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Dustin Brown Gets Eight-Year Extension From Los Angeles Kings

Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown
Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown

Jun 2, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown (23) controls the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period in game two of the Western Conference finals of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center. Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

One thing sports give us is something to talk about after we all agree that it’s “some weather out there.” Invariably, whenever I wear my Kevin Durant or J.P. Arencibia jersey out to a bar or pub (I love Aaron Cibia, I was young and foolish when I bought it), I will get a few people come up to me to just talk sports. It seems the second favorite topic of discussion after the weather we’re having is sports and that’s A-OK by me.

One conversation I like to have is the perception of a team’s fans has for their front office. Living where I do, these conversations revolve around the Montréal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. There have been so many head-scratching contracts given out in the last decade in the NHL that I have gotten cynical about most teams to the point where if a new general manager is hired, the first though that pops into my head is “prove to me you’re not an idiot.” My Canadiens are not an exception to this thought.

Earlier today we got the announcement from the Los Angeles Kings that Dustin Brown had re-signed with the club for eight years with an average-annual-value (AAV) of $5.75 million or $46 million total. On the surface, this seems like a great signing; Brown is their captain, was perhaps as important as Jonathan Quick in their Stanley Cup run – he tied for the lead in points in the 2011-2012 playoffs and was a top possession player for them – and is typically regarded as a core piece for that team.

I’m a Dustin Brown fan. He plays the game on the edge which can contribute to throwing the opponents off of theirs (the second-best result to actually scoring a goal) and this draws penalties. A lot of them. In fact, Brown has been in the top-8 in the entire NHL in penalties drawn/60 minutes for six straight seasons (min. 30 GP/season).

When you factor all this with the fact that Brown sports an elite 55.5% CorsiFor% (the percentage of all shot attempts for his team and the other team while he is on the ice, adjusted for zone starts) over the last three seasons, it’s not a surprise he’s getting the contract he’s getting.

One thing that does surprise me however is this: why is Mikhail Grabovski still a free agent?

I just talked about Brown’s elite CF% over his last three seasons. The caveat to this is that the Los Angeles Kings have the second-best CF% as a team over the last three seasons, trailing only the Detroit Red Wings. Having a team that excels at puck possession will help boost possession numbers of almost any player. The reverse is also true; a good puck possession player’s numbers will suffer when playing for a poor puck possession team. This deflation of possession stats can mean depressed statistics, including the out-dated plus/minus rating. Some fans (and apparently, some general managers) will look at the depressed numbers and come to a false conclusion; a bad plus/minus and lower-than-expected point totals mean the player is not very good.

I fear that this is what has befallen Mikhail Grabovski. Even though his individual possession numbers absolutely crush those of Tyler Bozak over the last three years and are comparable to Joffrey Lupul’s over that same stretch, Grabovski was bought out of his contract earlier this summer of which there was three years at $5.5M per season left on it (one season into said contract).

Grabovski is seriously misunderstood by the majority of the hockey community and apparently by his own former front office. Did he have a great season this year? Not really, he ranked last on the Leafs in five on five points/60 minutes. But this is relative; two of the three forwards he spent most of his ice time with were Jay McClement and Leo Komarov. McClement is a penalty killer, Komarov is no longer in the NHL and these two have combined for an 82-game average of 26 points a season. However, if you look at the two seasons previous, Grabovski’s even-strength points/60 minutes compare closely to Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Do people think that those two guys are bad hockey players?

There’s large amount data that’s out there on Kessel playing better with Grabovski than Bozak over the last three seasons, the least of which is this (demonstrated in CF%, again adjusted for zone starts);

W/ Grabovski

W/ Bozak W/O Grabovski

W/O Bozak

Phil Kessel


47.1% 46.8%



But hey, Kessel and Bozak are buddies.

This brings me back to my original thought, how can Dustin Brown be given $46M for eight years but Mikhail Grabovski gets bought out of his last three years for a lower AAV?

As I said, Brown has been an elite puck possession player over the last three years, but this has come on an elite puck possession team. Mikhail Grabovski is a 52.1% CF% player over the last three years (adjusted for zone-starts) and that includes this season when he was playing with borderline NHL-ers (Nikolai Kulemin notwithstanding). The kicker? The Toronto Maple Leafs were the fourth-worst possession team in the NHL over the last three years, slightly behind the New York Islanders. Over that stretch, Phil Kessel? Negative possession player. Joffrey Lupul? Worse than Kessel. Tyler Bozak? I won’t even bother. It should be noted, as well, that Grabovski’s strong possession numbers on a weak possession team include this caveat; he’s ranked in the top-5 on the Leafs in Quality of Competition each of the last three years, and second on the team twice.

Despite playing probably the toughest competition of any Leafs player not named Kulemin over the last three years, he’s been very good possession player playing alongside scrub teammates along the way.

As I said, I’m extremely cynical of general managers these days in the NHL. There is too much information out there, available completely free, for GMs to be given the benefit of the doubt when they constantly make bad decisions.

The sad reality is, players like Grabovski (who were the focus of a piece I wrote on the NHL’s Moneyball) get bad reputations because teams like Toronto bury them with tough minutes, bad zone start ratios (offensive or defensive zone) and barely-NHL line-mates. Mr. Grabovski himself told us as much. Is Dustin Brown worth every penny that he was given going forward? Probably not, those years stretch into his mid-late 30s when a player is declining in skill (although with the salary cap going up in the next few years, it might still be a good market value). Is Mikhail Grabovski worth $1.3M more than guys like Bozak? Yes, especially when that contract was set to run out before his skill decline would hit.

But that’s a conversation we can have another day once we figure what’s going on with the weather.

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