LA Kings: Why Drew Doughty will have a bounceback year

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Drew Doughty’s best days with the LA Kings may be behind him, but a change in defensive pairings will make him a bounceback candidate.

Coming off a career-best 60-point season during the 2017-2018 campaign, the LA Kings rewarded Drew Doughty with an eight-year, $88M contract extension. At age 28, the London, Ontario native had already built up quite the list of accomplishments: two Stanley Cup Championships, a Norris Trophy winner, and two-time first All-Star team selections.

Doughty provided consistent stability at the blue line for the LA Kings during their deep postseason runs while logging a ton of average on-ice time. He recorded three consecutive 7.0+ defensive point-share seasons from 2015-2016 to 2017-2018.

But the past two seasons have been somewhat of a disappointment for Doughty. It’s a cause for concern, given that the Kings are tied to him for another seven years. Not that they’ll even be considering this yet, but he has a no-trade clause for the next three years and then restricted movements in his last four seasons.

Again, the Kings won’t be considering that, nor will they consider buying out his contract. But down the line, his contract could look really bad. Look at other defensemen with similar contracts like Blackhawks’ Brent Seabrook. Once a steady force along the blue line, Seabrook’s play has dropped off considerably, although the 35-year-old has been slowed by injuries as of late. But the Hawks still have four more years to pay him at a $6.9M AAV cap hit.

Doughty comes at an $11M cap hit through the 2026-2027 season, and although it was a COVID-shortened season, he statistically posted a career-worst -4.1 CorsiRel value. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Kings allowed a 54.4 percent goal-share with Doughty on the ice, broken down into 42 goals scored and 50 goals allowed.

Evolving Hockey indicates that Doughty was good for a 0.1 WAR and 0.1 SPAR last season. It was a slight increase from the 2018-2019 season, but still a far cry from the 2.5 WAR and 4.8 SPAR during the 2017-2018 campaign.

Why the LA Kings can be optimistic

Enough of the pessimism. Doughty is still 30 years old and got off to a fast start last season. Through the first three months, Doughty tallied six goals with 20 assists for 26 points in 42 games. Of those six goals, four came on the man-advantage.

He, along with the rest of the team, has been subject to three different head coaches in three seasons, each running their own system. I like what Todd McLellan brings to the table, but consistency will be key for Doughty going forward. Had he played all year like the first three months, we’d be having an entirely different conversation.

Time is still on his side, for now, which benefits the Kings, as they’ll look to get the prospect pool up to the NHL while the Doughty-Kopitar window remains open. I also didn’t think the first line pairing of Ben Hutton and Doughty, both offensive-minded blue liners, benefited either player.

I’d personally like to see Doughty paired with a stay-at-home defenseman like Mikey Anderson next year, so the former can focus on getting open in the opposition’s zone without the concern of leaving the defensive zone vulnerable to an offensive attack. He had that with Brayden McNabb before Las Vegas took him in the expansion draft. It’s a big reason why the duo was considered to be among the best in the league.

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And while the duo’s playing time was limited to just 115 minutes this past season, Doughty and the defensive-minded Derek Forbort produced a 2.241 xGF60 compared to a 1.943 xGA60, which was one of the more favorable pairings for Doughty.