Marty Turco understands what Drew Doughty is thinking today.
"This is when it hits you," Turco said Friday morning. "Your teammates are in training camp and you're not. It's scary. People start saying things. You hear it, take it personally."
Turco was unsigned when camp began in 2003, at home in Sault Ste. Marie. The standoff lasted one week before he agreed to a three-year, $12-million deal.
"I've always lived my life to have no regrets, but at this time, you certainly wonder if you're doing the right thing."
With the contract dispute between Doughty and the Kings hockey's biggest topic as camps open, we contacted one general manager, one agent and one player who'd been through a similar scenario. The idea: to ask about the strategies and feelings involved on all sides. Turco agreed to comment publicly, while the agent and the GM preferred to stay anonymous.
The GM said that missing the beginning of training camp isn't necessarily the end of the world.
"There's a bit of a pressure point now, but if he's not there for the first few days, it's not really a big deal. The real pressure point comes at the beginning of the season. That's the bigger time for him, me, everybody."
(GM Dean Lombardi made it very clear Friday that he disagrees. In an interview with LA Kings Insider reporter Rich Hammond, Lombardi indicated he will consider reducing his offer every day Doughty remains unsigned.)
"But there are a few things I'd say ... You keep articulating your position to him; reminding him why you are taking the position you are," says our GM.
"You tell a player like Doughty how much he's valued, but you don't want to do anything the hurts the salary structure or the budget of your team going forward ... I'd also tell him that there's a long history of players who miss camp and don't catch up. Teams go hard now from October 6 on."
(One of Los Angeles' own executives can attest to that. Ron Hextall missed Philadelphia's 1989 training camp because of a money dispute, eventually missing 51 games due to four different groin/hamstring injuries. That edition of the Flyers, who twice faced the Edmonton dynasty in the Stanley Cup Final, was never the same.)
"There's nothing like NHL camp," Turco said. "You know what it's like and how hard it is. It's hard to find guys like that to keep you sharp ... But you have to do what's best for you, your family and your future family."
Turco, who is back up in the Soo, skating with the OHL Greyhounds and keeping in shape in hopes of an NHL return, adds, "The hardest thing however, is to remember it's not personal. It's business."
An agent's perspective
"It's especially hard for the younger players," said the agent. (Doughty is 21.) "You just want to play. The older guys understand that there's more of a business side to it. The one thing I always tell a young player is: this type of negotiating over price happens every single day in thousands and thousands of jobs. This is no different. You tell them not to take it personally."
Some GMs will snicker at this, because there are agents who make it very personal between themselves and the team. In this case, with one of the issues believed to be that the Kings do not want Doughty to make any more than Anze Kopitar's average annual value of $6.8 million, there's a real danger of that. And one thing you learn about Doughty: whatever struggles he had last season, there are a lot of GMs who still consider him a franchise-type player. (Several GMs say the Kings have made it very clear: Doughty will not be traded.) It could rip apart a team.
"I'd tell him, 'You can have the money, but the team is not going to be as good around you,'" the GM said. "It's a tough spot, though, because Doughty is their best player. And you want to keep your best player happy ... Things can change when the season starts and the player loses money, but Doughty could sit all year and still make a lot (over his career)."
"That's where leadership on your team is so important," Turco said. "There will be guys who think he should take less and (your leaders) have to get them to bite their lips."
If you look at the Kings, a lot of their core home-grown players - captain Dustin Brown, the goalies - have taken below-market deals. Even Kopitar's is not outrageous. Lombardi has admitted he had to pay a little more than he was comfortable with to get Rob Scuderi, but that was a player he coveted in free agency for Scuderi's championship experience in Pittsburgh.
Then, there's the owner.
"What we don't know is his role in all of this. The owner could be saying, 'Get this guy signed.' Or, he could be ordering (Lombardi), 'We're not moving on what we've offered.' Of course, that changes when the games start, especially if you're losing," the GM said with a laugh.
It's also not unusual for the teams to try and cut out the agent, to try and get the deal done. Some will be brazen enough to do it directly, others will conscript a third-party (a teammate?) to begin a dialogue. There have been situations where teams signed key players by successfully cutting out the agent from the process.
"Doesn't that happen everywhere?" Turco laughs. "It's good to know yourself what teams are saying so things don't get lost in translation."
Not every agent would agree to that, but our particular one does. "You have to make sure your player fully understands the position being taken by the club. I prefer to offer the team a chance to speak to the player directly, all of us together. Some players, though, want no part of that."
And some agents, too. Ultimately, though, this must be Doughty's choice.
"The player has to decide," the agent said. "You have to prepare him (for the criticism he will take). You ask them, 'Do you feel strongly enough not to sign? Are you certain?' The role of the agent is to say 'Here's why we should do this deal, here's why we shouldn't.' Use your past experience. 'Here's why this deal worked and why this deal didn't.'"
Right now, it is Doughty's choice to wait.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?