with 178 penalty minutes in 239 career regular-season games with the Kings. In 12 career postseason games, Doughty has 5 goals and 11 points, with 12 penalty minutes.