P.K. Subban and the Drew Doughty Factor
If you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Kings, you’re likely not very happy camper right now. While your team is getting ready for the upcoming season at training camp, your top defenseman, and possibly your best overall player, is currently holding out for more money.
The Kings have offered Doughty, 21-years-old and a restricted free agent coming off his first NHL contract, a handsome sum of money to continue his tenure with the team, as much as $6.8 million a season – which is what the Kings’ internally-appointed franchise player, Anze Kopitar currently makes, also coming off an entry-level deal. That amount would put Doughty in the top ten highest paid defensemen in the NHL, but according to multiple sources, it wasn’t nearly enough for Doughty and his agent, the infamous Don Meehan.
In an interview with CTV, Doughty stated that the disconnect with his team was not necessarily about money, but based on other, behind the scenes issues with negotiations. Maybe Doughty doesn't like that the team seems to considers Kopitar to be a better player or rather a more important player to their organization. Maybe it’s the number of years each side wants – again, reports indicate that the Kings want a minimum of seven, while Meehan and Doughty would go no higher than five. Maybe it’s how many bus bench ads Doughty gets to have his face on. Who knows.
No matter what the issue is, it’s understandable that this situation has created one Hell of a problem for the Kings. They’re nearly a week into their training camp, and only two weeks away from starting the regular season, and they’re down a key defenseman and a top player. Every day that Doughty remains unsigned is further strain on the relationship between the two parties. If Doughty wants less years, the Kings holding out for more is only going to aggravate that fact, and vice versa. If he gets his five-year deal, his contract will be up the same year that Kopitar’s will, making them both UFAs in the same summer. You can probably imagine that situation not playing out so well for LA.
I find it hard to believe that a 21-year-old can have such a laissez-faire attitude with the team that drafted him and ensured his early success as an NHL defenseman. All of Doughty’s accomplishments, statistics and accolades have to be at least somewhat attributed to his development with the Kings, even down to his Olympic Gold Medal from Vancouver. Why would he put that relationship at risk?
From my perspective, Doughty’s not entirely at fault here. One has to wonder how much 21-year-old player who no experience in such matter would be influenced by his agent.
The aforementioned Don Meehan is already infamous in his career as an agent, known for getting his clients’ – and ultimately his own– way in most negotiations. You might remember a few other hold-outs from this past summer alone. Brad Marchand, Zach Bogosian, Josh Bailey; Meehan’s new tactic of making restricted free agents look like greedy jerks is a little perplexing, but it has also been fairly effective, as all of the aforementioned players, and more, ended up signing lucrative contracts with their teams. You don’t have to look any further than the very long list of players Meehan represents to realize that the man is more than likely to get his way, no matter who he's representing.
That’s where the Canadiens come in. Meehan currently represents four players on the Habs’ main roster; Travis Moen, likely in his last year with the Canadiens, Andrei Markov, coming off signing a huge three-year deal (while recuperating from a major injury), and two players who the Canadiens will have to deal with at year’s end. One is Andrei Kostitsyn, who will remain a topic of discussion for another day, but the other, more relevant player is P.K. Subban.
Most of you will probably brush off what I’m about to say as unlikely to happen – as I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this already – but there should be genuine concern for what the Drew Doughty situation might entail for the Canadiens and their young star defenseman.
It may be way too early to be speculating about these things, but for the sake of discussion, let’s consider the following:
- Subban, 22, is already older than Doughty, with two less years of NHL experience.
- Subban put up more goals and more points than Doughty in his rookie season.
- Obviously, Subban doesn’t have an Olympic Gold Medal (yet), but the two share a gold medal from the World Junior tournament in 2008, with Subban picking up a second gold the following year.
- Both players are highly effective offensive defensemen who are more than comfortable in their own end. The two are also nearly identical in height, weight, build, both even shoot right. The only thing that Subban and Doughty seemingly don’t have in common is their skin complexion.
- While it’s unlikely that the Toronto native will replicate Doughty’s 60 point sophomore performance, expectations are high for the Canadiens blueliner going into his second season.
