Drew Doughty has snagged two Stanley Cups and one Norris Trophy in Los Angeles, establishing himself as one of the names undoubtedly in the mix for the best defender in the game through nine seasons with the Kings.
But it seems the memories of that successful near-decade run might not be enough to keep Doughty in California once unrestricted free agency rolls around in 2019.
“My first love will always be L.A.,” Doughty told The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin in a piece published Saturday. “It’s one of the best organizations in all of sports, not just hockey. It’s unbelievable. They treat us first-class, and it’s a good place to play.
“I’d love to re-sign in L.A. But if our team isn’t going in the right direction… I want to win Cups. I don’t give a s— where I play. I just want to win Cups, and that’s the bottom line.”
The Kings will need a sharp turnaround in 2017-18 to shift their trajectory into “the right direction.” After three seasons that saw them win two championships and bow out in one conference final, Los Angeles’ past three years have served as a humbling equalizer. The club has missed the playoffs in two of those three campaigns, winning just one post-season game in the lone year they did make it to the dance.
In that time, the Western Conference has changed drastically, with the arrival of a few new superstars lifting up some former basement dwellers and a couple former on-the-cusp clubs climbing into genuine contender status.
L.A. still has two more years of Doughty’s $7-million-per-season price tag on the books, however, giving it some time to convince its two-time Olympic gold medallist to remain. The organization kickstarted that process this summer, turning over its front office and coaching staff to help right the ship.
Doughty said he approves of the changes.
“Dean (Lombardi) and Darryl (Sutter) were great for the organization and great for me as a player,” Doughty said. “I love them so much. They’re awesome. At the same time, it was necessary to make a change.
“I’m not saying that Dean should have been gone, but we needed a coaching change, and we made great decisions there.”
While ousted coach Sutter helped turn the formerly struggling Kings into a Western Conference powerhouse, Doughty said the veteran bench boss didn’t come without his flaws.
“Darryl’s an awesome coach,” Doughty told Larkin. “He taught me a lot of things as well. But if there is a problem with the team, or if you had a problem with Darryl, you’d be intimidated to go knock on his door and say, ‘Hey Darryl, I don’t like this or I don’t like that.'”
The 27-year-old will get a shot at establishing a better line of communication with his head coach in 2017-18, as John Stevens – who’s been on the Kings’ coaching staff since 2014 – is set to take over the top job.
Stevens will do so with the stakes high, as a few more seasons of lacklustre finishes and rocky relationships might just mean a 2019-20 campaign with Doughty on an opposing roster.