Dustin Brown looked at the core of the Los Angeles Kings, and his decision was easy. He wanted to stay long-term, and he wanted to get the deal done himself.
Brown did just that, signing for eight years and US$47 million, ensuring that this Stanley Cup-champion Kings team would have its captain around through the 2021-22 season. The right-winger joined goaltender Jonathan Quick, defencemen Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov and forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter as players signed for at least the next six seasons.
“We weren’t built to win the Cup one year and then disappear,” Brown said. “Now it’s kind of all come into place in the sense that we’re all going to be going through this together.”
That was Dean Lombardi’s goal when he took over as general manager in 2006. He acquired Richards and Carter and their contracts that run through 2020 and 2022, respectively, then tried to build on the first title in franchise history by keeping Quick around through 2023 and Doughty and Voynov through 2019.
Signing Brown to this contract was just “part of the process.”
“It wasn’t only building it, but trying to keep it together and then fit it under the cap,” Lombardi said on a conference call Thursday. “You’re never done. It wasn’t just about becoming a good team. It was doing these type of things so that you could, in the end, build a culture, have an identity.”
Brown is, in many ways, the Kings’ identity. The 28-year-old right-winger’s aggressive forecheck led the way during the 2012 Stanley Cup run, when he was a point-a-game player.
When Brown dealt with a knee injury and managed just three goals and an assist in 18 playoff games this past spring, the banged-up Kings couldn’t get past the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference final.
“He freely admits at times during his past season where, as the leader of this team, he’s got to do more,” Lombardi said. “That’s a sign of growth. He’s not there looking (like), ‘Well, I’m the captain, I should be getting all this money, I’m great.’ He’s looking at it and saying, ‘I’ve got to be better here if we’re going to do this again.'”
With the hope that the Kings could win it all again, Brown decided to represent himself in contract negotiations, citing a comfort level with the only NHL organization he has known. If he had an agent working on it, Brown said, talks probably would still be ongoing.
Instead, Lombardi and Brown spoke in person and on the phone and hammered out a deal that counts $5.875 million against the salary cap beginning in 2014-15.
“I really like the fact that the discussion was as much about the team and the cap and how it works from a team perspective as it was about what he thought he was worth,” Lombardi said. “That shows he’s working with the team.”
Brown did his homework, getting comparables from the NHL Players’ Association and analyzing his value. But he also knew full well “there’s only so much money to go around.”
“Within the cap I think we have an opportunity to keep this team together,” Brown said. “That was part of my decision in wanting to stay is I believe we have a chance to win.”
The Kings have undergone some changes since they won in 2012, losing defenceman Rob Scuderi and left-winger Dustin Penner in free agency, acquiring defenceman Robyn Regehr and trading backup goalie Jonathan Bernier to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But the bulk of those who hoisted the Cup will be around for the foreseeable future. That includes Anze Kopitar, who’s signed for three more seasons, and Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams, who are signed through the next two.
“It’s not only that our core is locked up,” Brown said. “You look at our core and we’re all relatively within the same age group within a group of three or four years, and I think that’s important.”
It’s important to Lombardi to make sure his young stars didn’t even get to unrestricted free agency. In a cap world where players are “moving around like musical chairs,” he understands the value of continuity.
“You kind of beat that part of the system which basically encourages players to move around and not have that attachment to a team,” Lombardi said. “That’s what the system essentially does. You’re trying to, I guess, confront that. When you’re able to keep your players locked up and fit them under the cap, that’s part of the job.”
Naturally some things are going to change. Ron Hextall left to join the Philadelphia Flyers’ front office, so Lombardi hired long-time defenceman Rob Blake as assistant general manager. It’s a “compliment” that success makes those in the organization more attractive to other teams, so Lombardi was prepared.
“I was fortunate to have a guy like this right in our own back yard,” Lombardi said of Blake.
And fortunate to have a captain in Brown who wanted to sign a deal that takes him to the age of 37. The contract has a partial no-trade clause, according to Lombardi, who expressed no concern over it not working out.
In signing Brown for eight years, Quick for 10, Doughty for eight and Voynov for six, Lombardi and the Kings are accepting risk. Injuries can happen to anyone, he said, but there’s even more that goes into locking up a core group for so long.
“You’ve got to really trust the character of your players that they’re inherently competitive and they’re not going to get complacent,” Lombardi said. “Whether it’s Doughty or Kopitar or Quick or Richards or Carter and now Browny, I am a 100 per cent that there is not going to be complacency in these kids.”