Drew Doughty's name isn't coming up in conversations about possible winners of the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, and it's easy to think of several reasons why he won't repeat as winner of an award he won last year but probably should have won two or three years sooner.
The extraordinary scoring totals of San Jose's Brent Burns, who had 27 goals and 71 points through Friday, make Doughty's nine goals and 41 points seem modest. Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, who plays more like a rover than a traditional defenseman, wasn't far behind Burns at 67 points. The performances of perennial standout Duncan Keith of Chicago and Nashville's Roman Josi have won praise and have overshadowed Doughty's efforts this season too.
Doughty regrets being out of the Norris conversation, but only because he believes that if he had played well enough to be an award candidate the Kings wouldn't be in danger of missing the playoffs. They were eight points behind Nashville, the second wild-card team, with nine games remaining before they faced the New York Rangers Saturday night at Staples Center.
"It was a great honor to win that award. I had a lot of great teammates around me and great coaching staff, great organization to help me win that," Doughty said. "It's disappointing that I didn't have the year I would have liked to have had and be up for it again, but that's not what I'm about. I'm about trying to make this team make the playoffs and win championships, and that's all I worry about."
While Doughty's production is down slightly from previous seasons, his value to the Kings has increased in many ways.
He's still playing big minutes — his average of 27 minutes and 13 seconds' ice time ranked second in the NHL before Saturday's games — and he has usually been paired with rookie Derek Forbort, meaning he has had to cover up Forbort's mistakes. In addition, he has been asked to take a leadership role and be an influential voice in the locker room like Willie Mitchell, Robyn Regehr, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene were before him. "We had some veteran guys before. Well, he is that veteran guy now," associate coach John Stevens said.
Stevens also noted Doughty's improved penalty-killing work and said Doughty is unquestionably the first player the Kings call upon in every situation, good or dire. "I think defensively he's been as good or better than he was last year. I think he's taken on a lot of responsibility with a young partner," Stevens said. "I think Drew's matured to the point where he can give up a little bit of his own game and maybe not take as much risk because he knows how important it is to bring those guys along."
Doughty takes his responsibilities seriously. "I enjoy those types of challenges. When we have young guys that come up I look forward to trying to help them become better as players and as people," he said. "Another thing that's, I wouldn't say it's weighed on me, but this whole new leadership thing … I started doing it a lot in the last couple years, but this year, now that they're really leaning on me for it a lot, I've worked on that a lot and I think I've done a pretty good job at it. I think I've grown a lot in that department.
"I like having a lot of weight on my shoulders. I want to be able to carry that weight and help the team win. I wish I could have done a little bit better of a job throughout this season because we might be in a little better spot."
He acknowledged feeling fatigue from the long season, which began when he played for Team Canada in the World Cup before the NHL schedule began. He also said he'd like to again represent Canada if NHL players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, an issue that remains unresolved. "When this part of the season hits, the body is a little worn down," he said, "but we're trying to make a push to the playoffs so I put that all to the side."
He's disappointed the Kings are not in a playoff position. "It surprises me because of the talent we have in here and how good of a team we have," he said, "but we just left it too late and didn't win enough games throughout the season. I think we lost a lot of big games, and a lot of big games lately too.
"It's not impossible. We need other teams to lose a bunch of games. But all we can control is what we've got to do, and we've got to win every single game for the rest of the season. We can't worry about what other teams are doing. We've just got to go out there and take it game by game and try to win every one."