Drew Doughty has decided to stay in Los Angeles, and the Kings are happy to have him through 2027. “Drew Doughty is one of the best defensemen in the world and we are obviously excited to have reached this point in the process in which he has committed to the Kings long term,” said GM Rob Blake.
His eight-year contract, which kicks in for the 2019-20 season, gives him a reported average annual value of $11 million against the salary cap, making Doughty the second-highest paid player in the NHL behind Connor McDavid ($12.5 million) when his contract kicks in. At least, at this moment.
Here’s a look at the ripples from this Doughty deal, for his team, for other teams and for other star defensemen:
What does it mean for the Los Angeles Kings (and their capologist)?
Let’s first establish something: There are a finite number of Drew Doughty-level defensemen in the NHL. Players who can skate 26 minutes and 50 seconds per game on average, score 60 points to rank seventh among defensemen and get nominated for a Norris Trophy for the fourth time in his career, having won once.
As it turns out, the Los Angeles Kings have a Drew Doughty. He turns 29 this season. He hasn’t missed a game due to injury in four seasons. The Kings had to retain this player before he could become a free agent.
The question then becomes “at what cost?”
Doughty makes $7 million against the cap next season, and the Kings are right under the ceiling with just over $3 million under the cap, per Cap Friendly. Next season, Doughty’s number will increase to $11 million against the cap, meaning the team will have $27.25 million in cap space tied into three players: Doughty, Anze Kopitar ($10 million average annual value through 2024) and Ilya Kovalchuk ($6.25 million through 2021).
The 2019-20 season will present a challenge if the there are no additional moves, as the Kings will have $74 million against the cap for 15 players. But then things get a little more flexible: Dion Phaneuf will have one year left on his deal ($5.25 million), as will Kovalchuk. Dustin Brown ($5.87 million) and Jeff Carter ($5,272,727 million) are both signed through 2022; the latter has no trade protection in his contract.
It’s a considerable financial commitment, but worth it for a known commodity and a durable franchise cornerstone. And, of course, who knows what happens in the next CBA with contracts on the books?
What does this mean for the Erik Karlsson Sweepstakes?
Drew Doughty is off the summer 2019 market. Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes has also agreed to a new contract, and is off the market next summer as well. Hey, Tyler Myers and Ryan McDonagh are fine defensemen; but if you want that franchise guy, there’s only one player in the conversation who is available to sign long term that fits the description: Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators.
Doughty and Karlsson have been linked since last November, when the Kings defenseman candidly mentioned that the two would keep tabs on the other’s contract discussions. “I know I’m going to talk to Karlsson back and forth, kind of see what money he’s looking for,” Doughty told The Athletic. “I’ll kind of look at what money I’m looking for. I don’t know if he’s going to re-sign with Ottawa. I don’t know if I’ll re-sign with L.A. You just never know what’s going to happen.”
Well, he re-signed with the Kings for $11 million annually. Now it’s time for Karlsson’s next contract.
Karlsson, 28, is a superior offensive talent to Doughty, with a career 0.83 points per game in 627 career games, although Doughty is arguably the better all-around player. Karlsson is going to get at least the $11 million against the cap that Doughty received, perhaps more.
But who is going to pay it?
The Senators have been listening to offers for Karlsson throughout the year. Reports this week were that they hadn’t heard the kinds of offers they were expecting for the defenseman, who has one more contract year at $6.5 million before hitting unrestricted free agency. One assumes action will pick up now that Doughty is off the table and his contract terms are established. If you want a franchise defenseman, it’s Karlsson. If you want Karlsson, it’ll likely cost you $11 million annually over seven years at a minimum — but likely more.
There are two teams that come to mind first. The Vegas Golden Knights were in on Karlsson at the 2018 trade deadline, and could easily fit him into their cap structure for this season and subsequent ones. The other team is the Tampa Bay Lightning, who would have to clear out some space to fit him in this season, but who have only two defensemen under contract in 2019-20. Oh, and Karlsson absolutely soaked up the experience of being in Tampa during the All-Star Game with his friend Victor Hedman.
He’s going to make bank wherever he ends up. And where he ends up will probably be the place that’s willing to take on his contract and the majority of Ottawa cap anchor Bobby Ryan‘s as well.
After Doughty, Karlsson and OEL, who’s the next defenseman with a blockbuster contract?
Both players will be 30 when they go unrestricted, which is a shade older than the players listed above as well as John Carlson, who signed for $8 million annually over eight years to return to the Washington Capitals. You could expect both McDonagh and Pietrangelo to be above that figure. Is P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators, who makes $9 million against the cap until 2022, the new median for elite defensemen?
Because it all comes back to the Leafs, right?
Doughty was another in a long line of Ontario-born players whom some Toronto fans (and media) were determined would come home and play a vital role for the Leafs. In this case, it was to have Doughty become the franchise defenseman backbone for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner up front.
Welp, there’s always the trade market. Say, isn’t Subban from Toronto?