Back Where Drew Belongs
The Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty's playoff run reestablishes
him among the game's elite defensemen.
LOS ANGELES -- As the Kings bask in the afterglow of last week's
series-ending triumph in Phoenix, their improbable march to the
Stanley Cup goes on with minimal resistance from the opposition.
The Coyotes, like the Canucks and Blues before them, wilted and
eventually succumbed to the combination of depth, size, speed and
skill that's been the signature of the Kings 2012 playoff success.
Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi's late season creation wreaked havoc
throughout the NHL's Western Conference since mid-April to a degree
that the numbers produced are edging towards historical. The hard
numbers that show a win loss record of 12 wins and 2 losses, a rate
matched by few teams through three playoff rounds. While the winning
percentage is impressive, the bigger feat is Los Angeles sitting on
the cusp of being the only eight seed in the history of sports to be
established as the betting favorite in the title round.
The organization's theory to a championship has been consistent; you
win with strength down the middle, a developmental strategy that works
across sports organizations.
In baseball, it's catching, middle infield and center field, and GM
Lombardi, an avid student of both sports, has crafted it into
goaltending, defense and depth at center ice - for hockey purposes.
While the parts were in place for the past two seasons, the execution
wasn't and only when Lombardi recruited the proper bench general in
Sutter, did the formula start to work successfully.
The third round triumph brought into focus the maturation of a player
who must be a leader on this Los Angeles team after a ton of criticism
throughout the regular season. Jonathan Quick makes the saves when
necessary and Dustin Brown forcefully injects himself into every key
situation. Dustin Penner has written the ultimate redemption story and
Anze Kopitar has proven he needs to be in every conversation about the
NHL's elite centers but the difference maker in the third round was
It's been a really looooong season for the native of London, Ontario,
from the protracted contract negotiations that had Kings' fans
fretting needlessly through training camp to the near daily rants in
the early season that Drew was woefully out of shape.
The exclamation point on a mediocre season came when veteran Willie
Mitchell was voted the Kings best defenseman at the end of the regular
season. While Mitchell have been an integral part of the Kings success
and earned a deserved contract extension, it's the dude who makes $6
million who needs to be your best night in and night out. The Kings'
improving play in the stretch clinched them a spot in the post-season
dance, but their failure to win a pair of season ending games against
the San Jose Sharks but them in the disadvantageous (at the time)
eighth seed in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Entering his third consecutive post season, Doughty's playoff
performances were a barometer for the Kings lack of success. Two
seasons ago, Drew was killer on the power play, but his even strength
play suffered (minus-5 rating over six games) and the Canucks emerged
after a six game struggle.
Last season, Drew gave offense again and although his defense was far
better, the Kings weren't mature enough to stand prosperity. Their
infamous Game 3 collapse against San Jose was the proof that although
this team was talented, they didn't possess the emotional makeup to
drive a deep playoff run.
The season's roller coaster ride deposited the Kings at the feet of
the Vancouver Canucks in early April and careers were riding on Los
Angeles' ability to pull off a historic eight over one upset. From its
feisty GM Dean Lombardi to the core players like Kopitar and Brown, a
third consecutive first round playoff ouster would have started a
major run of changes at the corner of 11th and Figueroa in downtown
With most giving the team only a puncher's chance against the
President Trophy winners, they played two perfect road games to leave
British Columbia with an improbable two-nil series lead. Doughty's
play in the first two games mirrored his regular season, good enough
to help the team win but not the game breaking, difference maker that
his teammates needed and what fans and his paycheck demanded. When the
Kings split the next two games at home (their Achilles Heel all season
is their performance at Staples), the Canucks had an opportunity to
crawl back into the series with a Game 5 victory at home. They had
been buoyed by the heroic return of Daniel Sedin to the lineup which
galvanized their lineup and the roaring faithful at Rogers Arena
believe that a reverse sweep could was at hand.
The game broke down as most have in the Kings playoff season, they
played a tight defensive road game with an aggressive fore-check that
gave them numerous opportunities but through forty minutes backup
Vancouver goaltender Cory Schneider was pitching a shutout. With the
Kings trailing by one, the play that launched Drew Doughty to the next
playoff level, the one that everyone was waiting for was executed.
