LOS ANGELES — Although the decline in his level of play has been rather glaring, even before he helped lead the Los Angeles Kings to their first Stanley Cup Championship in 2012, right wing and now former captain Dustin Brown deserved better treatment than he has received this summer since news leaked that he was no longer captain.
On May 27, TSN’s Frank Seravalli first reported on Twitter that Brown would no longer be captain. But there was no confirmation from the Kings, not even a comment, until June 17, when they named center Anze Kopitar as their new captain.
Brown broke his silence on June 30, and during a very candid, often blunt, media conference call, among the things that became clear was that the Kings bungled the whole situation.
The 31-year-old native of Ithaca, New York who has played eleven seasons with the Kings and had been captain since 2008, made it clear that he does not agree with the change.
“It was a tough thing to go through,” he said. “If I was OK with the decision, then it was probably 100 percent the right decision. [But] it was a tough pill to swallow. There are a lot of emotions that kind of go through it, but at the end of the day, it was really out of my control because this is a management decision, not like the players voted on it, or anything like that. Quite honest, it would’ve been a lot harder had it been my teammates doing this.”
“I think, first and foremost, I was very proud of what we, as a group, have accomplished while I’ve been captain of this team,” he added. “We won the Cup twice, so it was a really tough process. It’s one of those things where I’m a player, and this is a decision management chose to make…I don’t see eye-to-eye with this decision, but I respect it.”
The change caught Brown by surprise.
“Did I ever see this coming? Not really,” he said. “I think I’ve done very well in this position. We’ve struggled the last couple of years, but I think that’s a by-product of a lot of things. I don’t think this one change represents what needs to happen here for us to be successful, but management felt that this was one of the things that needed to change.”
Not surprisingly, Brown made it crystal-clear that, despite not agreeing with the change, he is behind Kopitar, 100 percent.
“I can’t say I agree with it, honestly,” Brown noted. “In saying that, I think Kopi is going to be a great captain. I’ve been locker room stall mates with him since he came into this league, and he’ll be fine in this situation. I have all the faith in the world in Kopi being the guy now.”
“It’s no longer my responsibility—the burden of wearing the ‘C,’” Brown added. “That’s not to say that I don’t think I can still do it. But Kopi will do a great job.”
Brown also indicated that there has been some friction between himself and head coach Darryl Sutter for some time now.
“At the end of the day, the conversation [in meetings between Brown and Sutter] just allowed me and Darryl to get on the same page—where I was coming from, where he was coming from…I think the meeting was more to just air some things out and move on, because it was one of those things where we needed to re-connect—I needed to hear some things from him, and he needed to hear some things from me. This probably should’ve happened a year ago.”
“I think it was more just to clear some of the air between me and Darryl,” added Brown. “I think we both want the same thing, but we look at it in different ways. I think it was a meeting that needed to happen for us to move forward. Part of it was about what my role is, but a lot of it was about stuff that just needed to be addressed. That’s what it was for, and I think it probably helped both sides.”
Contributing to the perception that the Kings have handled the situation poorly is that Brown appears to be less than 100 percent confident that the Kings want him.
“From my perspective, I think they’ve tried to trade me, but haven’t been able to come to a deal, whether that was last week, three months ago, five months ago, or a year ago, I couldn’t tell you,” said Brown. “But it’s one of those things where, at the end of the day, it’s their job to figure out if they want me to be a part of this team, or if they don’t, find a way to move me.”
“But my job is to play hockey, and that’s always been my focus,” added Brown. “I’ve never really worried about whether I’m going to be a part of this team. I’ve always believed that I would be a part of this team.”
Indeed, with or without the ‘C’ on his jersey, Brown’s focus must be on getting his game back, and regaining the confidence of management and coaches.
“People look at the last couple of years,” he observed. “That’s been very disappointing for everyone involved. We all have a lot of work to do to get back to where we want to be. I just remember when I was named captain—where we were at, as a team. It was not a pretty picture. I think that what I’ve been able to accomplish, with the help of a lot of my teammates, has been pretty great. I felt like I’m still able to do that. I’m not 37 and on my way out. I’m a good hockey player. I’ve got to get back to playing good hockey. That’s my attitude now.”
After all that, If you think the situation is messy now, wait…it gets worse.
“Ultimately, I understand the decision and I respect the decision,” Brown emphasized. “Part of my problem is how it was handled. It just put me in an awkward spot—not taking the ‘C’ away, because that’s their decision. But we were in the middle of the process.
“I just didn’t think it was handled very well, considering that it leaked, and I’m pretty sure that my wife and my friends don’t have people’s numbers to leak it to. We wouldn’t leak it.”
“It was disappointing how it unfolded, from my perspective,” Brown added. “We were kind of going through the process of figuring it out. It wasn’t like a 15-minute meeting and then that was it. I probably talked to Dean for 20 minutes to two hours five or six times. It was a process and then it leaked in the middle of that process.”
The source of the leak is unclear. But it is logical to conclude that the source is from within the Kings organization. Assuming that’s true, Brown’s resentment is understandable.
“Quite honestly, I think they should’ve just addressed it then, but they didn’t really do that,” Brown lamented. “It was a very awkward and very stressful two or three weeks. You guys were probably sitting there, writing articles, and guessing because, for whatever reason, it leaked and it was never addressed. When they did address it, it was the announcement of Kopi and that’s part of the reason I didn’t want to make myself available that day.”
In spite of everything, as has been typical of Brown, he was not going to spoil Kopitar’s day by taking any of the attention from him, as reported earlier.
“I remember the day I was named captain,” he recalled. “It was under different circumstances. I felt that day, when they put the press release out—that day was Kopi’s day. That’s a pretty big honor, a pretty big day for him. I wanted him to have the spotlight. I didn’t want to have to be answering these types of questions on a day that should be about the new guy. That’s part of the problem I’ve had with this whole situation.”
Brown had been captain for eight seasons. President/General Manager Dean Lombardi said that Brown was “the best captain” in team history, and he was absolutely correct.
As a player, Brown gave it his all in every game with a bruising, physical style of play that helped lead the Kings to two Stanley Cup Championships. Given all that, how could the Kings treat him with such disrespect in the way they handled this situation, not only regarding the news leak, but also how they left him hanging until they announced Kopitar as their new captain four weeks later?
To be sure, that is not how a team should be treating a player of Brown’s stature, one who has given them everything he had, both on and off the ice. Moreover, how does this affect Brown going into next season?
Although Brown has proven that his character is strong enough that he won’t sulk, pout or whine, or worse, allow this to adversely impact his work to get his game back, there’s the human factor to consider, and he isn’t a robot.
Whatever happens, between now and when training camp opens in September, Lombardi and Sutter are going to have to spend time mending fences when their focus really should be on improving a team that missed the playoffs in 2015 and were dominated in this year’s post-season.
How much fence mending needs to be done really depends on Brown and how he responds. That said, it should never have come to this. A player of Brown’s stature, especially when you consider his contributions to the Kings, deserved much better.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown, shown here during a November 2015 practice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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