OPINION: Dustin Brown’s Future with the LA Kings

Stanley Cup Dustin Brown 2012Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before: Following trade rumors surrounding LA Kings captain Dustin Brown, a young player comes up from the AHL, adding energy to the team and balance to the offensive options – and then team goes on to win the Stanley Cup. Yes, history could be repeating itself about six months from now.

Before we get to all that, let’s build upon a little ‘tidbit’ we added to the bottom of our recent story regarding Anze Kopitar’s contract negotiations; specifically, the note that predicted Kopitar will be the Kings captain come opening night next season. For people who have been reading MayorsManor for any real length of time, you already know this was not meant as a knock on Brown. In fact, we’ve often been accused of being a Brown apologist, supporter, part-time agent… you get the idea. Some of this is true. In my humble opinion, Brown is a fine captain. No, he isn’t Mike Modano or Mark Messier. Fine. He is everything you want in a ‘team-first’ guy. He is a role model in and out of the locker room and it is worth noting he is the first American-born captain to lead his team to two Stanley Cups.

Now, put all of that to the side momentarily and look forward.

Placing the captaincy on Kopitar is a move several in management believe would ultimately aid the Slovenian-born center in taking his game to the next level. It’s been mentioned to us more than once that they believe he has another gear in him. And, along with his reported 8-year, $78-million contract extension, this could be just the thing to bring such thoughts to reality. Think Jonathan Toews and you’ll probably get the idea.

Additionally, the reality of Brown’s situation comes with several factors – and we can pick them off in no particular order.

His age – once you hit 30 in the NHL, stats usually begin to change. He is coming off a disastrous season, in which he scored 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists), and despite taking his off-season conditioning to a whole new level this past summer, reality shows he is on pace for about the same number of points this year. There is a bit of a chicken-or-egg aspect to his stats. Is he a different player now than he was five years ago or is he being used differently? A little of both, certainly. While Brown often plays better in a top-6 role, he also plays for a coach who prefers him on the third line. There is an obvious friction between the two. Don’t mistake that for anything more than common place in sports. Of course, there is also healthy respect, as well. Player and coach don’t have to be best friends, nor do they need to roast s’mores together at a campfire. Success comes in many forms and hockey is more a team sport than the dynamics between any two individuals.

His contract – Brown is currently in the second season of an 8-year deal holding a $5.875M annual cap hit. It is not the worst contract in the NHL. And if you’re willing to pay for intangibles, that makes up for some of the loss in point production, but not enough. In the Kings 2012 Stanley Cup run, Brown tied Kopitar for the NHL lead in postseason goals and points. He came back the following year and netted 18 goals in the lockout-shortened season (equivalent to a 30 goal season any other year). More recently, he has become a very expensive option on the third line, especially when you consider Kopitar and Milan Lucic are among the players needing contacts in 2016, just ahead of Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson the following summer. Simple logic (along with a little bit of math) would suggest you can’t carry big ticket deals in your bottom-6 when guys in the top-6 are all on large deals themselves. Right now, the Kings are OK, largely due to Toffoli and Pearson being on uber-affordable bridge contracts. However, that will not be the case with their next contracts, where both should receive substantial increases over their current pay (including most likely buying out some of their unrestricted free agent years). That money has to come from somewhere.

His immediate future – Brown is not likely to be traded soon. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. From what we’ve been told by several sources in Kings’ management, Lombardi’s plan is to load up for a deep playoff run and then deal with his cap issues next summer. Yes, he is still looking to add a top-4 defensemen. However, as we understand the current situation, based on preliminary talks with other teams and/or surveying the market, don’t expect Brown to be included in any deal for blueline help. For that to happen, a near-perfect situation would just about have to fall into Lombardi’s lap. It is much more likely any such deal happens closer to the trade deadline and will involve a combination of prospects, draft picks, and one of the team’s excess bottom-6 wingers. Understand, the Kings are not in cap trouble this season, nor will they be at any point. The financial situation is so positive, in February they will be able to take on any contract in the NHL.

If all else fails, there is another option lurking in the background. Even though Brown is one of the few current Kings’ players with a limited no trade/movement clause, there don’t appear to be any conditions that would prevent Lombardi from exposing him in the expected NHL Expansion Draft coming up in the summer of 2017. He would be a rather attractive option for a new club entering the league.

