As the Drew Doughty holdout situation extends past the summer and into training camp and the preseason, the possibility that an agreement will not be reached in time to start 2011-12 becomes increasingly realistic.
The cost to Doughty is cleara missed season would represent a major financial hitbut even if the player and team can come together on a new contract prior to opening night, Doughty will still have missed out on training camp and might look out of sync in the early going. The possibility exists that his physical conditioning might also suffer.
That was one of the arguments presented by Los Angeles Times columnist Helene Elliott (the other was basically, "how is $6.8 million not enough money?") when she called on Drew Doughty to sign a contract with the Kings already earlier this week. But while Elliott is correct that Doughty's holdout will hurt him this season, the impact he feels pales in comparison to what his loss could cost the Kings.
Last season, the Kings finished seventh in the Western Conference with 98 points, a performance powered by an impressive plus-21 goal differential. The Dallas Stars, in ninth place, finished with 95 points, while 10th-ranked Calgary finished with 94 points. It was a competitive race to the final day of the season for Chicago (eighth, with 97 points) and Los Angeles had just a hair more breathing room.
Regular readers of this site will be familiar with Tom Awad's GVT systema fantastic analytical tool that takes each player's offensive and defensive contributions and calculates them in terms of goal differential. Last season, Drew Doughty was credited with a GVT of 12.8. In other words, he improved the Kings' goal differential by nearly 13 goals. That's two-thirds of the gap between L.A.'s plus-21 and breakeven, and it probably would have cost the club in the area of four standings pointswhich would have easily put them outside the playoff picture. Even for those generally sceptical of statistical measures, the idea that the Kings would almost certainly have missed the playoffs last season without Doughty shouldn't come as a surprise.
Yet, Awad's GVT system actually understates things. While GVT is the most comprehensive measurement of total player contribution available, it doesn't take contextual measures like Quality of Competition into accountand Doughty played top-pairing competition last season. It isn't unreasonable to think that forcing another playersay, Jack Johnsonto play those minutes would have had a further detrimental impact on the team.
What about this season?
Hockey Prospectus 2011-12 projects the Kings to finish with a plus-12 goal differential and 94 points13 goals and four points ahead of the Western Conference's ninth-place team. Drew Doughty's impact on the Kings last season was calculated at 13 goals, and is projected at 12 goals this coming season, meaning that the year-long loss of this player would bump the Kings down from their currently projected position (comfortably in the playoffs) and into a statistical dead heat with a team not projected to make the playoffs.
Ignoring for a moment the disaster that a season outside the playoffs would represent for the Kings and general manager Dean Lombardi, there is no question the Kings would feel the impact most deeply in their pocket book. Teams make the most money on playoff games, where tickets cost more and sellouts are often close to automatic. The loss of two guaranteed home playoff games (and the possibility of many more) should weigh heavily on Lombardi's mind as he negotiates with Doughty. The financial impact also stretches beyond the immediate dollar value of those playoff gamesplayoff runs energize the fanbase, which continues to pay off in ticket and merchandise sales the following season.
The potential also exists for more immediate consequences for Lombardi, as his record with the Kings is starting to look a little like his time with the San Jose Sharks. In 1996, Lombardi took over as San Jose's general manager, and for five consecutive seasons the team improved its finish, culminating in 2001-02, when the team won its division for the first time in franchise history. The next year, the Sharks finished last in the division, missed the playoffs, and Lombardi was fired. In 2006, Lombardi took over as the Kings' general manager, and he guided the team to three consecutive improved finishes. They took a step back last season, but the pattern of growth from non-playoff team to 100-point club is largely the same. As with the Sharks' miserable 2002-03, a year outside the playoffs would represent a crushing setback for the Kings.
Both sides have a lot to lose here, but the Kings' level of risk should be considered higher. If speculation that the contract's holdup is term rather than dollars is correct, the option of coming to an agreement on a short-term deal and revisiting negotiations might seem increasingly tempting. Balanced against that temptation is the fact that Doughty is coming off a sub-par season in some ways (mostly in terms of power play production) and that he might be able to command an even higher figure on a long-term deal one summer from now.
It isn't a pleasant situation for the Los Angeles Kings to find themselves in, and in light of that, perhaps it isn't particularly surprising that Doughty's camp is holding out for a specific deal.
Jonathan Willis is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Jonathan by clicking here or click here to see Jonathan's other articles.