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2018-19 Season in Review: Dustin Brown #AlwaysMyCaptain

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Embrace the Player Value that is “Brownie”

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Los Angeles Kings Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2018-19 NHL season firmly in the rear view mirror, it’s time to look back at what we learned about the players of the Los Angeles Kings. How did they fare in a down season? What’s next for each of them? Who will still be here on opening day? Join us as we take a look back at the season, try to figure out what went wrong, and see where we go from here. Today we look at Dustin Brown, the best captain in the history of the organization. His leadership is unparalleled, but is the first line the right place for him now? How do his recent seasons compare around the league? When do the Kings need to start considering Plan B for this important cog in the on-ice machine?


Dustin Brown. The former captain was arguably the most controversial captain in NHL history. He’s been called many things: “the worst captain to win a Stanley Cup,” “overpaid,” “over-rated.” Call him what you want, but faithful Kings observers revere him as the soul of the modern day championship core of talent that brought home two Stanley Cups.

After dropping off in performance, tallying fifteen goals or less from 2014 through 2017 (15, 11, 11, 14), he rebounded nicely with 28 goals in 2017-18 and 22 goals in 2018-19. His two-season totals looked something like this:

  • 2018-19—72 Games Played, 51 Points (22G / 29A), -17, 24 PIM, 9 PPG, 12.2 Shooting Percentage, 1469 Minutes Time On Ice, 20:24 Average Time On Ice.
  • 2017-18—81 Games Played, 61 Points (28G / 33A), +31, 58 PIM, 9 PPG, 12.6 Shooting Percentage, 1607 Minutes Time On Ice, 19:50 Average Time On Ice.

After flirting with 30 goals while setting career-highs in assists and points in 2017-18, Brown broke his finger in the 2018-19 pre-season finale and the Kings stumbled out of the gate, posting a 2-7-1 record in the 10 games he missed. Upon his return to the lineup, the Kings promptly won three out of four games and rightfully decided to dismiss coach John Stevens and replace him with the incompetent Willie Desjardins. The team never fully recovered from there finishing with only 71 points and a 30th place overall finish.

Nonetheless, only three seasons removed from the outrage of fans who wished the Vegas Golden Knights would have nabbed Brown in the expansion draft, he’s found a comfortable place on the first line. This comfort come after he adapted to the new NHL style of play where speed and skill are said to matter more than the heavy game of physicality. The physicality of Brown’s game is his calling card, ranking first for the Kings in all-time hits (3,300+).

”I found a way to adapt to the rule changes and how you have to play the game,” Brown told The Athletic recently. “You can still be a punishing player in today’s game if you find the right way.”

One could say that being liberated from now former Kings coach Darryl Sutter has provided a renaissance for Brown with two of the highest points per game totals of his career:

2003-04—0.16
2005-06—0.35
2006-07—0.57
2007-08—0.77
2008-09—0.66
2009-10—0.68
2010-11—0.70
2011-12—0.66
2012-13—0.63
2013-14—0.34
2014-15—0.33
2015-16—0.34
2016-17—0.45
2017-18—0.75
2018-19—0.71

But points per game averages don’t tell the entire story. Not even close. Brown has proven invaluable on the wing for Anze Kopitar, a player who can’t seem to find magic with any other linemates in the way other elite players have on their respective teams. His spot on the top line next to Kopitar sees him battling similar Kopitar-like players night in and night out. There’s simply no grading curve that can substantiate his value to the team.

Add that to new situation where the Kings are no longer the physical team teams are fearful of playing (I mean Alex Iafallo, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Kopitar aren’t exactly plowing through guys), Brown remains the stalwart of getting the job done with the body. He’s the single irritant the Kings have in their Top 6, and opponents aren’t big fans. Brown has been quoted as saying: “I don’t think I’m very well liked around the league, which is a probably good thing. You wanted to be hated by everybody but your teammates.”

Just a few years ago, Brown’s $5.875 AAV had everyone at Staples Center wringing their hands calling him “overpaid” and hoping the new GM would find a way to dump his salary. Now his contract looks like a bargain. A $5.875 million AAV is a cheap cost to generate 50 points these days with the bloated value placed on “scoring” wingers. Want to debate his value? Let’s look at ten other players in the $5-$7 million dollar salary range:

$7.14 Million AAV (signed through 2025-26)
Kevin Hayes, Age 27
55 Points (19G, 36A)

$7.25 Million AAV (signed through 2021-22)
Bobby Ryan, Age 32
42 Points (15G, 27A)

$7.0 Million AAV (signed through 2022-23)
Max Pacioretty, Age 30
40 Points (22G, 18A)

$6.5 Million AAV (signed through 2020-21)
Paul Stastny, Age 33
42 Points (13G, 29A)

$6.5 Million AAV (signed through 2020-21)
Derek Stepan, Age 29
35 Points (15G, 20A)

$6.0 Million AAV (signed through 2022-23)
Milan Lucic, Age 31
20 Points (6G, 14A)

$6.0 Million AAV (signed through 2022-23)
Kyle Okposo, Age 31
29 Points (14G, 15A)

$5.75 Million AAV (signed through 2022-23)
James Neal, Age 31
19 Points (7G, 12A)

$5.5 Million AAV (signed through 2022-23)
Jonathan Drouin, Age 24
53 Points (18G, 35A)

$5.3 Million AAV (signed through 2022-23)
Patric Hörnqvist, Age 32
37 Points (18G, 19A)

$5.0 Million AAV (signed through 2023-24)
Jonathan Marchessault, Age 28
59 Points (25G, 34A)

His value is so good in fact, that other teams are leaking their interest in obtaining Brown to help their own young core of players and future playoff runs (read: the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins). Four players you can count on not being traded are Drew Doughty, Kyle Clifford, Kopitar, and Brown, but, it’s uplifting to hear other organizations are inquiring through their back channels.

So I ask, can this debate that centers on Dustin Brown finally end?

Personally, if not for a modified NMC, I think that the Kings would have traded Brownie in the summer of 2017 for a used set of nets, a fifth rounder, and a case of pucks and felt like they totally won the trade. Thankfully, Rob Blake was either too lazy or patient enough to see there was a second life for Brown.

You can’t say enough about this non-trade from Kings perspective: In the span of two years hours, we went from “How the hell are we ever going to dump this horrible contact?” to “Dustin Brown should retire as a King!” Even better, Los Angeles’s front office doesn’t have the pressure of finding someone to play next to the $10 million Kopitar. And that’s a good thing because the Kings have never been a marque free agent destination and after the chaos created by the Willie Desjardins nightmare, no one is handing out official free agent meetings anytime soon.

While everyone is looking for a flashy Artemi Panarin-type to play next to Kopitar (myself included), you know what gets us excited? Intelligent, effective, workmanlike players. Steak over sizzle. Ingenuity. 200-foot hockey. Clutch players in crunch time. Consistency. That’s the kind of stuff that ends up carrying teams to the playoffs.

I thought the Kings understood what was needed to get back in the hunt. The last year’s worth of actions showed me different. We (yes, we) won twice in three years. Somewhere along the way, we lost our map to winning. I know we don’t have the map back yet, but I know that Dustin Brown is the one guy we need to carry the torch of Kings culture until the new guys from the last three draft classes rise up and take over.

Time will tell.

I just know that Brownie on the top line is what Kings hockey is all about and he proved it once again in 2018-19.

Brown Gems:

Watch the #23 punch a few seconds before the goal.

Breakaway!

Brown Gives Corey Crawford Vertigo.

Overtime Winner...

The Enterprise Hat Trick.

Always the Leader:

Kings Black & White—King of Kings: