What Happened to Dustin Brown?

With the Los Angeles Kings’ struggles on the road so far this season — they are now a very poor 1-4-4 away from Staples Center following Tuesday night’s 4-3 shootout loss in Nashville — one would assume they are looking for a spark of some kind to get them out of this funk. Heart-and-soul leader, and team captain, Dustin Brown, would naturally be one of the first people to look to.

What Can Brown Do for You?

If the Kings are looking to Brown for a spark, however, it might be more realistic to look for something not on the score sheet. Brown’s offensive production has continued to dip this season, as he has recorded a meager 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) in the team’s 22 games this season. At this rate, he will not even crack 20 points for the year — this coming off his career-worst 27-point campaign in 2013-14 (excluding his 31-game appearance in 2003-04).

Of course, Brown can and does contribute in a multitude of other ways for the Kings. He plays a full 200-foot game, brings an element of energy and physicality, is obviously a strong leadership presence in the locker room, and is even pretty solid at driving puck possession. Also, speaking of energy and physicality, who can forget this devastating hit on Henrik Sedin in Game 3 of the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs?

This hit sent a message that the Kings were the team to beat in that series (and the entire playoffs) — not the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. Indeed, the Kings would go on to win that game 1-0 — with Brown fittingly scoring the game’s only goal — and eventually the Stanley Cup. Sure, the Kings were already up 2-0 in that series, but Brown’s hit was a definitive turning point.

Brown also tallied 20 points in 20 playoff games that year, so he was contributing consistently on the score sheet as well. In addition, he had 14 points in the Kings’ 26 playoff games last season, a markedly better rate than his regular season production. So it seems fair to say that Brown is the type of player who steps his game up when it matters most — in the postseason. But to what extent can all of these positive traits truly justify his lack of regular offensive production?

Offensive Production Trending Down

Brown’s sudden and significant decrease in point production would be easier to digest — especially with all of his other qualities — if not for his salary and the fact that he was an established scorer who suddenly lost his touch. Brown carries a salary cap hit of almost $6 million per year, all the way through the 2021-22 season. With that kind of salary, intangibles and strong physical play are not going to cut it. There needs to be some consistent and meaningful offensive output.

What’s vexing is that we have seen such production from Brown in the not-so-distant past. And it wasn’t just one or two prolific seasons amid a handful of low-scoring ones. Starting with the 2006-07 season and going through last season, Brown’s point totals by year were as follows: 46, 60 (including 33 goals), 53, 56, 57, 54, 29 (in 46 games during the lockout-shortened season), and 27. Again, the sudden downturn is continuing with just 5 points so far this season.

Last season was clearly where the major drop-off occurred, as Brown had established himself as a consistent 50-plus point scorer, having reached the mark in 5 straight seasons (and 6 if you extrapolate his 29 points in the 2012-13 lockout season to a full 82 games). Given the huge decline, and the fact that Brown was not even 30 years old yet, one could have thought that maybe it was just an aberration. But this season says differently.

What has happened to Dustin Brown? Why has he stopped scoring? Maybe the issue isn’t so much age, but wear and tear from the number of games Brown has played over the years, and with the style he has embraced. Brown plays a fast, aggressive, and extremely physical game. Perhaps that has begun to take its toll on his mobility and worn him down somewhat.

Another reason — though likely not as big of a factor — could be the Kings’ depth at forward, which has grown over the years. With additions in recent seasons like Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson, Brown probably isn’t counted on so much to produce offensively. But his huge decline still isn’t any less alarming.

Whatever the reason(s) might be, the Kings will have to think about their salary cap future and decide whether they want to hold on to a 20-30 point player for almost $6 million a season long term. In fact, they very nearly traded him in 2012.

Of course though, they held on to him and the decision paid off as he caught fire en route to helping the team hoist the Cup. Now, however, the Kings might very well have to re-consider this possibility.