Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Defending Drew Doughty

Before you get far into reading this post, I want something to be clear. I have no contract update, no insider information or other status on Drew Doughty's contract with the Kings. This is nothing more than an undisguised rant at portions of the Kings fanbase, the blogosphere overall and the general business condition of hockey that has whipped the contract negotiations between Doughty and the Kings into an embarrassing feeding frenzy.

This blog only states one opinion and it's from the most unapologetic and completely supportive Drew Doughty fan on the planet. If you want critique of this kid, there are a million other places you can do it on the Internet. If you believe, as I do, that this situation has gotten blown ridiculously out of proportion for all the wrong reasons, by all means keep reading.

Virtually from the start of these negotiations, Drew Doughty has been painted as a greedy, selfish cad who is more of a ladies man and party boy than a top 10 NHL defenceman. Claims have been leveled that his "goal" is to be the highest paid King, insinuating he's somewhere in Toronto rubbing his hands together in Don Meehan's office and dreaming of the piles of money he'll make for years and years by sticking it to the Kings where it hurts -- in the wallet. He's out for himself, otherwise why hasn't he signed a deal?

Let's get the obvious piece out of the way here -- of course Drew Doughty is protecting his own interests. More precisely, he's paying Newport Sports to do it for him, and it's good that he does because anyone who thinks a professional sports team is solely interested in protecting their players interests knows nothing about business. If that was the case we wouldn't need the NHLPA.  It's no different that any employee-employer situation. We all think our bosses don't pay us enough, so why should hockey players be any different? Frankly, I'd worry if he wasn't protecting his interests, because then he'd be getting used.

That brings up another other key piece to remember -- the role of his agency in this debate. Everything Drew Doughty hears is filtered through Don Meehan and Mark Guy, who want to get the best deal for their client AND themselves.  They can decide what to share and what not to share from their conversations with the Kings. It's not as if Drew is calling up Deano and shooting the breeze about contract terms and why this is dragging on so long. My guess is he hasn't talked with anyone from the Kings but his teammates since this whole mess started.

Someone actually suggested to me on Twitter the other day that Doughty should just get new agents and get the deal done. Tell me, when YOU were 21, would you have been comfortable firing a couple of adults with years more experience in the business of hockey than you have in the middle of a complex negotiation over millions of dollars? I doubt any player twice Doughty's age would be able to do it, so let's not get stupid.

Now let's talk about Dean Lombardi's role in this mess for a second. Prior to the start of these contract negotiations, every word out of his mouth during the past 3 seasons has followed along the lines of "This is our guy," "Our great young core of players" and "He's a special player." When you've been spreading nothing but sunshine around Drew Doughty, it's just a little insincere to start the critique just when the bill comes due. And for all his love of the well-turned quote, Dean might have done better to say nothing in a few circumstances. It's interesting how other GM's (Ken Holland and George McPhee come to mind) manage to get player deals done quietly and respectfully, while the Kings feed the media circus around negotiations (and if you don't believe the organization lets some tidbits leak out where they think it benefits them, you're too naive).

So get rid of the "Doughty as evil negotiating genius" thoughts in your head.

Now let's talk about the critiques that seek to justify why Doughty should get the short end of the contract stick. The majority of Doughty criticism you read focuses on alleged drinking habits and skirt chasing by people who have no direct knowledge of such behavior.  That tells me something. Since few people can find aspects of his GAME to criticize, they figure the next best negotiating tactic is to attack him personally. It's the oldest trick in the PR book. If you can't get to someone on the basis of fact, launch a media campaign to change the public perception.

Take Jack Johnson for example. Missed defensive assignments. Bad positioning. The list goes on in terms of performance flaws that need work. As long as Johnson keeps making mistakes, no one needs to talk about his girlfriend or his after-hours past times. By no means am I arguing Doughty is perfect. He had some bad giveaways last season (some which even led to Kings losses) and I'm sure he'd like every one of them back. But every great player -- every one -- makes mistakes. If they don't they're not trying hard enough to make a difference in the game.

I also love the people that argue Doughty shouldn't be paid well because he's not the best player on the team. Most people would argue Kopitar is, but guess what? The same people making that argument were bitching at various points last season that Kopitar wasn't living up to his rather large paycheck (this was most notably brought up during scoring slumps, of which Kopi had a few). Kopitar's contract was based not only on past performance but future potential. Drew Doughty should be no different, and that same analysis should lead you to similar numbers as Kopitar, if not more. If they don't, you're trying to argue a forward is more valuable then a defenceman which is not an argument you're going to win -- with me or with Dean Lombardi for that matter.

It's all a big game of smoke and mirrors -- perception versus reality -- which does nothing more than hide the truth. So for those of you who have forgotten, let me remind you who the real Drew Doughty is.

Image courtesy of Nichole Glaze Photography

He's a 21 year old kid who loves hockey more than anything in life. He takes the ice with a smile on his face every day at practice, and lights up the rink so brightly he gets his teammates smiling too. He's a good teammate and a loyal friend. Some of the best coaches in the game have called him "special", "gifted with God-given talent" -- even "a hockey savant." He plays through pain when needed because he can't stand not being on the ice. He gets emotional at times in games because he hates to lose, and when he plays he leaves his heart on the cold floor of the arena. He has growing up to do and he knows it. He admits it when he makes mistakes, then shakes them off and fixes them. He will never be the biggest gym rat in the world, but he does his job and works hard at it. He remembers where he came from and supports the people that got him where he is today. He is respectful to fans and grateful for the true among them that support him through thick and thin.

And right now, he's an anxious 21 year old kid, sitting by the phone, waiting for his agent to call -- waiting to continue living his dream.

Let's give him a chance to do it.


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