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2016-2017 in Review: How should the Los Angeles Kings use Dustin Brown in 2017-2018?

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In a number retiring ceremony. There, I said it, now let me go cry alone in the corner.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Los Angeles Kings Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the next month or two, we’ll be taking a look at the players who made the Los Angeles Kings’ 2016-17 season what it was: a crushing disappointment that got people fired an up-and-down journey which managed to be both unusual and familiar. Rather than the good-bad-future-grade format we’ve used in past seasons, we’ll ask a crucial question and answer it using it what we saw this year.

(Actually, in this case, we’ll ask TWO crucial questions...)

Why should the Kings part with their #1 pick in order to unload Dustin Brown’s contract?

“WHY WOULD YOU EVEN ASK THAT QUESTION”

I can say with confidence that this is one of the least favorite things I have ever written, sport or non-sport related. Believe me when I say that I love Dustin Brown, and that my love for him goes beyond his style of play, his leadership of the Kings, and his propensity to do silly things on the bench. He is, simply put, the type of person you hope your child grows up to be, and his character and dedication to family are unimpeachable. Also, Sean Avery is and will always be a P.O.S.

However, Brown is also a soon to be thirty-three year old left-winger with declining production and a massive, albatross-like contract. Given that the Kings are saddled with another ugly contract besides Brown’s – be worried, Kings fans, be very worried – and a desperate need for quickness and talent in their top-6, it is past time to lean sentimental with roster choices.

So, I’ll make two arguments here. The first is why the Kings should make a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights to have them take Dustin Brown, even at the cost of their first-round pick (#11) in the 2017 NHL Draft. The second argument, which is a far more likely scenario, is how the Kings should use Brown in 2017-2018 if he remains on the roster.

I will be honest, I am not convinced of the argument that follows, and understand that it fails to take into account Brown’s leadership on and off the ice. I am, however, wary of the “what’s missing from this team is grit!” line of thinking, so have chosen to discard it for the time being. I also understand that many will find the idea of dealing the #11 pick a terrible one for a team with little organizational depth. That is certainly a fair point, but for a team with, in my estimation, a two-year Cup window, the opportunity to add talent to the roster using Brown’s freed-up AAV is too critical to pass up. In addition, I do not value first round picks quite as high as others, at least not given this team’s current context...so there’s that.

How bad is Dustin Brown’s contract? With five years remaining and a $5.875 million average annual value, Brown’s deal is widely recognized as one of the worst in the league. Despite his improved 2016-2017 season, the trajectory of Brown’s on-ice production is clear and hopes of a late-stage revival likely unrealistic, even with a looser offensive philosophy expected in 2017-2018. As Jon Rosen pointed to in his own evaluation of Brown’s 2016-2017 season, Brown’s increased production masked several worrying trends, and there is room for concern that he dragged down his two most frequent centermen, Anze Kopitar and Nic Dowd.

So what’s my point? My point is that we learnt last season that Brown and Gaborik are no longer top-six forwards and hiding them in the bottom-six is a recipe for disaster (not to mention a clogged developmental pipeline). Instead, the Kings should reconsider their apparent unwillingness to deal their #11 pick and see if the Vegas Golden Knights would claim it and Brown’s leadership.

Brown’s contract is one year longer and one million heavier than Gaborik’s, and if the goal is to unload one of them, then Brown’s is the one to lose, and it would make buying out Gaborik that much easier to swallow.

What would I suggest doing with the $5.875 million of additional space under the cap after such a move? I think there are several smart scenarios available.

Okay, but really, how should the Kings use Dustin Brown in 2017-2018?

“This hurts, and your second question changes nothing.”

Now that I have spent three hundred and seventy six words on something that is not going to happen and will make random people enraged with me, let’s talk about how the Kings should use Dustin Brown next season.

To start, I do not think John Stevens should continue tying Brown to Kopitar. Brown saw 34% of his total ice time with Anze, and both my eye and the numbers lead me to believe he is a drag on our number one center. If Stevens is looking to increase offensive production from Kopitar, providing him with better talent on his wings is a priority.

I also do not think that tying Brown to a third-line role, likely with Nic Dowd (should Vegas not select him on Wednesday), is a wise idea. Together for 29% of Brown’s total ice time in 2016-2017, the two managed to produce a Goals For/60 (5v5) of 1.94 while conceding 2.81 Goals Against/60 (5v5). Dowd has shown talent and room for growth, and it would seem that he and Brown would benefit from some separation next year.

My prescription for Brown is 2017-2018 is a second-line role with Jeff Carter. In 188 minutes of 5v5 time together last season, they produced an impressive 3.51 goals for/60 while conceding an equally impressive 1.59 goals against/60. Both start predominantly in the offensive zone, both work well cycling the puck, and Brown’s increased willingness to get his game back to a net-front presence orientation will aid Carter’s natural inclination to shoot puck.

Conclusion

Dustin Brown is a fantastic person, a Kings legend, and neither of those will ever change. It is not his fault that he signed a massive, well-deserved, contract at the exact point that his game abandoned him, and there is no question that he wants a return to glory more than any of us. Nevertheless, the Kings are in a precarious state and their opportunities to win another Stanley Cup are shrinking year by year. If the team believes that his play will continue to deteriorate and that his contract will prevent them from planning for the future, it would be wise to consider the value of their 2017 #11 draft pick. If it doesn’t work (and maybe it already hasn’t worked), let’s hope they find the right role for him.