Gathering the puck at center ice off a bad pass from David Booth, he
came down the middle and turned Keith Ballard to create space for Brad
Richardson to tap in a slick feed to knot the game early in the third
period. While most fans will remember the wicked Jarret Stoll wrist
shot in overtime that clinched the series, we feel Doughty's rush was
the legitimate starting point of this championship run.
Debate the premise on the overall effect of the team if you like, but
the impact on the player is indisputable. In nine games over two
rounds against St. Louis and Phoenix, two goals, six assists and a
plus eight rating makes him arguably the best defenseman remaining in
the tournament. He trails Bryce Salvador and Dan Girardi by one point
though he's played only 14 games (Girardi -- 19, Salvador -- 17) and
his overall plus 10 is only equaled by Salvador. The production over
the last two rounds is Exhibit A that he's seized the moment but his
on ice actions throughout the entirety of the post season are the full
When the Canucks tried to goad him into foolish penalties after the
whistle, he laughed in their faces and skated away. When he was on the
hook for a tough interference penalty in overtime that could have
extended the Phoenix series to a tenuous Game 6, he took exception to
the call and his emotions led him to a passionate on-ice demonstration
that some thought were worthy of an unsportsmanlike conduct or ten
minute misconduct but Doughty walked the fine line of protest. When
the linesmen blew an off-side call (and what is with so many missed
off-side this playoff season), he went at them as well. That's exactly
what you want in a leader, the guy willing to challenge and question
authority, someone willing to show his heart on his sleeve in the heat
of the battle.
"I was losing my mind on both of those calls, but when you want to win
so bad sometimes you just can't control your emotions," he admitted in
the celebratory post-game locker-room.
So if the Kings go on to win the Stanley Cup, it may be time to make
for Doughty being the best pick of the 2008 Entry Draft. Yes, the same
draft year that has Steven Stamkos as the first overall selection.
Yes, the same dude that scored an amazing 60 goals this season and is
a big favorite by the crew at The Fourth Period. Stamkos' 156 goals is
a staggering number in today's NHL, his shot is legendary and like
Doughty, he's an excellent dude, so in no way are we disparaging the
player and his once in a generation skills.
Though Tampa Bay finished tenth in the Eastern Conference, he
convinced enough writers who cover the sport that he should be a
Finalist for the Hart Trophy but after completing his fourth NHL
season, Stamkos has only seen the post season once while this is
Doughty's third consecutive (and deepest) playoff appearance.
Those that argue the Kings are a better team are correct but both
players started at same point, their teams stunk and they were looked
at as the ones to take them to the championship level. Steven came
oh-so-close, the Lightning came within a goal of a Finals berth last
season but with Drew being a major force in this championship run,
you'd wonder who Lombardi would have picked had he had the first
overall selection on the floor in Ottawa almost four years ago.
With the rare exception of a Steve Yzerman or Mark Messier, leadership
on a hockey team comes from a group of individuals. With the Kings
it's no different, there's the quiet assurance of the captain Brown,
whose actions always speak louder than his words. There are the
warhorses like Mitchell, who will talk as long as there's one
microphone left in the room and dudes like Rob Scuderi and Justin
Williams who can bring their shiny Stanley Cup rings from previous
stops to reinforce and motivate what it take for the final four wins.
This playoff season, Drew Doughty has entered the circle; he's no
longer the cool dude, precocious likeable guy who's loving life in Los
Angeles. He was schooled defensively by his first teacher; former
Kings coach Terry Murray and then graduated to Head Master Darryl
Sutter's Finishing School. The change in his leader's voice and style
has injected the right sense of urgency and passion into Drew's game.
The few percentage points of confidence that were lacking in the
player's personality have been injected in the last month. His
performance with the stakes at their highest should return Doughty
into the conversation that he was in two seasons ago, the one that has
him as a future Norris winner.
"You dream your whole life about going to the Stanley Cup. You hear
from the older guys who hard it is to get there, a guy like Mitchell
who's played thirteen years to get there for him, it's a great
feeling," as he puts his teammates' feelings above his own, confident
that this will be the first of multiple trips to the Finals.