What should the LA Kings do with Dustin Brown?
In his final year under contract, former LA Kings captain Dustin Brown is on pace to finish with less than 10 goals, which hasn’t happened since his rookie season when he finished with only one goal to go along with four assists in 31 games.
Having turned 37 years of age in November, Brown is in the twilight of his career, and regardless of whether he wishes to continue playing beyond this season, there’s a good chance it will not be in a Kings’ sweater.
In each of the last few seasons, players from the Kings’ 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup runs have exited in either free agency or trades as general manager Rob Blake embraced a full teardown, keeping a few core pieces, including Brown, to help guide the organization through the rebuild.
The all-time leader in games played for the organization, Brown needs just 16 more games to reach 1,300 career games. He’s been an instrumental piece to the LA Kings’ organization since being taken 13th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry draft.
But let’s face the facts.
He hasn’t been a significant point producer this season, understandably so, given his age. Brown has been shooting the puck at an uncharacteristically low 4.7% clip, which, again, is the lowest since his rookie campaign (2.5%).
Despite the roster turnover over the last few seasons, Brown remained a productive player for someone in their mid-30s simply because he was shooting the puck. In the 2018-19 season, he racked up 22 goals and 51 points, including nine goals on the power-play. The following season, his goal total on the man advantage dropped, but Brown bounced back in last year’s 56-game schedule with nine power-play goals once again.
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Despite the low shot volume and lack of production on the man advantage, Brown has continued to see time on the Kings’ power-play, a unit that ranks in the bottom seven of the league. Of course, it’s not all Brown’s fault that the team’s power-play has taken a step backward from last year, but he’s certainly not helping things.
After a 1-5-1 start, the Kings rebounded in a big way and currently find themselves in the thick of a playoff race. That type of production from Brown can be masked when the team is winning, but the Kings have now dropped two straight, including an embarrassing 7-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday night.
The question goes one step further: should the Kings drop Brown down in the lineup?
Looking for more scoring from the team’s top line, head coach Todd McLellan removed Brown from his usual spot on the top line next to Anze Kopitar and put him on the third line. However, that idea hasn’t really worked either, as Brown has just one goal in his last 21 games.
Dustin Brown just hasn’t been able to find his game this season, and it’s time for a change.
After some early-season roster shuffling, the Kings have generally kept their lines consistent. However, switching Arthur Kaliyev and Dustin Brown might make some sense, elevating the former up to the third line. Kaliyev has 11 goals on the fourth line, including a two-goal effort in Wednesday’s loss to the Stars.
With just 27 games remaining, the Kings are in crunch mode, with several teams on their tail for one of the three spots in the Pacific Division and two spots in the Wild Card. And it sounds like there could be some roster shuffling in the coming days.
“We talked about that this morning with Todd and we’re tossing some ideas around,” acting head coach Trent Yawney said on Thursday via LA Kings Insider. “I think that sometimes, your play is pretty indicative of whether or not you’re going to stay in the lineup, but at the same time, someone fresh on a line can change things. It was the first thing we talked about this morning, that will be up to Todd and Blakey to decide and we’ll deal with whatever they come up with.”
With that said, the Kings’ forward lines could look something like this:
Iafallo – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Grundstrom – Byfield – Kaliyev
Lemieux – Lizotte – Brown
Option 1 is basically what I just described above, switching Brown and Kaliyev. The fourth line has arguably been one of the best in the National Hockey League, and playing with high-energy guys like Blake Lizotte and Brendan Lemieux could spark Dustin Brown to find his game again.
Kempe – Kopitar – Kaliyev
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Byfield – Grundstrom
Lemieux – Lizotte – Brown
With some outside-of-the-box thinking, Option 2 elevates Kaliyev from the fourth line to the top line, giving Kopitar a pure shooter and rewarding Kaliyev for his hard work thus far. Alex Iafallo would drop to the third line – nobody is breaking up that MAD line right now – moving Grundstrom to his off-wing. But like Option 1, this alternative has Dustin Brown playing on the fourth line.
A more extreme option would be to have Brown watch from the press box for a game or two, a mental reset if you will. But as noted, the LA Kings are coming into the home stretch of the season in a tight playoff race.
They’ll need to find the right line combinations quickly while also finding some sort of success on the power-play, and that starts with removing Dustin Brown from the special teams’ unit.
We discussed this at length on the latest podcast episode as well.