It feels like an eternity but the summer of 2011 saw plenty of Los Angeles Kings fans disgruntled at Drew Doughty, who was a restricted free agent holding out for a big raise. Yet, while words like “greed” and “selfish” had peppered regular dialogue regarding the blueliner, Doughty wouldn’t need much time to win the fans back. Despite being paid more than the more popular Anze Kopitar at the time, Doughty would redeem himself by not only helping the Kings win two Stanley Cups but turning himself into one of the game’s premier defensemen. In fact, on Wednesday night, the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the National Hockey League both echoed the latter sentiment, awarding Doughty with his long-awaited due.
Like Anze Kopitar winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy, it was the third time the charm for Drew Doughty and the Norris Trophy. Nominated in 2010 and 2015, the Kings defenseman fell short on both occasions. 2016, however, was a different story as Doughty edged out San Jose‘s Brent Burns and, last year’s Norris recipient, Ottawa‘s Erik Karlsson to take home the honour of being named the NHL’s top defenseman.
Playing in all 82 games for the Kings last season, Drew Doughty scored 14 goals and 37 assists. His offensive numbers, however, aren’t what makes Doughty such a special player. In fact, his plus-24 rating last season shows that the Kings, who had earned a franchise-record 48 wins, were a force to be reckoned with their No. 8 on the ice. Doughty also logged an averaged of 28:01 of ice time last season — good enough for third in the NHL. But there’s much more to Drew Doughty than what he did last season.
Being, for lack of a better term, a victim in the dreaded east-coast bias, Doughty, while he has been recognized, as one of the game’s best defensemen, still hasn’t received his rightful due. While playing on the west coast may have hindered said recognition, Doughty did nonetheless win the Norris Trophy despite the aforementioned bias. Fans have certainly aired their grievances towards Doughty not winning the Norris prior to 2016 — and understandably so — but this win is better late than never, especially considering the Kings blueliner is still just 26. In addition, just imagine how many Norris Trophies Doughty would have had his playoff — and even Olympic — performances were factored in. That, of course, is a debate for another day.
He may have helped win two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals and he may have made unhappy fans quickly forget the aforementioned summer of 2011 — all of which are substantial proof of Drew Doughty’s dominant prowess as an overall player much less a defenseman — but it’s what he did in the 2014-15 season that really makes No. 8 stand above the fray.
In the unfortunate aftermath of the Slava Voynov situation, the Los Angeles Kings were left depleted on the blueline. Drew Doughty, whether he was ready or not, began to literally play half-games — averaging just under 29 minutes of ice time overall — and while there were many times where he looked sluggish and out of place, the blueliner took his shorthanded team on his back, fighting for playoff contention until the final week of the season. This writer was admittedly fed up with Doughty at times last season but that was no fault of the D-man. Simply put, Drew Doughty was dealt a tough hand and he persevered, tirelessly showing tremendous leadership to be not only the best he could be both for himself and his team. This example may not be prevalent in any stats columns but it doesn’t have to be. After all, what the Los Angeles Kings and their fans have been witnessing for eight seasons has finally spread across the continent and even the world as on Wednesday night, Drew Doughty was finally named what his fans had been claiming all along: That he is, in fact, the league’s best defenseman.