Kings enter offseason with clear No. 1 priority
Yet another long summer awaits the Kings, with issues that can’t be resolved quickly, like in a television show. For the moment, No. 8 is enough.
While the aftermath of their first-round playoff elimination centers on their measly three goals in a four-game sweep, the pressing question Friday was whether veteran defenseman Drew Doughty will sign an extension with the Kings when he’s eligible on July 1.
“No. 1 priority,” general manager Rob Blake said on exit-meeting day. “I don’t think we’ve ever shied away from that.”
Doughty never shies away from his feelings, and he repeated that he doesn’t like losing, but he still thinks the answers are within the Kings’ dressing room when asked if the organization has shown enough for him to remain beyond next season, which would be his 11th with the team.
“I’m a big part of that team and I’ve got to try to bring us into that winning ways again,” Doughty said. “I take the responsibility for that, along with some of our other leaders. It’s not that they have to show me or prove to me anything for me to sign here. I’ve always wanted to be an L.A. King and I want to stay an L.A. King.”
Doughty has one season left on his contract and the Kings can start negotiating a new deal on the first day of free agency. He just made another case for being the best defenseman in the NHL and can command more than his current $7 million average salary. How that would impact the Kings’ roster flexibility is a tricky part of the equation, but the team has stated its intention to keep its most fiery leader and its nucleus intact.
“We’ve got to make sure we surround these guys, that we give them another shot at it,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said.
Doughty is part of a foundation that has won two Stanley Cups, and the Kings are trying to prop open that window for a third as they adapt to a faster game and integrate younger players such as Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallo.
Doughty likes “how much potential we have in the future” and said “I’m good with it and happy to hopefully re-sign here,” but he doesn’t know how close they are to being true contenders again.
“It’s hard for me to say that but obviously I hope it’s next year, because we’re getting sick of this losing stuff and we need to win a playoff series,” Doughty said.
Not only have the Kings won one playoff game since their 2014 Cup, they were swept out of the postseason this week because of an offense, or lack thereof, they had improved in the regular season under first-year coach John Stevens. They were shut out twice by the Vegas Golden Knights and lost all four games by one goal. Jonathan Quick had a 1.55 goals-against average for the series as the losing goalie.
Stevens has suggested an over-reliance on Anze Kopitar and others. That needs to be balanced by players such as Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, who both dropped off in scoring.
“If you’re going to have a team that can sustain success in tight games and key moments, you’re going to need more than your top line to score,” Stevens said.
It’s easy to overlook that the Kings allowed just seven goals against Vegas, with a defense in which Jake Muzzin had a separated shoulder and Derek Forbort was out with a sprained knee ligament, Blake said. Center Jeff Carter needs further rehabilitation on his lacerated left ankle tendon and said “this summer’s going to be big for me, just getting the strength back and the range of motion and all that.”
Blake addressed speculation about the possibility of Slava Voynov’s return, saying the Russian defenseman remains suspended by the NHL following his 2015 no-contest plea to a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse.
“It’s so premature at this point, because of those hurdles that he has to go through to be reinstated by the NHL don’t have anything to do with us,” Blake said. “To be honest, it’s so far away from our plate right now, we haven’t had those discussions.”
The players are aware of their waning Cup opportunities, though Quick, Kopitar, Carter and Dustin Brown are all signed through at least 2021-22.
“You only have so much time, I think,” Carter said. “Our old guys aren’t really that old. Our young guys coming up are actually really young. I like the mix. We can still get it done. We still have a team there that knows what it takes.”
Kopitar spoke about the “positive energy” back from years past, and drew a big laugh when asked when he will start recruiting Doughty to stay.
Said Kopitar, “I have already.”
Follow Curtis Zupke on Twitter @curtiszupke
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