May 31, 2012, 8:15 AM EST
What happened to Drew Doughty?
For a hearty chunk of the 2011-12 season, it was an unavoidable question that followed the Los Angeles Kings defenseman. After a protracted contract negotiation that essentially robbed him of training camp, Doughty sputtered. In his first 19 games (through October and November), Doughty managed just two goals and seven points. Worse yet, he just didn’t seem to carry that “dynamic” air that forced the Kings to hand him an eight-year, $56 million deal before he turned 22.
A different kind of Phaneuf’d
Considering his (relatively) modest 40-point contract year last season, it was tough to shake the feeling that he was going down Dion Phaneuf‘s path. While Phaneuf isn’t a “bust” by any means, most would admit that he’s fallen well short of the next Chris Pronger/Scott Stevens-type hype he initially generated. To some degree, it seemed like Doughty was regressing in a similar fashion.
The playoffs’ best blueliner
Maybe Darryl Sutter steered Doughty back in the right direction or everything simply began falling into place. Whatever the case may be, if the NHL handed out a “Norris Trophy” in the playoffs, Doughty would be a no-brainer (all apologies to Bryce Salvador and perhaps Dan Girardi). Doughty is tied with Salvador for second in playoff scoring among defensemen with 11 points (one behind Girardi) but he’s done so in 15 games compared to 19 for Salvador and 20 for Girardi. Doughty is averaging 26+ minutes per game as he gets surprisingly little credit for the Kings’ stingy ways.
While plus/minus is a faulty stat, it’s worth noting that Doughty is a +12 and is another bullet point in the argument that Doughty is just as – or at least almost – as big a reason for the Kings’ dominance as headline-hogging forwards Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar.
Slipping under the radar
Doughty’s brilliant turnaround has been overshadowed by a few factors. I’d guess that his two-season mini-slump dropped him a bit lower on peoples’ radars, for one. Also, with Brown/Kopitar and Jonathan Quick producing more highlight-friendly banter, Doughty’s dangerous point shots, playmaking savvy and underrated work in his own zone gets knocked off the marquee.
It’s also true that there isn’t the falling-off-cliff drop between Doughty and other Kings defensemen. Willie Mitchell is the only guy who approaches his time on ice totals, yet the defense corps is well-stocked with defense-first (Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene) guys and rising offensive blueliners (Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez). The fall from Doughty to, say, Voynov isn’t as severe as Zdeno Chara to (pick an unfortunate Bruins defenseman for comparison, really) because the team is so well-balanced. Everyone seems slotted in the Kings’ system well enough that it isn’t quite as obvious how important Doughty has been.
Doughty’s rebound hasn’t been instantaneous, yet it feels necessary to highlight his work admit all the praise for the Kings’ other stars. It seems clear that we can truly call Doughty an “elite” defenseman again, which is great news for GM Dean Lombardi and a discouraging development for the rest of the NHL.
(And we might just have to celebrate that fact by handing him the Conn Smythe Trophy by the time this is all over.)
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