Outside of Milan Lucic's limbo status with the Kings, the biggest offseason news thus far has to be the Kings taking away the captaincy from Dustin Brown.
With all kind of talk about the Kings needing a new mentality, or needing a move in a new direction, this was the first of what is probably going to be various moves regarding some of the more senior players with the Kings.
While fewer people have backed the 31-year old over recent years, it can be a bit hard to explain what has prompted such a rapid decline in his play. After signing a massive 8-year $5.875 a year extension with the Kings that started in 2014-15, he has become the poster boy for detrimental monetary value to his team.
Each of the last two offseasons now we have heard about how "Dustin Brown needs to be better" with numerous questions raised about the value of his play versus the value of what the Kings are paying him.
With no more than 30 points scored in each of his last four seasons, it is entirely fair to say that he is not living up to the money.
What we should ask though is "Why?"
Why has Dustin Brown gone South? What is Dustin Brown doing? What has Dustin Brown done? What has changed in his play, if anything?
There are a few things here and there to look at, but for the most part it can be a little bit puzzling watching a 50 point player go to a 25 point player seemingly overnight. Has it been the natural downward spiral of an aging player? Let's take a deeper look.
Here is the biggest thing with Brown.
Statistically speaking not much has changed with him in terms of underlying numbers.
He has been as consistent a player as you would want in a lot of key areas. You could take his possession numbers, his team relative numbers, his zone starts, his expected goals against and goals for over the past six or seven years, completely mix them up, and you would not be able to pick one year from the next.
His expected goals for this year (xGF60), which is a number that takes into account shot quality, angle, type, etc, was 2.59.
Know what it has been since 2009? 2.53
expected goals against (xGA60) for 2015-16 was 2.18.
Since 2009? 2.11
Shots for, shots against, corsi, fenwick, all of these are really really similar to what his average has been over the course of his career. It is kind of startling.
Even from 2007-08 to 2011-12, Brown was consistently scoring at about 1.65 points per 60 and/or just over a point every other game.
Between 2012-13 and 2013-14, something changed. Brown's production dipped incredibly. It was cut almost exactly in half. After five seasons of above 50 points, Brown suddenly dropped down to 27, 28, and 28, in three full seasons after the lockout.
While the overall result has dropped sharply, Brown has been riding a somewhat slow decline that has finally hit home. And it comes from a few different places.
Brown shoots a lot.
On an individual basis he usually leads the Kings in individual shots for per 60. In these "decline" years there have been no differences. He has averaged about 9-10 shots per 60 minutes of ice time. So roughly about 3-4 a game over an 82 game season. Some nights are better, some nights are worse.
And from an overall shooting percentage standpoint, the dip looks significant. He went from around 11% on average in the years prior to the lockout, to suddenly shooting at around 6% over the past three. That is a steep drop off, and a good click below his 9.3 career average. For reference, Brown shot at 5% last year, which is the worst of his career.
However, the 5v5 shooting percentage has showed a much more progressive and reasonable decline.
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It looks a lot worse if you consider it including powerplay usage.
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From a raw numbers standpoint, it is even more logical you could say. The lows simply started to get lower with Brown, and the ceiling was also getting much lower. When he was peaking in his shooting percentage it was at a much lower percentage than earlier in his career.
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Average distance on shots is also roughly the same, however Brown has progressively moved further and further back over the course of the last four years.
2012-13 - 28.73
2013-14 - 29.41
2014-15 - 30.20
2015-16 - 31.55
So that is one thing you can look at. He is taking the same number of shots, but stepping further, and further, and further away. Coupled with a natural decline of shooting percentage, you might start seeing a bigger drop off in overall production.
We also mentioned another thing with Brown earlier that has changed pretty drastically.
Now this is not typical offensive versus defensive starts, because that has been consistent.
What has changed drastically with Brown is not only his ice time but his average powerplay ice time.
