With the 2018-19 NHL season firmly in the rear view mirror, it’s time to look back at what we learned about the players of the Los Angeles Kings. How did they fare in a down season? What’s next for each of them? Who will still be here on opening day? Join us as we take a look back at the season, try to figure out what went wrong, and see where we go from here. Today we look at Drew Doughty, maybe the best defenseman in Kings history. His 8-year, $88 million dollar contract kicks in next year and is already making people nervous. The NHL Network was actively trying to trade him in January. With a new coach and a new system, the Kings need him to step back into his Norris Trophy winning ways and lead the defense. Can he? Will he?
“It’s been a (expletive) season.”
That was the quote from Drew Doughty that screamed across the Los Angeles Daily News on March 4th as the Kings were closing in on their worst finish since the Marc Crawford Era almost fifteen years ago. He expanded on that sentiment later:
“It’s hard to have fun, that’s for sure,” he said. “I haven’t had fun basically this entire season, you know, and that’s all due to losing and not winning hockey games. And, yeah, it’s been a (expletive) season; it’s sucked.”
The last two seasons have been feast and famine for the Kings defensive linchpin:
- 2018-19—82 Games Played, 45 Points (8G / 37A), -34, 44 PIM, 7 PPG, 5.2 Shooting Percentage, 2181 Minutes Time On Ice, 26:36 Average Time On Ice. No votes for an All Star Team, Norris, or Hart.
- 2017-18—82 Games Played, 60 Points (10G / 50A), +23, 54 PIM, 3 PPG, 4.9 Shooting Percentage, 2201 Minutes Time On Ice, 26:50 Average Time On Ice. First Team All Star, 2nd in the Norris Trophy Voting, and 15th in the Hart Trophy Voting.
When you dive in further to some advanced stats—my favorite being PDO—it reveals quite a bit. Here are the numbers (for a layman breakdown on PDO, click here):
- 2018-19—56 oiGF, 7.3 oiSH%, 83 oiGA, 90.6 oiSV%, 97.9 PDO.
- 2017-18—93 oiGF, 10.0 oiSH%, 72 oiGA, 91.3 oiSV%, 101.2 PDO.
A couple of things jump out of these stats, the first being goals for at even strength. In 2017-18, while Doughty was on the ice at even strength for 93 Kings goals compared to 56 goals for last year. Some of that can be credited/blamed on the systems used. In John Stevens’ unimaginative offense, the Kings netted 237 goals (against a league average of 240) in 2017-18. Last season, the Kings mirrored the Willie Desjardins offensive standard tallying 199 goals (against a league average of 244). But here’s the thing: the Kings gave up 259 in 2018-19 and only 202 in 2017-18, meaning they went from a plus 35 to a minus 60 in one season. That’s a 95-goal swing, part and parcel as to why Doughty’s game was at its worst statistically since his rookie campaign.
The Kings paid the price statistically and in the standings for their offensive ineptitude, and with Doughty soaking up nearly half the game on ice (26:36) as usual, he wound up as a minus player (-34) for only the third time in his career. The minus 34 was good for second worst in the league. One thing he was one of the league leaders in was smashing sticks after empty net goals allowed (the Kings allowed 16 of them and Doughty probably destroyed 7-10 sticks):
Doughty spent the bulk of his season freelancing and forcing the play while the coaching staff switched defensive pairings in game more often than not. He was open about his ability to break up odd-man rushes improving even in a down year while adding a higher level of physicality to his game. The result was Doughty’s lowest on-ice GF/60 in five-on-five play (1.78) of his career. All of this culminated with trade whispers that he would be happier elsewhere.
In what world would we ever have thought this discussion would occur while Doughty was still in his prime? It did and it was floated out there on January 29th by the NHL Network. Listen in...
Meanwhile, his peers across the league continued to hold him in high regard as evidenced by the NHLPA poll that showed him as the second ranked defenseman in the NHL, almost gaining more votes that Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson combined.
With the Kings drifting further and further away from a miracle turnaround, Doughty shifted his focus to speaking his mind about his rivals with stunning precision.
Doughty endorses Giordano as Norris frontrunner and takes swipe at Brent Burns: "Giordano has (72 points) and he plays good defence...Burns get beat three times a game, literally, and everybody has him up for the Norris. I just don’t get it."— Eric Francis (@EricFrancis) March 25, 2019
Considering that the five of the remaining six projected opening night defensemen [Derek Forbort, Paul LaDue, Kurtis MacDermid, Matt Roy, Sean Walker] on the roster have less than 500 NHL games combined (the exception being Alec Martinez)—Doughty needs to be a better leader on the backend. Once a strong possession team that dominated the NHL in shot share, the Kings’ 47.72 shots for percentage at 5-on-5 last season was only better than a handful of other non-playoff teams. Doughty was on the on the ice for more shots against than Los Angeles gets itself for the first time since his rookie season. All of these things need to improve and it starts with him.
Wandering around in a frustrated stupor after big losses isn’t ideal either.
With $88 million and a full no movement clause in the first four years of the eight-year deal, the Kings need and expect him to be at his Norris Trophy level of compete and the production to match. If not, it could be a really long decade in Downtown Los Angeles.
Doughty - Mic’d Up - “Are you joking me?”
2018-19 Exit Interview