Judging by the comments on most hockey websites concerning the impasse between Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings, the overwhelming sentiment seems to be that Doughty is nothing but a petulant, snot-nosed young man with an overinflated sense of entitlement.
That, of course, comes largely from people who believe if they were in the same position as Doughty is right now, they’d be thrilled to get a fraction of the money he makes to live the dream of playing in the NHL. Coincidentally, those people, for the most part, have no clue of the enormous sacrifices and level of commitment that were required for Doughty to get where he is and the fact he is among the best in the world at what he does. Ever wonder why hockey players never settle for less than what they believe they’re worth? Can it be that every single one of them is a greedy, self-absorbed jerk? Don’t think so.
As is the case with most high-profile contract disputes, there is a tendency to portray one side as evil and the other as good. Most have Doughty in the evil camp at the moment. But the fact of the matter is Doughty is fully within his rights to demand whatever amount of money and term he wants and the Kings are fully within their rights to tell him they have no intention of paying it. Doughty has no contractual obligation to take part in training camp and the Kings have no contractual obligation to allow him to do so.
Will Doughty stunt his development by missing valuable training camp time during a crucial year in his development as a player? Perhaps. But there are also those who believe training camp is overrated in terms of preparing a player for the season. Is Doughty really going to get better playing scrimmages against guys who will probably never share an NHL ice surface with him? And the days of players using training camp to get into game shape went away with horsehair goalie pads. Players keep up a high level of conditioning when they’re not playing hockey and the fact is Doughty is probably in better shape right now than he will be at mid-season.
There’s a perfectly good reason why Doughty wants more than the $6.8 million annually the Kings gave Anze Kopitar on a seven-year deal two years ago. It’s because Doughty thinks he’s worth more than Kopitar. He might be right. Or he might be way off base. But he has every right to think it and to demand to be the highest-paid player on the Kings.
When things get emotional, as they have in the case of the Doughty negotiation, rational thought sometimes becomes a casualty. Case in point was when Kings GM Dean Lombardi declared he the Kings were considering docking Doughty $25,000 every day Doughty missed training camp. Lombardi was quoted as saying players sign up for 275 days of work. “That was the one thing that changed during the CBA, that players were paid during training camp.”
Not sure when Lombardi dug up that nugget, but suffice to say he had to clarify himself after saying it. First, players are not paid during training camp or the playoffs. They are paid on a per-day basis based on the exact number of days during the regular season, which is 185 in 2011-12. Lombardi was referring to a provision in the CBA that allows teams to dock players for each day they don’t take part in training camp, but that applies only to players who are under contract. Doughty is not and the only way his salary will be pro-rated in any way is if he signs his contract after the regular season begins Oct. 6.
Lombardi acknowledged later that “things got out of hand,” after he made his comments and said the Kings were only considering imposing some sort of financial penalty against Doughty for each day he missed camp. “If you can deduct a day’s pay for a guy with a contract and a guy doesn’t show up and then you do a contract, would the same provision apply?” Lombardi said.
It only would if the Kings declared they were reducing their contract offer by a certain amount, say $25,000 for each day Doughty misses training camp. The reality is, though, Doughty will be paid how much or how little he and the Kings ultimately agree upon when they come to terms.
And while we’re talking about semantics here, can we all finally dispense with the notion that Doughty is a holdout? He is not a training camp holdout. Holding out is what guys like Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Yashin used to do. There’s a huge difference because those players had valid contracts and chose not to honor them, opting instead to withhold their services until their existing contract was renegotiated. Doughty does not have a contract, so how could he be holding out on the Kings? He’s a restricted free agent without a contract, not a holdout.
When you strip away all the white noise, what you basically have here is a negotiation, plain and simple. The only problem is the two sides don’t agree on the terms of the deal and the fact it involves a high profile and talented young player has ramped up the attention, intensity and emotion.
This deal will get done one way or another. If a rival team was going to present Doughty with an offer sheet, it almost certainly would have done so by now. And when the contract does get done, this impasse between the Kings and Doughty will be nothing more than a blip on the screen.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column.
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