Dustin Brown is going to be just fine. Mostly.
He has struggled to put up points for a long time and we have said he will bounce back at some point but this time we really mean it maybe.
Since his heroic efforts to help lift the Kings to the Stanley Cup in 2012, Dustin Brown has been under intense scrutiny.
The expectations for his production were probably elevated by his unbelievable run that postseason, when he tied with Anze Kopitar for the team lead in scoring. It comes as no surprise that the dip in his point totals has led to extreme frustration with his play in general.
Opposing fans already didn't like him. Up until the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Dustin Brown was known as a diver, hard hitter, and a man with pretty good skill. The uptick in dirtiness and downtick in production has made Brown a bit of a punchline. Now, even his own team's fans have turned their frustration on him from time to time.
His road to success has never been easy. Before he was a top liner and Anze Kopitar's most frequent linemate, his own teammate made fun of his lisp and wife. Always a shy guy, Brown shrank behind Sean Avery's criticism.
Even after he was named captain and elevated his game to match his title, Brown was on the verge of being dealt at the 2012 trade deadline. Famously, he answered those rumors with a hat trick against Chicago. That spring, he'd reach the pinnacle of his profession and become just the second American-born captain to lift the Cup. Two seasons later, he became the first to do it twice.
Despite this, he's been a polarizing figure among many Kings fans. People always expect more of him, both with and without the puck. We all want him to score more. Some want him to be a more assertive presence on the ice. Probably most importantly, almost everyone hates his contract.
On a team with Marian Gaborik, Tyler Toffoli, and Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown has the second largest cap hit among Kings forwards. His contract also extends into the next decade.
His team was able to reach new heights often without the production of its well-paid captain. Following five consecutive seasons that saw him log more than 20 goals, Brown hit the wall. Though he almost certainly would've scored more than 20 goals in 2013 had the lockout not halved the season, Brown picked up just four points in 18 playoff games. In two full seasons since, Brown hasn't managed to top 30 points.
Some of us keep waiting for Brown to snap out of it. Others are certain that he's a hockey player in decline.
I'm not exactly sure what the truth is. It's strange for a player of Brown's caliber to disappear into a percentages-driven haze for as long as he has. At the same time, the numbers tell a story.
In Dustin Brown's best seasons, he was an extremely steady force. He was a lock for 20-30 goals and never ventured out of the 53-60 point range. From the 2007-08 season to the 2011-12 season, Dustin ruled. Even in the lockout-shortened season, he was pretty good. He was an extremely steady 5v5 contributor. What's changed since then?
(please note that these are just 5v5 numbers)
The first and only thing that jumps off the page here is that his assist numbers dropped in a big way. His goal production was pretty normal until last season, and even then it wasn't worse than his 2011-12 season. However, his playmaking ability apparently disappeared.
When I see a player's assist numbers go off a cliff, my first question is about their primary to secondary assist ratio. If a player's secondary assist rate drops, that's usually the result of bad luck. Secondary assists are largely unpredictable from season to season. If Dustin's first assist rate stayed the same the past few seasons, it's likely that some of his poor production could be explained away by pure bad luck.
(once again, all of these numbers came during 5v5 play)
Well, shoot. Dustin Brown didn't get significantly unlucky when it came to getting assists. In fact, his playmaking ability seemed to basically disappear entirely for two seasons. He did get moderately unlucky last season, when his playmaking ability returned only to have his secondary assists dry up.
Did Dustin Brown's dip in production coincide with anything meaningful? Well, maybe.
First, though, let's put a huge asterisk on that 2012-13 number. That was a significant but still incomplete sample of games. With a full regular season, maybe he goes on some kind of wild assist streak to get his numbers back to normal.
That still leaves 2013-14.
From 2007-2012, Dustin Brown spent 3265 of his 5572 5v5 minutes playing with Anze Kopitar. However, the acquisitions of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, along with the ascent of Tyler Toffoli, added more forward depth than Brown had ever played with before in his career. More importantly, it created a much more real competition for top end minutes than he had ever been a part of. On top of all of that, the Kings went out and traded for Marian Gaborik.
After spending 59% of his 5v5 minutes with Anze Kopitar for the five seasons prior, Brown skated alongside him just 33% of the time in 2013-14 (334 of 1007 minutes). Instead, Dustin Brown's most common center became Jarret Stoll. From 2011 to the end of last season, Jarret Stoll's on ice shooting percentage (the shooting percentage of him and his linemates while he was on the ice) never got above 7%; Anze Kopitar's never dipped below 7.45%.
With the drop in role came a drop in ice-time. Brown's average time on ice per game dipped 3-4 minutes starting with the 2013-14 season. Even if his production rates didn't drop - they did - his point totals would've slipped noticeably based on this alone.
The increased offensive depth of the Kings had a third serious effect on Dustin Brown as well: power play time.
From the start of his career until the 2013 season, Brown never averaged less than three minutes of power play time per game. In the three completed seasons since then, he's averaged 2.8, 2.1 and 1.4 minutes of power play time per game. Here's how Dustin Brown's power play time has influenced his point totals throughout his career:
|Season||Points||PP Points||Percentage||PP P/60||PP TOI/G||TOI||% of TOI|
Brown's power play production has dipped right in line with his actual power play time.
It appears that Brown's point production recession can be attributed to a few different factors: brief loss of playmaking ability, dip in quality of linemates, dip in time on ice, and dip in power play time. His production of shots and scoring chances has not changed much at all. If anything, he's actually started producing more of those things.
How is Brown playing and being used in these regards so far this season?
Well, his assist rates are fine. He has three assists and they're all first assists. He's maybe been unlucky to not have one or two secondary assists, but nothing really worth noting. It'll balance out.
He has played most of his 5v5 time alongside Anze Kopitar so far this season. There isn't really a good reason for his on ice shooting percentage to be at an abysmal 3.45%. If Anze Kopitar doesn't miss much time with whatever his injury is and Dustin Brown continues to play with him, this will move back toward 8% in all likelihood. This will boost his production significantly. Basically, the Kopitar/Brown duo (throw Gaborik in there for good measure) is due for a huge resurgence in the very near future.
His ice-time has bumped slightly. After averaging around 16 minutes each of the past two seasons, Brown currently plays around 17 minutes per game. His power play time has matched this increase - it's up from recent seasons but still below what it was at 2.5 minutes per game. Despite the increase in power play time, he hasn't managed a single point with the man advantage yet this season. That will certainly change. If his usage stays roughly the same, we can probably expect about 10 points out of Brown on the power play this season.
Dustin Brown played another very Dustin Brown game on Tuesday against the Blues. He was all around the puck and all around the net. He set up Tyler Toffoli for a tap-in that Jake Allen managed to deny. He had chance after chance that either missed the net or got turned away. These stats don't include that game, but nothing that happened will move the needle very much. It was exactly the brand of frustrating that we've grown accustomed to with Brown: close, but no cigar.
Brown's season might rest on the health of Anze Kopitar, but things are promising if Kopi gets and stays healthy. Though Brown's point totals are unlikely to return to levels we saw earlier in his career, that seems to be mostly due to a drop in ice-time. If head coach Darryl Sutter stays patient with him, it's likely that everyone will be rewarded.