Drew Doughty's absence has already been noticeable.
The Kings played in a charity golf tournament Tuesday at Industry Hills Golf Club, the perfect atmosphere to dust off the clubs and break out the playful barbs. Doughty has been like a wide fairway for his teammates the last three years, providing the perfect target for their jocosity.
“He’s a very easy-going guy and tends to be the butt of a lot of jokes,” said team captain Dustin Brown. “That’s because, one, he’s young and, two, he’s pretty good … those are the guys you want to give it to a little more.”
Doughty, a finalist for the Norris Trophy after his breakout 2009-10 season, is still in negotiations with the Kings on a new contract. The clock is approaching midnight, as training camp is scheduled to begin Saturday at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.
Reports indicate the two sides are still a ways apart in their opinion of Doughty’s value. Doughty’s agent reportedly turned down a nine-year, $61.2 million offer earlier this summer, and the Kings are steadfast in their determination to sign Doughty for at least seven years and not pay him one cent more than the $6.8 million that’s budgeted for teammate Anze Kopitar, the team’s leading scorer the last four years.
His teammates aren’t concerned with the number of digits in Doughty’s contract, they just want the 21-year-old defenseman back with the team.
“Even golf tournaments like this, having everyone there and having a good time, he’s a big part of our team,” Brown said. “From that standpoint, all the players wish [the contract] could have been done a month ago, so he could partake in all the stuff leading up to training camp.”
Brown, like several teammates, said he understands the process that Doughty is going through. As a restricted free agent, the Kings own bargaining rights with their young blue liner, but other teams are free to make their own offers. The Kings would then have seven days to match any offers from outside parties.
Kings left wing Dustin Penner was in a similar situation with the Ducks after their Stanley Cup championship in 2007. The Edmonton Oilers offered Penner a big raise that the Ducks couldn’t match and he was out the door. Such a move has become uncommon, however, as Penner is only player to change teams via an offer sheet since 1997.
“As players, we understand it’s part of the business,” Penner said. “There are some things that are out of our control and out of Doughty’s control to an extent. He has people above him that he pays to listen to, and everybody’s looking out for their best interest when it comes to negotiations like that.’’
Some teammates said they fully expect Doughty to walk into the locker room before the start of the season.
“There’s no real pressure on the player and the GM until training camp starts and until it starts inching closer to the season,” defenseman Willie Mitchell said. “It’ll get done and it’s just part of the game.”
Until then, the Kings will have to make due without their best defenseman and No. 1 fall guy.