You can’t help but wonder whether or not the Canadiens should expect the same thing from Don Meehan in relation to P.K. Subban next summer. Doughty and Subban are very similar players, regardless of who is the better player. Both have had major impacts on their respective teams, and both have already accumulated impressive resumes in their young careers. If Doughty ends up getting his way, he’ll be signing one of the most lucrative contracts for a defenseman in the history of the NHL. What's stopping Meehan and Subban from plotting to do the same next year?
We may talk about NHL players and athletes in general being overpaid, but when it comes to the more expensive contracts in the league, they are few and far between, especially for defensemen. There are currently only 13 defensemen making over $6 million in salary, and most of them are on front-loaded contracts. More importantly, none of them are under 26 years of age, and half of them are over 30.
Going a little further up the list, only 9 of those players make more than the offer Doughty was allegedly given earlier in the off-season. All but two of those players are on front-loaded deals, and again, more than half are over thirty. The only player on this list that even comes close to being a comparable to Doughty is Shea Weber, and he had to go to arbitration to get a single-year deal worth $7.5 million.
As good as Doughty might be, and as valuable as he might be to the Kings, is he really worth a deal that would, for all intents and purposes, pay him at a level than only the most elite of players see at that age?
The real topic of discussion here, however, is not Doughty's worth, but the precedent that this potential deal could set for similar players in subsequent years, with P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens at the forefront of the list.
We can argue that the glass is half full, that Subban loves Montreal, that Meehan has a good, longstanding relationship with the Montreal and the Canadiens (on top of all the Habs he's represented, Meehan went to law school here, at McGill), but let’s face facts. As much as he might like it here, it’s hard to say whether Subban has any real emotional attachment to this city, at least to the point where it would allow him to go against the better judgement of his agent and accept a smaller deal than he might be able to get, thanks to those that came before him.
The similarities between Doughty and Subban as players are simply frightening, from their skill level to their accolades,right down to the overzealous agent that they share and even the direction in which they hold their stick. No matter what Subban may say in public about Doughty or contract situations or his feelings towards Montreal, you have to think that he’s at least keeping one eye on what’s going on in LA. This time next year, it could very well be Subban hiding out on Ontario while the Canadiens begin their training camp.
Of course, such a situation would be avoidable, quite easily, in fact, if Pierre Gauthier and the Montreal Canadiens decided to become proactive with signing their players. As it stands right now, the Habs only have two defensemen signed for next season. One of them (Markov) could be damaged goods, and the other (Weber) hasn’t been able to crack the line-up full time. Among the rest, two (Gill, Spacek) could retire, one (Gorges) is recovering from a knee injury and the other (Yemelin) that’s a Russian rookie. And that’s ignoring the long list of other free agents the team will have to deal with, including Carey Price. P.K. Subban is the only sure thing this team has got on defense, and the last thing they need to do is mess with that.
One would imagine that a team would get a head start with signing a lot of these players, especially when your two most important young stars are heading into restricted free agency. We've already seen teams locking up their star players, why can't the Canadiens do the same?
This, of course, is an age-old question with this team, thanks to a ridiculous Bob Gainey policy of not negotiating with players during the season, a policy which has mysteriously extended into the Pierre Gauthier era. If he waits until June to start talking to Price and especially Subban, there could be trouble ahead, especially if they end up having another amazing statistical year.
Pierre Gauthier needs to sign P.K. Subban before he could potentially be influenced by a bloated deal that seems to be on its way to Los Angeles. There’s nothing getting in the way of them working something out no, other than egos and stubborness. Even if my fears are a little irrational, why risk it? What if Subban is easily influenced by his agent? What if they find Doughty to be an easy comparison? What if he remains unsigned throughout the season and the summer (bringing forth another risk of offer sheets)? What if we get to training camp next year, and Subban is hiding out in some Ontario rink while his teammates play without him?
Those aren’t questions that need answering. Not if the job is done right.