The former Kings captain has pretty much been squeezed out of the Kings powerplay unit. In his prime, Brown was playing on the Kings top powerplay unit alongside the likes of Kopitar, Carter, Ryan Smyth, Justin Williams etc. etc. He was also posting 16-20 points in the years of 2013 to 2008. That is a third of his point totals from those seasons. Sometimes more. You take 20 points away from Dustin Brown in his 55 point season and all of a sudden you are talking about 35 points. Not too sexy right?
If there is one thing you could point to that changed incredibly from 2012-13 to 2013-14, which seems to be the pivot year, it's that Brown lost almost a full four minutes of average ice time (19-20 -> 15), and a massive chunk of his powerplay time.
In the lockout season, Brown saw an average of 2.5 powerplay minutes a game.
That fell to 2.0 the next year, 1.5 the following year, and a meager one minute of powerplay ice time in 2015-16. And with Brown being all but replaced stylistically by Milan Lucic, most of that was relegated to the Kings "secondary powerplay unit". Not the top guns, where powerplay opportunities to score are much higher.
With a large portion of his earlier point totals coming from the powerplay, the large cut in powerplay time subsequently led to a sharp drop in his production. He has seen around a 7-10 point drop in five on five production, he has seen an equally precipitous drop in powerplay. Overall, 20 points were shaved off his totals in just about single season.
Injury and other factors
Some other things have taken place with Brown that may have prompted downward trends. Brown has had a few minor injuries, including a knee procedure which many theorized made him "lose a step"
He has also been taken almost completely out of the Kings top six altogether starting in *Drum roll* 2013-14. Before that year Anze Kopitar was generally Brown's regular centerman. But starting in that season Jarret Stoll became his primary middleman, and he moved to the Kings bottom six more prominently. What changed for the Kings that moved Brown to the bottom six was the addition of Jeff Carter, the emergence of Tyler Toffoli, and even Dwight King started cutting into Brown's top six time as he found chemistry with Carter and Toffoli. Nick Shore and Trevor Lewis, despite their hard work, are not Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli or Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik.
As also pointed out on twitter, his ability to draw penalties has also been a place of significant down turn.
Brown was a player standing on the precipice of decline as he entered his late 20s. While many players proceed in a more steady downward trend, Brown took a firm two-hand shove in the back off the cliff in 2013-14. A combination of natural deterioration was compounded with a vast change in usage that culminated in a pretty perfect storm of "What happened to Dustin Brown!?"
He stopped playing high quality minutes with higher quality linemates, and took small steps back in things like shooting percentage and shot distance/quality. Despite those all being positive prior to 2012-13, Brown did have a point total that was pretty heavily propped up by powerplay production in his early career. While he has always been good enough defensively, and a hard enough worker along the boards to warrant praise, Brown at his core may simply have been a third-second line tweener with extensive special teams utilization. Again, take away his powerplay production, and even in his top six days he was an average 25 or 30 point scorer. For example, in 2009-10, Brown's even strength points per 60 rate was 116th in the NHL amongst 238 forwards playing at least 750 minutes. Players with similar scoring rates that year: Rob Schremp, Raffi Torres, David Clarkson, Ryan Clowe, Mason Raymond and numerous others. In the previous year he was 144th out of 238 forwards in points per 60. Those were seasons in which he scored 53 and 56 points respectively. In 2007-08, his 60 point season, he was 136th amongst the 221 most regularly used forwards in the NHL in 5v5 points per 60.
Now you can easily raise the question of the timing of his massive extension and whether or not it was actually warranted, but that is another discussion for a different day and one that has a predictable answer and outcome that does not need to be detailed extensively.
The reality now is that the Kings are stuck with a Dustin Brown who is showing few signs of a turnaround. While we may see his shooting go back in the right direction, it will probably never be enough to be comfortable with his contract. At this point he is a third liner with the Kings, and there are few if any open spots in the top six with Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, and MAYBE Milan Lucic being in the fold.
Squeezed out, and aging, the future is not very bright unfortunately for the now former Kings captain.
Stats provided by Corsica.hockey
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