Dean Lombardi: Kings have made their best offer to Drew Doughty
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General Manager Dean Lombardi said Friday the Kings have made their “best” offer to restricted free agent defenseman Drew Doughty and will proceed through training camp without him.
“We all know he’s a lively kid. He loves to play. He brings life to your room, let alone what type of player he is,” Lombardi said Friday after the remaining players underwent physical exams and fitness testing at the team’s El Segundo practice facility.
“That said, we have to move on here and focus on what we have, and we have a good team.
“At some point he’s going to be a King. He’s going to be a King a long time. It’s a bump in the road, but for the short and long term there’s no doubt that this is the right thing in terms of what we have out there.”
Players are paid only from the start to finish of the regualr season, but Lombardi said he considers the first day of training camp to be the start of a 275-day work period. Lombardi said he had not decided if he will reduce Doughty’s eventual salary based on how many days the defenseman misses, though that’s a condition Lombardi can put on the table depending on the nature and tone of future talks.
The Kings have offered Doughty an average of $6.8 million a year and were open to durations of six to eight years and to putting the 21-year-old defenseman’s average annual salary on a par with first-line center Anze Kopitar, an older and more proven player. But Doughty’s agent, Don Meehan, is believed to be requesting an average of $7 million -- and here’s where it gets complicated.
Meehan used to represent Kopitar but lost him as a client to Pat Brisson, another powerful agent whose roster includes Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. Brisson is a close friend of Luc Robitaille, who is the Kings’ president of business operations. Robitaille had access to Kopitar and could have helped steer Kopitar to Brisson, costing Meehan a high-profile client. Brisson said that while Robitaille might have recommended him to Kopitar, Robitaille never actively pursued Kopitar.
Meehan now wants Doughty, who has enormous talent but has had one good season, one extraordinary season and a bumpy season, to be paid more than Kopitar. That would be a coup for Meehan in recruiting future clients and, some in the industry suggest, an in-your-face to Brisson.
If Lombardi can be faulted here, it might be for making his best offer early in the negotiations and leaving himself little wiggle room. But he said he wanted to get Doughty under contract as soon as possible to set his budget for pursuing free agents and to prevent another team from signing Doughty to an offer sheet. The Kings unsuccessfully chased Brad Richards but then acquired center Mike Richards in a trade with Philadelphia and signed winger Simon Gagne as a free agent.
The first concern, Lombardi said, is where Doughty’s salary would rank among his peers.
‘So we certainly made an offer that puts him among all defensemen in the league, amongst the top players in the league. Not the top, but it’s certainly fair to say within the top five,’ Lombardi said.
‘The second thing is within your team, where it places him within the team, and certainly it places him amongst the top on the team. The third thing I look at is the allocation. Once you get to that point, is it fair within the context of the league? Is it fair within the context of the team? Then it’s allocation.
‘That said, I think you know how I feel about paying the type of money we’re paying leaguewide for what amounts to potential. ... But as much as I do not like it, I have to recognize that it’s a part of the league’s salary structure. So we made a decision that we could go to this number now and keep the rest of our players where we could be a contender.
‘So I’m satisfied where it is, that we can have this nucleus, keep it together, make sure we can keep our secondary role players, the key people you all need as well as your role players who are just as important to be a contender. And I’m satisfied that even though the number is very high that we can do this. That said, I’m not comfortable on the allocation basis that we could keep the rest once we start going any higher.”
Lombardi said it’s not a matter of giving Doughty $200,000 or $300,000 more to get a deal done, because of restrictions imposed by the $64.3 million salary cap. It could mean trading or otherwise losing a player and possibly upsetting the balance of a team that has been long in the making.
Lombardi said he had a “civilized” conversation Thursday with Meehan and added, “We always keep the lines open. But there’s probably not much more we can say or many more options we can look at.”
Lombardi also said he had spoken directly to Doughty briefly last week and might try appealing to him one-on-one again soon.
“Even though we’re going through this I still believe that Kings phone is sitting in his bedroom,” Lombardi said, referring to Doughty’s frequently told story of growing up as an avid Kings fan and having a phone with a Kings logo.
“We all know this kid. His teammates love him and he loves being at the rink. Quite frankly, Drew’s the type of kid who’d play for a six-pack of beer. There’s no doubt that deep down that’s what this kid is all about.”
If a six-pack of beer were payment enough, Doughty would have been in El Segundo on Friday. There’s a lot more at stake and a big test for Lombardi and the Kings in the coming weeks.
-- Helene Elliott