What I am about to write is sacrilegious but it’s time to stop overlooking it:
What’s wrong with Drew Doughty and how do we fix him?
There it is. All out in the open. Go ahead and fire up your emails and send them flying like medieval arrows across the battlefields of Europe. I’m a big boy. I can handle it. I’m still getting hate emails about the column I wrote last month rightfully telling you that the fire sale everyone wants isn’t happening. Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for the Kings) every prediction in that was in that article was spot on thus far.
But can you handle facing the truth about our $80 million defenseman who is one of the only two players not on the trading block? Can you handle another seven more years of the play we’ve seen over the last 110 games or so? Maybe you can, but after watching the first thirty games this season, it’s apparent there’s something wrong.
Where to begin? Where’s the panic stem from you ask...Let’s start with this observation from LA Kings Insider during the December 7th game against Calgary:
Doughty gets cavalier after a pass off the boards to himself amidst some boos. A nice play, but Flames turn it around quickly and register a rush shot that Campbell fights off. Couple of difficult saves early for Jack.— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) December 8, 2019
Then there’s this from the last Edmonton game:
Or this one from the home opener:
I hear you when you say these are isolated incidents and I am nitpicking our outspoken leader, but actually these kind of plays are the norm and not just blimps on the radar.
From the word go this season, Doughty has made poor decision after bad decision. We want to blame the likes of Ben Hutton, Matt Roy and Joakim Ryan for Doughty’s play and how he’s making up for their ineptitude or inexperience and that he’s trying to do it all, but that’s only part of the story.
Rosen sagely points out a cavalier attitude from Doughty in the Calgary game and hallelujah that somebody did. I can tell you that ninety percent (unverified) of us look at Adrian Kempe and say he’s the reason the power play stinks this year. I want to be the first to tell you that you need to start with number 8.
Don’t let those loud (yes he’s really loud) occasional power play goals fool you. Ever since the Kings switched to the en vogue 4F/1D power play structure with Doughty as the primary quarterback, he’s been a hot mess with the man advantage. Turnovers, giveaways, unable to keep the puck in the zone, a massive amount of blocked shots...you name it, it’s happening to him.
What’s more troubling is the “cavalier” play. As the leader of defense and an alternate captain on a team trying to build from within with young players, we need an intense, focused, disciplined game from Doughty. Would it trouble you to know that he leads the entire NHL with 39 giveaways? That’s more than turnover machine Erik Karlsson (36) and rookie Sean Walker (31). It troubles me for sure.
Would it also trouble you that Doughty is deep in the middle of his second straight year of a sub fifty per cent Corsi rating (49.6% this year and 47.5% last year)? Every other season of his career he’s been well above fifty percent, including his rookie year. Now that can all be explained away about being on a bad team, but lest we forget the Kings missed the playoffs multiple times after the two Stanley Cup runs and Doughty turned in excellent defensive seasons (second and seventh place Norris Trophy finishes in those two playoff misses)?
Even more troubling are his bad habits in front of Kings goaltenders. Look at the Edmonton clip above. Notice how his positioning is absolutely incorrect and he actually is used by a superior offensive player as a weapon to score. His skates are ripe for a deflection. A guy like Leon Draisaitl will never miss that opportunity for an easy goal. He didn’t, and I count at least five other times the opposition has taken advantage of Doughty this season in just this manner.
Now look at the Nashville clip from opening night. In previous seasons, you would never see Doughty buying in on a fake that and going down to block a shot instead of staying high like Jonathan Quick needs. The old Drew Doughty would have played the man and bullied him off the puck. The last big hit he provided was the one that knocked him out of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has really not been the same since that fateful game.
None of this really matters when Doughty has Alex Faust and Jim Fox covering for him and hockey ‘splaining away his play and underscoring that he’s leading the league in TOI and “playing his most businesslike game of his career.” Our beloved television crew is always blowing smoke like this [remember all of the positive Willie D. talk last year?] and helps to shape the conversation. Regretfully, last year’s debacle seems to have broken Doughty and I wonder if he will ever get back to his Norris stature.
Honestly, I don’t blame Doughty for all of these issues. He should have wigged out by now. And I’m not talking about a simple outburst. I’m astonished that he didn’t go postal on the coaching staff last year. That says nothing about the front office staff who assembled a team of non-finishers that shoot the puck wide more often than not, and don’t clean up the loose change in front of the net, like ever.
How badly has this team been mishandled? It hasn’t drafted a quality starter in in a decade. The future is all in the minor leagues gaining experience and wasting the primes of Kopitar and the likes. Then there’s the Kovalchuk situation that lingers in the air like a bag of month-old bananas sitting in the corner of the press box. If there’s a grand plan, it seems to be: “Let’s keep all of our older guys and flip flop them on lines hoping to catch fire so we can trade them and pair him with journeymen and see if Doughty snaps so we can LTIR him.”
He isn’t a young guy anymore, either. Do you realize he’s 30? That this is his 12th season? That he’s played almost 1,000 NHL games (including playoffs)? That his 26:32 TOI every game for 12 seasons has already taken a massive toll on his skating hops? Doughty might be 30, but if NHL years were like dog years, he’d be, well, pretty darned old.
It’s impossible not to feel sorry for him. Always one of the most intense players in the league, Doughty’s emotion has morphed into something much more grim, as if he’s fighting the urge to implode. Seeing him in person, you can essentially hear the clock ticking. You can see the despair on his face, the frustration, and almost hear the tormented inner monologue: “My career is wasting away.” Other than Henrik Lundqvist, he’s become the most heartbreaking figure in the league, a superstar buried on a now eternally impotent team, a loyal player who can’t stand losing but is stuck with guys who really can’t play defense and regularly can’t score.
His saga is the saddest subplot of my 2019-20 season.
And few fans seem to notice.
Well, I care.
To be honest, though, I don’t care as much about Doughty as I do about his place in history. I want to know how good he is in this coming new era of Kings hockey. He can’t just flip a switch when they get good again. He needs to be on top of his game, every game. Yes, he’s one of the best defensemen of the last decade. I rank him in the top two pair alongside Duncan Keith. I find it laughable that players like Brent Burns, PK Subban, and Erik Karlsson are held in the same regard as Doughty. They aren’t even close and play lousy defense. And we know he can produce in the clutch from those 2012 and 2014 Cup runs where he could have easily been a Conn Smythe winner (2014) if voters actually valued defense. We all want more of this and the cold hard fact is that the Kings won’t ever return to glory without a great Doughty on the ice.
But maybe he’s too loyal for his own good. Through all of the drama associated with last season and his contract, he never asked out or intimated that he wanted out. It’s obvious he wants to stick out. So what’s really wrong? Who knows? By all accounts, he gave up on last season. His performance definitely proved that out, didn’t it? This year, it looks like he can’t find the magic like he had in his first ten seasons.
How does all of this get fixed? Who knows really? All I know is, it’s been depressing to watch.
So whether I’ve upset the loyalists who always look past the negatives just to say they aren’t bandwagoners, I don’t care. As of today, we only see the Great Drew Doughty occasionally, and only in short bursts.
All I want is the old Drew Doughty back.
You should too.
[Editor’s note: Stats current as of December 11, 2019.]