A media scrum set up camp around Drew Doughty’s locker well before the Kings defenseman emerged in a suit.
Doughty is from the Toronto area and has always been popular here, but he became a huge topic in the summer when he suggested, in an interview with the Hockey News, that he might leave the Kings if they’re not contenders. That, in turn, sparked speculation that Doughty might someday pull on a Maple Leafs jersey.
Doughty shot that down before training camp began, and did again Monday morning before the Kings played Toronto when asked about his contract, set to expire after next season.
“To be honest, it’s not on my mind at all,” Doughty said. “I know that interview in the summer kind of turned some heads and churned some questions. But the bottom line, I want to stay in L.A.”
He cautioned again that anything can happen but made it clear that Los Angeles is his home and liked the idea of spending his whole career there. His mind is far from anything other than the best start in Kings history at 6-0-1 and 13 points.
“This is the most fun I’ve had playing hockey since we won the Stanley Cup three years ago,” Doughty said. “It’s been a rough few years for us. We’ve come to the rink, not with smiles on our face, but this year, it’s a whole different thing. We have a new coaching staff. We have a lot of life in the room. We have a lot of good energy. We’re just having the time of our lives right now, but that all stops when we start losing, so we’ve got to keep winning.”
The intense media scrutiny is, in part, why many visiting teams get distracted and don’t play well because they have family and friends in the area. Kings coach John Stevens said he’s aware of that but it doesn’t change his preparation much.
“I think it’s important [that] guys come home and they get a chance to see their family,” Stevens said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for guys to do that. I think it’s maybe more a concern if it’s a guy’s first time going through it, but all these guys have been here multiple times.”
The Kings come through here as the league’s only remaining team without a regulation loss and tops in the NHL with 2.00 goals allowed per game. They got the attention of Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who said “he flies” when he talked about Kings forwards Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe.
“I think overall, the balance is better,” Babcock said of the Kings.
Stevens, in turn, expected to have to his hands full with the Maple Leafs, off to a 6-2-0 start with an NHL-leading 4.63 goals a game.
“That’s not just foo-foo stuff on the surface,” Stevens said. “If you look at the analytics, they’re just about No. 1 in every category … It’s probably the biggest challenge we’ve faced to date, so we’re excited to see our group and how they respond.”