LOS ANGELES — When he signed a new, eight-year contract extension on July 18, valued at $47 million (a $5.875 million annual salary cap hit), Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown provided another example of why he has become one of the most highly regarded captains in the National Hockey League.
You could even make a case for him being the best captain in Kings franchise history, even with the likes of Dave Taylor and Wayne Gretzky having worn the captain’s “C” for the Kings in years past.
No, Brown is not the demonstrative, loud, vocal captain who wears his emotions on his sleeve, traits that so many mistakenly believe are necessary to be a good captain.
Instead, Brown usually lets his actions do the talking, and negotiating his new contract extension on his own was a prime example of his leadership of the Kings.
“I think it’s well known that Brownie [negotiated] his own contract,” said Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi. “But the bigger thing, I think, is we’re starting to have all the blocks in place. We’re [a team] where a player truly wants to stay. Everything’s in place for him, in terms of a good team, a team that has a chance to win, is still relatively young, he’s very much adapted to Southern California, he wants his kids in school here. Every facet that a player looks at, in terms of where he wants to play, was in place. Now, it’s just a matter of coming to a fair number.”
“Two of the main factors were that my family and I are happy in L.A., and we have a team that can win,” said Brown. “As a competitive person, that’s why I want to play the game. I don’t play the game other than to win, and I feel that this team is built to win for the next few years.”
Lombardi pointed out that Brown was not only thinking about himself and his family during contract negotiations.
“I think the other thing he was very conscious of, in working through this, like he’s the captain of the team on the ice, he understood the [salary] cap implications,” Lombardi noted. “He understood that it’s not about getting as much as he could. It’s about getting a fair contract—’one of the reasons I’m staying here is to win, I like the guys in the room, and we have a chance for a number of years.’ A big part of that is, ‘OK, I’ve got to take a fair contract versus what I could get in free agency.’ When you put those all together, it’ll only take you a couple of days.”
“Give him credit,” Lombardi added. “Obviously, it’s a very good contract. But he was very cognizant of the idea of how caps work, particularly the way the cap has come down this year, and the uncertainty of how it’s projected to go up.”
Indeed, Brown did not take the usual approach—having his agent demand the highest possible salary, with little to no regard for the implications for the team moving forward. Rather, he signed a long-term deal at a salary that was considerably lower than what he would easily get on the unrestricted free agent market in July 2014,
That, dear readers, is leadership.
“He had an obligation to himself and his family,” Lombardi noted. “But he was very cognizant of the need to keep this team together. He was doing what you’d expect your captain to do. It wasn’t all about him. It was about the team, too.”
But why would Brown want to negotiate his own contract, rather than have his agent do so?
“I was more comfortable doing the contract on my own given the history that I have with this team, and the fact that I’ve been [with the Kings for] my whole career, and I know, not only Dean, [now former Vice President/Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall], and [Vice President/Hockey Operations and Legal Affairs Jeff Solomon], but I’ve known [owner] Phil and Nancy [Anschutz], on a personal level, from very early on in my career, when I [first joined the Kings],” Brown noted. “I had the privilege of meeting them early on, and I built a relationship directly with the owner, which I think goes a long way in my comfort level to be in the negotiations.”
“I did my homework on my comparables, doing more or less what an agent would do,” Brown added. “I had some help from the [National Hockey League Players Association].”
As Lombardi noted, Brown also had a clear understanding about the sacrifice he would have to make in order to help keep the core of the team together.
“I was well aware that in the ‘Cap Era,’ there’s only so much money to go around,” he said. “With the cap going down this year, and having the uncertainty of what it will be next year, that was probably the most difficult part. At the same time, within the cap, we have an opportunity to keep this team together. That was part of my decision in wanting to stay. I believe we have a chance to win.”
“It’s not only that our core is locked up,” he added. “If you look at our core, we’re all relatively in the same age group, and that’s important. That’s probably been the reason for our success—the way that Dean has designed the team is that we weren’t built to win the Cup one year, and then disappear. Now, it’s all coming into place, in the sense that we’re all going to be going through this together. That was a big reason I wanted to re-sign, because of the fact that I think we can win.”
