Drew Doughty would receive the fourth-highest salary cap hit among NHL… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
Drew Doughty and his agent, Don Meehan, are entitled to ask the Kings for as many millions of dollars as their calculators have digits.
They can cite Doughty's fine rookie season and stellar follow-up, which included an Olympic gold medal and top-three Norris Trophy finish. They can downplay his uneven third season by emphasizing his remarkable mobility, vision and scoring potential.
But sometime soon they must recognize that it's more important for Doughty to score points on the ice than make points at the bargaining table.
Doughty would have gained more by participating in the first training camp sessions Saturday than he will gain if he ultimately prevails in a senseless battle.
The Kings' last proposal of $6.8 million a year for probably seven years would have given Doughty the fourth-highest salary cap hit among NHL defensemen, behind Shea Weber's $7.5 million with Nashville, Brian Campbell's $7,142,875 with Florida, and Zdeno Chara's $6,916,667 with Boston. Chara has won the Norris Trophy and Stanley Cup. Campbell won the Cup with Chicago. Weber is in his prime and may be the league's best all-around defenseman, lacking a championship only because he plays for a financially squeezed small-market team.
A $6.8-million cap hit would put Doughty $600,000 ahead of Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, a seven-time Norris Trophy winner and four-time Cup champion.
How is that not enough?
"If you want to argue him as the face of the franchise as far as a player you're not going to find many arguments, I'm sure, in management or on the team," Rob Scuderi, Doughty's sometime defense partner, said Saturday.
"We miss him. We wish he was here. I think he misses out on a little bit of the preparation, but that's the business side of it and sometimes it's a little ugly."
It doesn't have to be so ugly.
A year ago Ducks winger Bobby Ryan was a restricted free agent and at an impasse with General Manager Bob Murray. Just as the Kings believe Doughty shouldn't earn more than top-line center Anze Kopitar, Murray wanted to keep accomplished forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry atop the Ducks' salary scale.
Ryan went around his agent — Meehan — to negotiate with Murray. The result was a five-year, $25.5-million deal that placed Ryan an appropriate third behind Getzlaf and Perry and got Ryan into camp on time.
"It was driving me nuts. I was skating with the guys every day and I was living here," Ryan told The Times' Lisa Dillman on Saturday in Anaheim. "To know they were going to be starting without me eventually drove me to the fact that I kinda cut out the middleman and went about it my way."
Knowing he would be isolated from his teammates was powerful motivation for Ryan to sign.
"What you ultimately play for is the guys in the room," he said. "The fans and the coaches and all that, they're separate. I think hockey is a brotherhood more than any other sport. If you can't look the guys in the eye and say you're doing the right things by them, you don't deserve to be in the room."
Doughty wasn't in the Kings' locker room at the Toyota Sports Center on Saturday. Nor was he on the ice with them building the unity that could supplement their depth and make them a force this season.
That will happen only if Doughty puts team wins ahead of philosophical victories. The Kings can throw some talented kids into scrimmages or exhibition games but can't come close to replacing him. And Doughty, not known for diligent conditioning habits, can't regain this preparation and bonding time.
No member of the Kings would criticize Doughty's strategy. Team captain Dustin Brown said he contacted Doughty this summer. Not to talk money "but to see how he was doing. Knowing Drew, he gets pretty stressed about stuff like this. What happens between him and management, that will get done between them. I'm just more worried about him as a teammate."
Technically Doughty isn't their teammate at the moment. He can and should change that. Soon.