“The superior man blames himself. The inferior man blames others.” – Don Shula

A Lombardi-affect is also in play when looking at the overall situation related to Brown’s future. The longtime GM likely wants to distance himself from the criticism of not buying out Mike Richards soon enough. Not to say that Brown will be bought out, as we don’t see that as an option on the table – only that Lombardi will be looking to address this cap burden before it becomes too late. Fortunately for Lombardi, as he has said many times, General Managers around the league very often think they can ‘fix’ players from other teams. Thus, despite his contract, there may be (and should be) several teams willing to acquire a two-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Olympian, captain of multiple teams, former first round draft pick, and all-around clean-cut, good citizen. Don’t lose sight of the fact Brown was also one of the early converts of Lombardi’s preaching in Los Angeles. He was the first guy who ‘got the tattoo’ and has steadfastly put the Kings ahead of his own needs or wants. This should weigh heavily on any decision. Some would even argue Brown has earned the right to retire a King.

Looking further up the AEG food chain, team owner Phil Anschutz is renowned for being a deeply private person. He is allegedly eager to turn the page and move on from the PR nightmares of the past few seasons. By no means does this link Brown to the stories of Slava Voynov or Richards. Only that an added benefit of trading Brown next summer is a chance to rebrand the team and aid Lombardi in moving on to his second act. Entering the 2016-17 campaign, it will be Kopitar’s team, with Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty by his side. Following the old adage that it takes five key players to win a Stanley Cup – two centers, two defensemen, and a goalie – Lombardi’s puzzle will be nearly complete. And this will be the foundation he will build around going forward.

In an ironic twist of fate, or perhaps just perfect timing, Lombardi is rumored to be penning a book, with a release date that is yet-to-be-determined. While we aren’t privy to the timeline he is working around, perhaps the summer following his third Stanley Cup championship would be the most fitting final chapter – a true comeback story after a number of tumultuous seasons.

Again, for now, Brown isn’t going anywhere. Will a move happen at some point in the future? That is the rough plan that has been discussed internally, with nothing imminent. All attention at the moment is focused on creating some space in the bottom-6 for prospect Michael Mersch, adding a key piece on the blueline, and trying to secure a third championship.

In my opinion, there should someday be a statue of Brown outside Staples Center, as him hoisting the organization’s first Cup is one of the most iconic images from their nearly 50-year history. It is a visual that will be difficult to replace in the decades to come, regardless of any future success the team may find. Yet at the same time, as they always do in sports, things move forward; so look for a Brown move in the summer and expect Kopitar to wear the ‘C’ come opening night next year.

Unless… What if the Kings win a third championship next June? Lombardi wouldn’t dare trade his captain then, would he – even for the coveted cap space?

Put a pin in this one; we’ll come back to it next summer.

3 MUST-READ ARTICLES:

Lombardi impressed by Brown during contract negotiations

Lombardi on Dustin Brown as captain this season

Dustin Brown – ‘We weren’t built to win the Cup just one year’

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Comments

  1. I know its a business, but seeing Brown dealt would be a huge bummer for all Kings fans. His numbers dont do him justice, hard to produce when Sutter always has him on the checking 3rd line

    • Sutter doesn’t have him on the checking third line. Brown has himself on the checking third line because that’s all he can do, grind/check. He doesn’t have the skill to be on the top 2 lines.

  2. You are smoking crack, Hoven.

  3. responsible D says:

    I would definitely buy a Dean Lombardi book. Following the management side during his tenure has been as fun and interesting as watching the product on the ice. To hear him explain it all in his own words would be fascinating.

  4. I don’t care how old, slow, and overpaid he ends up. I’d like to see him retire a King, and the Kings immediately retire his jersey.

    The first man in the history of the universe to lift the cup wearing a Kings jersey? While being in the conversation for the Conn Smythe the year they did it? Let him retire a king, retire the number, build the man an effing statue. Don’t make him move. Don’t make us boo him because he’s playing for another tea.

    That’s my position, understanding how much that cap hit might benefit the team elsewhere. He earned his payday, we shouldn’t jettison him for it. He has given us, and will continue to give us, everything he has. Can’t ask for more.

    Also, say what you want but a lot of this teams success has been because of it’s attitude and ability to play the right way. That comes from leadership, and Dustin Brown clearly helped instill that in this team.

  5. Except that he isn’t always on the 3rd line. I personally will rejoice when that contract is gone. It’s not that I don’t like Brown because I do, for the right price and the right price is about 3.5 million less than his current deal.

  6. Yeah, making room for Mersch on the bottom 6 and then use the sentence going for a cup this season. the same mersch that Sutter says was tired and had no energy? The same Mersch that is a -2 and really hasn’t shown anything yet? If Kings are going to win the cup this season, Mersch will be back in Manchester.