Eliminating the middleman streamlined the negotiations, something Lombardi found refreshing.
“You don’t have to go into that stuff where, ‘I’m better than him, but I’m not better than [another guy],’” Lombardi explained. “You’re almost working to not take advantage of the player because he’s trusting you. I really liked the fact that the discussion was as much about the team perspective as it was about what he thought he was worth. That shows he’s working with the team.”
Brown indicated that the process took just less than two weeks.
“I flew out to L.A. last Monday,” he said. “I had two or three meetings, in person, with [Lombardi]. Then, I had to leave, and we did the rest of it on the phone over the last week or so.”
“I would assume that it probably went quicker than it normally would simply because of my not having any representation,” he added. “We cut through all the typical negotiation tactics pretty quickly, because I didn’t have an agent. That’s just my opinion. I think if I had an agent, we’d still be negotiating, and we’d still be a lot farther apart than what we settled on.”
“Once it was evident that both sides kind of wanted the same thing, it snowballed from there.”
Brown was anxious to get his contract extension out of the way before the 2013-14 season began.
“That was a big thing for me, seeing what happened with [Anaheim Ducks forwards Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry last year,” said Brown. “They got deals done [during the season], but at the same time, during the year, it should be about hockey, and what’s being done on the ice. I didn’t want it to be a distraction.”
“I didn’t want it to get in the way of what I need to do to help this team win,” added Brown. “But also, it gets quite old, whether we’re winning or losing, the number one question every day would be, ‘are they going to extend you,’ or, ‘are they working on you extension?’ It can be a distraction, for me, personally, but also, for the team, as a whole, so I was really eager to get it done prior to the start of the year.”
Lombardi pointed out that negotiating his own contract was another positive indicator of Brown’s growth.
“That’s the thing about Brown,” Lombardi emphasized. “You talk about the growth, it’s been two-fold, not only as a player, but clearly, as a person. I always tell the story—the first day, he sat across me when I got the job. He couldn’t put two words together. He was almost gun shy, because that wasn’t a great locker room for a young player to come into. It’s a very different atmosphere now when [Tyler] Toffoli or [Linden] Vey comes in, in terms of how they’re treated, compared to some of the things that were going on with Brown.”
“Here’s a guy, seven years ago, sitting across from me, and he couldn’t say two words,” Lombardi added. “But now, he’s sitting across from me, doing his own contract to set him up for life.”
Despite the praise, Brown understands that there is room for improvement.
“There’s always room to grow, especially in that aspect (leadership),” he noted. “The stuff on the ice is stuff that you work on every day. The leadership part—there’s plenty of room to grow, because I’m still learning every day.”
“I was named captain at a young age, when our team was at a different time,” he added. “It was a completely different team at that time. Now its kind of like I’ve grown into the role, but there’s still room to grow.”
Knee Rehab Progressing
In addition to negotiating his own contract extension, Brown has been doing rehabilitation work on his knee.
Once the Kings were eliminated from the 2013 Western Conference Final by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, Brown revealed that he was playing with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his knee, an injury suffered during Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the San Jose Sharks.
Brown, who has been doing his rehabilitation work with a physical therapist in his hometown, indicated that his rehab is proceeding at the expected pace.
“I have a physical therapist here in my hometown of Ithaca, [New York] who’s helped me with other issues throughout my career, and I’ve always come back in really good shape, working with him,” said Brown. “I’ve been working with him for the last four or five weeks on specific rehab stuff for my knee, and I’ve been doing the normal [summer training] program that the Kings have for the last two weeks, from a strength and workout standpoint. But I’ve continued my rehab. It continues to get better and better every day.”
“Speaking with the team doctors, and my personal doctors here in Ithaca, they’ve all said the same thing: that if I put in the rehab work, it shouldn’t be an issue, not only next year, but for the rest of my career,” added Brown.
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