During eight years together as Kings teammates, Drew Doughty’s relationship with Jake Muzzin blossomed. The bond is layers deep, a connection crafted through the four playoff appearances, three coaching changes, two postseason-less summers, and one Stanley Cup title they shared side-by-side.
A less serious facet to their friendship: golf.
Doughty, a former Norris Trophy winner with 477 career points to Muzzin’s 238, might have the more distinguished on-ice career to this point. Muzzin, however, has always had a leg up on the links.
“He’s better than me,” Doughty confessed this week.
At least that used to be the case, before Muzzin was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs last season in the first major move of the Kings’ rebuild. On Tuesday night, Muzzin will face the Kings for the first time since, when Doughty and company open a three-game Eastern Canada road trip in Toronto.
“A lot of good memories,” Muzzin told reporters Monday of his time in Los Angeles, the franchise that signed the former Pittsburgh Penguins’ fifth-round to an entry-level contract in 2009 after he and the Penguins failed to come to terms on a professional deal. “A lot of good friendships ... it’s home.”
Few Kings were tighter with Muzzin than Doughty. Both were born in 1989 and, having grown up about 45 minutes apart in Ontario, played against each other in juniors.
In the NHL, they helped form the defensive backbone of the Kings’ 2014 Stanley Cup-winning squad, and led the team’s defenders in average ice time last season before Muzzin was dealt in January for a first-round pick (which became defenseman Tobias Bjornfot) and prospects Carl Grundstrom and Sean Durzi.
“We keep in touch,” Doughty said. “We were pretty close.”
So close are they that, this summer, Doughty and Muzzin renewed pleasantries on the golf course, sharing a round together in their first offseason apart. Doughty was happy to report the result.
“I beat him this summer,” he said and laughed. “He came to my club, so I had an advantage.”
With Muzzin now holed up in snowy Toronto for most of the year, Doughty is optimistic about his chances to make up ground in their away-from-the-rink rivalry — a small consolation for no longer being able to call Muzzin a teammate.
“I mean, he’s always kind of been better than me [at golf], but we’re a little closer,” Doughty said. “I think now that he’s in Toronto, I’m going to eventually catch up to him.”
Chalk it up as one small example of how quickly things can change in the NHL. Since Muzzin’s departure — which general manager Rob Blake called at the time a “very difficult day here for us,” and Doughty glumly summed up by saying “it’s weird and it sucks” — the Kings’ have scrambled to find another experienced left-handed shot on defense, especially as Derek Forbort has battled a back injury that has kept him out all season.
While the Kings have stumbled to a 5-9-0 record this year, Muzzin has helped the upstart Maple Leafs to a 7-5-3 mark that has them in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race entering the season’s second month.
Muzzin has nine points and a plus-four rating in 14 games this season. After leaving a game last week in the first period with an injury and missing Toronto’s most recent contest because of an undisclosed personal reason, he is set to return to the Maple Leafs’ lineup for Tuesday’s meeting with the Kings.
“A lot of guys you play with for a long time, you lose touch with no matter how close you were with them,” Doughty said. “He’s a guy I’ll always keep in touch with.”