Four days ago, Los Angeles Kings boss Tim Leiweke couldn't have been more clear on the club's intentions towards star defenceman Drew Doughty.
"If someone's whispering in Drew's ear that ownership is going to get impatient and blink, they're wrong," Leiweke.
Well, blink the Kings surely did on Thursday night, abandoning their hardline position after figuring out, quite correctly, that as long as NHL teams refuse to use the leverage they have in the current collective bargaining agreement, young players coming off their entry level contracts have their teams over a barrel.
The public utterances of GM Dean Lombardi in this case, that he wouldn't exceed Anze Kopitar's $6.8 million cap hit for Doughty, and that he would start docking the defenceman pay for missing training camp, were laughable. It was a negotiation, and one the Kings were bound to lose after a succession of teams, starting with Tampa Bay and Steve Stamkos, completely caved in to the demands of these talented young players this summer. it'll be hard for Lombardi to assume such a hard stance in the future, having given ground so easily on the Doughty deal.
Eight years is a long time to commit to Doughty, and the Kings own evidence of that, having traded for Mike Richards this summer and taken on the $51.6 million left on the contract he had signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. The good news is that apparently such contracts can be moved. The bad news is that signing such young players to these ridiculously long deals is a mug's game. it's about locking up an asset, or at most assigning a contractual value to an asset that can in time be moved to another team.
Still, Doughty has his $56 million and the Kings have their defenceman and a chance, they believe, to challenge for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history this season.
"Let's go win some Cups," Leiweke told the Los Angeles Times. "We just spent more money this off-season than it cost to buy the team. We are committed."
According to the Times, AEG, which owns the Kings, spent $114.6 million this summer on Doughty, Richards and Simon Gagne after buying the Kings out of bankruptcy 16 years ago for $113.25 million.
Dollars aside, Doughty is a superb young defenceman, and the Kings are counting on him bouncing back to his form of two seasons ago when he took the league by storm and was a standout for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics.
In Doughty, Jack Johnson, Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell, the Kings believe they have a blueline corps to contend. Alec Martinez, Matt Greene and Davis Drewiske round out the group, which looks to have a nice balance of youth and experience. Doughty is the unquestioned kingpin, averaging 25 minutes per night. He missed six games due to injury last year and saw his points total drop by 19 over the previous year, but he was still plus-13.
"I've been a Kings fan since I was a kid and I was never thinking about going elsewhere," Doughty told Helene Elliott of the Times. "I knew it was just a matter of time before it got done and I'm just really excited to be a part of that team for eight years. I hope we can win many Stanley Cups in that time and I'm going to do everything I can to help lead us to that."
Doughty's deal leaves Kyle Turris as the last remaining restricted free agent yet to be signed. Turris appears to be at a deadlock with Phoenix.