    Now they need to work on getting another center at 3C. maybe moving Shore might be a good idea. -8 and can’t pass, is not the ideal 3C playing 14 minutes a night.

    • i’m all for moving Shore, although I don’t know what he adds to a deal. He has been a decent replacement for Stoll, who is at the end of his career. They have similar scoring ability (limited to none) and great in the faceoff circle. The only upside with Shore is that he can actually skate and as a result doesn’t take the hooking and holding penalties that Stoll seemed to get every game. As for Brown, sure we all love him and what he has done for this franchise, and let’s not be naive here: he was rewarded with a huge contract for it. The reality is that his game has dropped significantly and this makes him and his salary expendable. Will I be sad to see him go? sure, but at the end of the day I want the Kings to be successful and in order to do that they can’t run a team on sentiment. Do what you need to Dean.

  7. Hawkvalentine says:

    He has no class. He tries to and occasionally succeeds in injuring opposing players on purpose. That is not what a captain should be doing.

  8. The Kings are one of the best franchises right now and have been for the last 5 years. I’m a Wings fan and would be disappointed if their GM sends Brown packing. So what if his scoring has dipped. He was never going to be a perennial 30 goal scorer. It’s his leadership and hard work that has gotten them here. IMO, you don’t do that to one of the guys who helped build the franchise and make it what it’s become. Rework his contract but shopping him shows a lack of class, UNLESS he ask to be shipped out.

    • You don’t pay him just for intangibles. He needs to perform. You cant have that kind of salary in the bottom 6 and expect to ice a competitive team. Your gonna need that money for Toff and Pearson. And back to his intangibles. He only brings leadership now. He isn’t even a physical force anymore.

  9. I totally understand why management want to move him. He’s not producing on the stats sheet. FUrthermore, with the style he plays, he’s going to wear down eventually (or maybe already starting to). However, from a sentimental standpoint, I really hate to see him go. He embodies what was so right with the team the last couple of years: grit, selflessness, leadership, honor, and passion. As he said at the Cup rally a few years ago, he grew up with the organization. He was here for the bad years, and finally saw the fruit of his labor. I hope he plays out his contract and retire as a King. Again, that’s just me though.

  10. It would be nice if Brown would be his old self and be noticeable physically. If he isn’t gonna be scoring. He needs to get back to banging bodies. Rights now hes mostly dead weight. Sad to say it. And its sad to see.

  11. Steven Parks says:

    I’m sorry, ” Kopitar has another gear?”, ” The captaincy would help him take his game to another level?” Holy Sh&^, what does that say about Kopitar? Shouldn’t he be maxing out every shift, every day regardless? This article bush league.

  12. Get_Carter says:

    Though he doesn’t put in the points, I’m a fan of how Brown plays even now… just not at the price point. He’s tough, still makes good decisions in open ice, and unfortunately has made a habit of throwing hard, yet distant, shots at the goalie in hopes of a big rebound instead of playing in front of the goalie. I’d like to see him on one of the top two lines and with the space in standings the Kings have had, I’d think Sutter would give him a bit more of a chance there. That said, at $6M, the points do the talking and 2 seasons + change of performance along with the quickly closing championship windows in the NHL means something has to happen.

    I think Lucic is the darkhorse in all of this. I’ve said it since he was acquired but I think Dean bought Lucic as a fixer-up he knew he could flip. The way it’s going, Lucic is going to want the money he was getting and the Kings won’t have it without Boston still footing some of the bill.

    Let’s assume Lucic keeps up or outperforms her current pace.

    If the Kings win the Cup: they trade Lucic, who will have his highest value but is likely going to want at least another $6 M / yr deal unless he takes a discount. That might be ok if the Kings can get a reasonable term but he’ll probably want 7-8 years and the Kings definitely shouldn’t do that as I say you get maybe 3 more good-decent seasons out of him. He’ll be 28 but his numbers are all ready all over the place so if Dean’s smart he won’t touch this one unless it’s a really good deal.

    If the Kings don’t win the Cup: Brown is gone. Probably Lucic too. I agree with the sentiment on letting Brown retire a King but $6M is becoming more valuable as these contracts go up faster than the cap.

    If the Kings don’t win the Cup but make the Cup Final: This is where it gets really interesting.

  13. What was the “tattoo” Hoven was referring to here?

    “He was the first guy who ‘got the tattoo’ “

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  1. […] to our main man over at Mayors Manor, it seems as if maybe the Kings are outgrowing Dustin. Although, in the Mayor’s column, he highlights Brown’s team first style that makes him […]