Short Term Memory, Long Term Contract

So it seems that instead of participating in his 4th NHL training camp, 21 year old defenseman Drew Doughty will be participating in his 1st NHL holdout. As a professional athlete, it’s completely in Doughty’s right to stand his ground in terms of what he and his representation deem is fair payment for his services. But try telling that to the Los Angeles Kings faithful. For the first time in what seems forever, the Kings have put together a team that is expected not just to win… but to go deep into the playoffs while winning. And the excitement that Kings fans should be feeling coming into the start of Training Camp has been completely dampened. In fact, some fans are not taking too kindly to Doughty’s decision to skip team physicals tomorrow in El Segundo. Doughty is losing a lot of fans… fast. They are pissed at him for not signing. They are questioning his desire… they are planning his trade out of LA… they are calling him fat. But most of all… they hate Drew Doughty

Come on, is this the face of a guy who wants to screw over his team?

So let’s see… a young Kings defenseman who just completed his 3rd season in Los Angeles. Decides to holdout for the amount of money he feels he’s worth. Fans get furious with the contract negotiations and even though the player eventually re-signs, he is never able to regain their trust and support for the remainder of his career. Where have I heard this old yarn before?

That’s right… in 1999 the former Kings Captain and incredibly beloved defenseman, Mattias Norstrom, held out from training camp demanding a salary of 1.7 million a year for 4 years. 27 years old and coming off his 3rd season in LA, Norstrom was seeking a raise from the $950,000 he had earned the year prior. Now, there was no Twitter in 1999… heck, there was barely a… but I can remember that a lot of the same hatred from fans that is being thrown towards Drew Doughty now was tossed towards Mattias Norstrom then. From September 5th, 1999:

Neither winger Glen Murray nor defenseman Mattias Norstrom reported for physical evaluations and a team meeting Saturday, but both have been invited to the Kings’ training camp, which begins today at Iceoplex at North Hills.

Neither is expected to RSVP in the affirmative.

“I’m going to wait until I sign a contract, and I’ve talked with [Norstrom] and I don’t think he’s going either,” said Murray. “This is the first time [missing training camp] for me and I don’t know how it’s going to be. But if they want me, just sign me.

The Kings are trying to sign both to three-year deals, but both sides of each negotiation were at least $1 million apart over the three years as last week began. A flurry of proposals back and forth has narrowed both gaps enough for Dave Taylor, the Kings’ senior vice president and general manager, to issue the invitations, but not enough for them to be accepted.

Norstrom didn’t show up for training camp that season. And in fact, the two sides remained far apart during all of the preseason:

Mattias Norstrom is an incurable optimist. He still holds out hope of being on the ice in Nashville when the Kings open their season Saturday night.

It won’t happen, barring several changes of heart and a transfer of funds, but the Kings are talking with Norstrom’s agent about a contract, and that’s a change in itself.

And King Coach Andy Murray is talking with Norstrom.

Murray said Wednesday he had spoken with the unsigned defenseman for the first time and told him “we needed to get him here for a few days of practice before he could play; and that I would have loyalty to the guys that we have here. I’d love to have him in the lineup.”

Norstrom and the Kings have been negotiating since July without making real progress. Exchanges of three-year deals were far apart, and a one-year, $1.3-million offer from Norstrom was countered by a one-year, $1.045-million rebuttal by the Kings. And then there was silence.

Now that has been broken. There has been no concrete offer, but the Kings are talking about a four-year deal.

“I feel now for the first time that I can be optimistic,” Norstrom said. “Now is the time to get creative on both sides.”

Norstrom, who is popular with his teammates and respected because of his work ethic, has drawn support from them. Dave Taylor, the Kings’ senior vice president and general manager, has taken time to talk with team leaders–among them Rob Blake, Norstrom’s defense partner, and Luc Robitaille–to explain the team’s stance in the negotiations.

Blake, who was extremely critical of that stance a week ago, was subdued Wednesday.

“What was said was between [Taylor] and me,” Blake said. “It doesn’t matter if I understand [the Kings’ position] or not. My say isn’t going to change anything. We need him. That’s the bottom line.”

Come on, is this the face of a guy who wants to screw over his team?

And much like what will probably happen with Drew Doughty… on the Friday before the 1999-2000 NHL season started… Mattias Norstrom signed a 4 year, 6.6 million dollar contract. And that bad-ass, bald Swede was ready to play the next day:

Norstrom, who had said at midweek he still believed he would be ready to play in the Kings’ opener tonight if he and the team could reach a fiscal accord, put himself in a position to do just that Friday when he signed a four-year, $6.6-million contract.

“I think it went OK,” Norstrom said of the practice and his first attempt at getting used to a new system. “I had a lot of help.”

“I had skated with Long Beach all week, and they’re getting ready for their season so I skated in game-type situations,” Norstrom said. “That helped me be as ready as I can be.”

Whether it’s ready enough to play tonight was a topic of discussion by coaches Friday night.

“It’s a tough decision,” King Coach Andy Murray said of Norstrom playing in the season opener after missing training camp and all eight exhibitions.

“He’s ready to go. The guys know he’s in the top three defensemen, but is it the right thing to do as a coach? We’ve got to think about this one.”

Norstrom has occasionally despaired at his contract situation after the Kings offered a three-year, $3.65-million deal, then a one-year, $1.045 arrangement. He had come down from his original $1.7 average over three seasons to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million.

“I just wanted to get into training camp,” he said. “I told Donnie Meehan [his agent] that I’m ready to start playing hockey.”

Take a long hard look at that last line from the Los Angeles Times article dated October 2nd, 1999. I don’t think anyone should doubt now that Drew Doughty is going to get the money/years he and his management want. 

“You see all these jerseys around me? Each one is made of solid gold.
That’s how fucking rich I make NHL players.” 

So back to those fans that cursed Mattias Norstrom for holding out and demanding more money. How did that turn out?

Yeah, I’d say the fans forgave Norstrom.

I mean, you don’t earn a fan rally towel unless the fans love you. FACT.

So Los Angeles Kings fans can scream for Drew Doughty’s head all they want… because when he’s back on the ice all of us will have forgotten about the holdout. Just like we did with Matty Norstrom. And if you are going to boo Drew Doughty when he returns to the Kings lineup… it’s not like it’s gonna make a difference.

The Royal Half has been a Los Angeles Kings fan since 1988 and a Half-Season Ticket Holder since 2002. He has seen the following goaltenders play in person for the Los Angeles Kings… Kelly Hrudey, Grant Fuhr, Byron Dafoe, Jamie Storr, Stephane Fiset, Felix Potvin, Cristobal Huet, Roman Cechmanek, Mathieu Garon, Adam Hauser, Jason LaBarbera, Barry Brust, Sean Burke, Dan Cloutier, Yutaka Fukufuji, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Erik Ersberg, Jonathan Bernier, Jonathan Quick, Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones.You can follow The Royal Half on Twitter @TheRoyalHalf.