Where Did Dustin Brown's Points Go?
Why Brown's low point total this year is probably a fluke.
(Note: this article's data does not include the game on 4/2/14 vs. Phoenix).
Dustin Brown's eight-year, $47 million contract, beginning in 2014-15 and covering his ages 30-37 seasons, is not off to an auspicious start. This headline pretty much sums up how Brown's year has gone. The season hasn't been a complete disaster; Brown is still a very good play driver and drawing a ton of penalties. But after years of consistent production, Brown's points totals have cratered, a seemingly terrible sign for the next eight years of his contract. Brown averaged 31 5v5 and 18 power play points per season over the past six years. His 82-game point pace this year would put him at 22 and 5. What on earth happened?
Even Strength Puck Luck
With Brown on the ice, the Kings have shot 7.89% over the past six seasons, and have shot just 6.25% this year. This is bad luck and explains much of Brown's drop in even strength scoring.
The problem isn't with Brown's shooting. Brown's 5v5 sh% (8.33%) is right in line with the average of his prior six years (8.39%). His shot rate is actually a bit up from his career average. So unsurprisingly, his rate of scoring goals at even strength is as solid as ever.
But while Brown himself has managed to find the net, his teammates have not. His linemates are shooting a bit less than in past years, but they've still gotten 352 shots on net with Brown on the ice. Unfortunately, only 5.4% of those have gone in. Over the past six years, Brown's teammates have scored at a close-to-league-average rate of 7.7% with Brown on the ice. Now, his linemates aren't quite as good, which might explain the minor reduction in shot volume, but this cannot come close to explaining the huge drop in shooting percentage. Brown has spent more minutes with Justin Williams than anyone else this year, and almost as much time with Anze Kopitar as with Jarret Stoll - his linemates are slightly worse, yes, but they've still been good.
A 5.4 sh%, moreover, is just an absurdly low rate for a non-fourth liner. This is something that is known to fluctuate randomly, so it's reasonable to think Brown has probably just had a run of terrible luck. That poor shooting luck means he has been on the ice for eight fewer 5v5 goals than we would expect. Since Brown has historically gotten assists on about half the goals scored by teammates he is on the ice, he loses four 5v5 assists.
This number - percentage of goals for a player assists on - is much like shooting percentage, in that players have established talents (for instance, Anze Kopitar assists on a far higher percentage of on-ice PP goals than Brown does), but random variation from those talents is a major factor. Of the 19 goals Brown's teammates have managed to score, Brown's only notched assists on eight, when we would expect nine or ten based on his career ratio of assists/goal scored by teammates. So another one or two assists gone, through no fault of Brown's.
Power Play Puck Luck
This is where Brown has gotten killed. Brown's shot rate on the PP has actually improved, but his shooting percentage has collapsed. He's at 3.7% this year. Even including this years' miserable effort, Brown has shot 15.5% on the power play over the past seven years. That difference costs him three goals.
With him on the ice, his teammates' 5v4 shooting percentage has been normal (11.8% this year, 11.7% past six years), but Brown has simply not recorded points on the power play goals he is on the ice for. He's gotten assists on just three of 14 this year, whereas his career track record would suggest he should have two or three more PP assists.
So between 5v5 and 5v4 Brown has 24 points this year, but his underlying numbers indicate he's gotten unlucky and should have something more like 35 (a 39-point pace over 82 games).
Even Strength Ice Time
From 2007-08 to 2012-13, Brown averaged 13.85 minutes of even strength TOI per game. He's playing just 13.11 minutes this year, a 6.3% drop. Since Brown has averaged 31 5v5 points a year for the past six years, that reduction in even strength time is worth about two points if we assume he still has his old scoring talent, and I've argued above that he essentially still does.
Power Play Ice Time
On the power play, Brown has seen his ice time drop more dramatically, from an average of 3.09 minutes/game over the last six years to 2.21 minutes/game this year. Brown has averaged roughly 18 power play points a season over the last six years, so that 28.5% drop has been worth roughly five points over a full season.
Adding it all up, if Brown were receiving his customary ice time, my best guess is that his underlying numbers indicate 46 5v5 and 5v4 points. Brown has averaged about 49 points in those situations the past six full seasons (the rest of his points coming from other game states). This is not a significant difference.
All that mind-numbing data says the same thing: Brown's underlying numbers indicate that he's the same player he's always been. His percentages have all fallen off, and that combined with decreased ice time has been catastrophic to his point total. Now, percentages do decline a bit as players get age, and at 29 Brown is likely exiting his peak. But since we know that percentages are subject to tremendous random variation from year to year, and since 29 is really far too young an age to expect such a decline, it seems very likely to me that Brown has just had a lot of bad luck in a lot of different areas.
None of this is to say that paying Brown $5.8 million for his age 30-37 seasons is a good idea; after all, he will eventually decline, probably well before that contract is over. But I think his strong underlying numbers indicate that he has not declined yet. Dustin Brown is very likely to bounce back. If you were in favor of the contract extension back in the offseason, don't let his low point total change your mind now.