Early-summer fretting turned to late-summer reality on Friday morning, when Drew Doughty
did not report for his physical examination at the start of Kings training camp.
Doughty, a restricted free agent, does not have a contract for the 2011-12 season. In the absence of a last-minute agreement, Doughty will be home in suburban Toronto as teammates begin on-ice practice sessions tomorrow morning in El Segundo.
Negotiations between the Kings and Doughty's agent, Don Meehan, have been ongoing since June but have been fruitless. General manager Dean Lombardi said his offer to Doughty would put him "at the top of our team‚" in salary. The Kings are believed to have offered Doughty an average salary of $6.8 million, equal to that of Anze Kopitar
Lombardi declined to discuss specifics, in terms of his offers to Doughty, but in an interview Friday, seemed to hold firm that he would not increase his offer.
"This is not an issue of spending money," Lombardi said. "But what people sometimes don't realize is, it's easy to say, 'Well, just pay a little more.' Under this system, that can really hurt you, as far as keeping other key components of your team.
"So even though the [salary] number is still, I think, fair in terms of the league and the team, where we're at now is the most we can and feel comfortable that we can keep all the pieces necessary to be a contender, year in and year out."
Lombardi indicated that the team's most recent offer was now off the table, and that any further offers would reflect how many days of training camp Doughty misses.
"There has to be some finality, in terms of when the players are supposed to report," Lombardi said. "You do this based on 275 days of work, and now it's down to 274.
"There's no doubt in my mind that this kid is going to play here and play here a long time. But now, like I said, missing a day of work has to be factored into this. It's no different than any other player. The lines of communication are certainly open. There was a cordial discussion last night, and that's it."
Based on a contract offer of $6.8 million, each day of work out equal just under $25,000.
Doughty, 21, has been a key member of the Kings‚ defensive unit since they drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2008. Doughty made the Kings‚ roster as an 18-year-old rookie and, in his second season, was one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy.
Last season, Doughty's point total slipped from 59 to 40 but he still led the Kings in average ice time and was a key contributor in all areas of the game.
The Kings had hoped to sign Doughty to a long-term contract shortly after the end of the season, and held a series of negotiations, with Lombardi traveling to Toronto three times for face-to-face talks with Meehan. The two sides could not reach agreement.
Contract talks picked up intensity again in August, but they haven't led to an agreement. Lombardi described himself as disappointed that Doughty is not in camp, but seemed to indicate that he was waiting for the other side to budge in terms of negotiations.
"I can't think of discussing something that hasn't already been discussed. I honestly can't," Lombardi said. "We're probably just tapped out, even from talking, but it doesn't mean we won't."
TSN's Bob McKenzie reported Friday afternoon that Meehan "declined comment when asked" about Lombardi's statements today. Lombardi said he had a brief direct conversation with Doughty last week, but did not get into contract specifics.
"What we have [offered] is no doubt an expression of how we feel about him as a player and a person," Lombardi said.