At the end of a half-hour conference call with reporters Monday, Drew Doughty fielded his final question with an utmost honest answer.
Would the Kings defenseman, who sounded anything but optimistic about finishing the NHL season amid the COVID-19 outbreak, feel differently if his team were higher in the standings?
“Yeah,” he laughed. “For sure.”
Alas, circumstances have given Doughty a clearer outlook on the NHL’s bleak situation. With the Kings out of the postseason race, his focus is on the bigger picture.
“I really don’t know what is going to happen,” he said. “Obviously the players want to play. The fans want to see us. We want to play in front of the fans. But it seems like it’s going to be pretty tough to do that.”
Doughty’s own experience provides compelling anecdotal evidence. Once the NHL season was suspended on March 12, Doughty and his family returned to their Canadian offseason home in London, Ontario, to wait out the delay.
In the month since, he hasn’t skated — “my gear is not even in London,” he said — and only has used his modest home gym equipment to keep in shape.
He isn’t sure whether to go into offseason mode, where he can completely shut down and let his body recover, or stay somewhat in game shape. He is still waiting to discover if this regular season will be completed, in which case the Kings could play as many as 12 more games, or if next season’s schedule will start on time. He isn’t even convinced holding a postseason this summer would be worth the potential health risk and certain logistical nightmare.
“I know they so badly want to give out the Stanley Cup this year, but in all seriousness, it wouldn’t even be like winning a real Stanley Cup if the season wasn’t finished, if teams couldn’t get in the playoffs,” he said. “I’m assuming they’d have to come up with a different playoff format, so it’d be a little different. I’m not a huge fan of it, as much as I want to play.”
The hockey hole in Doughty’s life hasn’t been easy to replace. He misses the games and the fans, sure, but also the small moments around the rink, and the memories made in the locker room and on the road.
“That’s what you miss,” he said. “Going to the room, laughing the whole time, hearing stories from young guys and old guys about their kids or whatever it may be. I mean, that’s the best part about hockey.”
Doughty has found a few silver linings while stuck at home. With his strict in-season schedule shelved for now, he has found more time to be a dad and husband. Free from the short-term focus required throughout the regular season, he has thought about his future aspirations, including to own a junior hockey franchise in the Ontario Hockey League.
He has been able to reflect on another season gone too, pointing out positive contributions from young teammates such as Matt Roy, Blake Lizotte and Adrian Kempe, as well as the progress made in Year 1 under new coach Todd McLellan.
“He was great for us,” said Doughty, who personally tallied 35 points (seven goals, 28 assists) in 67 games for a Kings team that went 29-35-6. “It’s a little bit disappointing that we couldn’t have done better than we did in the season because the change we had in the coaching staff made it very accessible to be successful this year.”
Then again, the fact that the Kings — next-to-last in the Western Conference when the season stopped — weren’t better has made it easier for Doughty to face the truth of this newfound situation.
“We have no idea when this virus is going to be over,” he said. “We’re just sitting here waiting, working out, getting ready to hopefully return at any point. I would think the NHL or whoever has to make a decision will make some type of decision on that soon. It seems like it’s going to be pretty tough to return, to resume the season or the playoffs.”