The sand at the top of the offseason hourglass had almost vanished, Drew Doughty
’s availability for the start of this season was essentially down to a matter of hours.
In the end, though, a deal got done, as Doughty on Thursday night agreed to an eight-year contract that will make him the highest-paid Kings player, at an average of $7 million.
Doughty, a restricted free agent this summer, came to terms on a deal that will keep him in a Kings uniform until the end of the 2018-19 season, when he will be 29 years old.
The Kings’ leader in ice time last season, and a Norris Trophy finalist the year before, Doughty repeatedly expressed his desire to stay with the Kings long-term, and Kings general manager Dean Lombardi worked since June to try to get a deal done.
For months, Lombardi stuck to an offer based around a $6.8-million average salary -- the same money made by leading scorer Anze Kopitar
-- and resisted a short-to-medium-range deal. In the end, Lombardi moved slightly on money, and Doughty’s camp agreed to a contract of increased length.
"You know, to be honest, what happened there is in the past," Doughty said in a phone interview Thursday night. "I think, as of now, I’m just excited to get this deal done with. I’m going to forget about everything that happened before and just move on. I’m really excited to be a part of the Kings. I never wanted to leave the Kings. That was never an issue. I’ve always wanted to be here. My heart (is with) all the guys in the room, the organization, the fans and everything. I think everyone is just really happy to get it done and we’re going to put everything in the past."
Kings coach Terry Murray said he plans on having Doughty in the lineup when the Kings open the regular season Oct. 7 in Stockholm, Sweden. Doughty is scheduled to fly from Toronto to Los Angeles on Friday morning, take a physical and sign his new contract.
According to sources, the deal came together quickly. After Doughty failed to report to camp, there was a lengthy period of silence between Lombardi and Doughty’s agent, Don Meehan, an impasse that was apparently broken on Thursday morning.
"I just want to go win Cups. Drew is going to help us do that," Kings governor Tim Leiweke said. "Dean did a good job here. Dean is unbelievable with the budget and the forecasting and, as you know, he’s a professor when it comes to the boxes and forecasting where we’re going long-term. So he was passionate about protecting ourselves with some flexibility here. I feel good about the fact that we have someone that has the vision that Dean has, long-term, and is keeping the nucleus together.
"But he’s also smart, and he knows eight years is eight years. And this kid is 21 years old. He’s going to 29, and still in his prime, when he’s done with this contract. That’s a good thing for the franchise. The guy that isn’t mentioned here, (team owner) Mr. (Philip) Anschutz, he has broken the bank here. We are sending a very strong message to our fans. We’re committed to winning, and we just proved it again."
The Kings selected Doughty, 21, with the No. 2 overall pick in 2008, and he made the NHL roster immediately as an 18-year-old defenseman.
In his second season, Doughty totaled 59 points and was a finalist for the Norris Trophy. Last season, he suffered a concussion early, and his play and production for the rest of the season was uneven, as he finished with 40 points in 76 games.
Still, Doughty’s skill is unquestioned, including his ability to regularly play upward of 30 minutes per game, as well as contribute on the power play and penalty kill.
"I definitely didn’t want to miss that (trip to Europe)," Doughty said. "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."
The Kings have a preseason game Friday night at Anaheim, followed by a game Saturday night in Las Vegas against Colorado and then a flight to Germany.
Doughty said he would play in Saturday’s game if asked, but Murray said he is pointing toward the season opener six days later, which would potentially give Doughty four days of on-ice practice with his teammates after he missed all of training camp.
Doughty has been skating with a junior team in the Toronto area and said his conditioning is good, and Murray said he wouldn’t hesitate to play Doughty soon.
"I’m planning on (Doughty playing) that first game of the season,’’ Murray said. "I know he’s been skating up in London with Dale Hunter and the London Knights, so he’s certainly been getting ready to play. I’m sure he’s feeling good, really excited, a lot of adrenaline flowing. So there won’t be any hesitation on my part.
"As I said, I have gone through this, with players coming in the day before the season, and I put that player in the lineup, because you talk to them and they feel good. They feel that they’ve been skating and their conditioning is, not necessarily in top shape but they feel confident that they can play and contribute. So, with the week in front of us, I feel really good about Drew being ready to go."