Over the last few years, it has been commonplace to blame Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown for his lack of on-ice effeciency. I should know because I was one of those critics. Unfortunately, this past regular season was no exception as the captain recorded a career-low 27 points, which included 12 goals (his lowest total since his sophomore campaign of 2005-06. But, while this should not be a surprise to anyone (yours truly included), Dustin Brown makes up for what he doesn't do by being arguably one of the better leaders in the game today, both on the ice and off.
At last week's NHL Awards, Dustin Brown took home some hardware in the shape of the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award. The award, presented by Bridgestone, is given to a player "in recognition of his commitment and service to charities in his community." In addition, the award recognizes a player who displays superior leadership during games but also leads in the community as a contributing member of society. Such a player would ideally lead by positive example in any capacity, whether it would be on the ice or making appearances for a local charity. Having won this award, Dustin Brown fits this bill, beating out fellow nominees Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Since he didn't put on the offensive clinic that make opposing teams writhe with jealousy, it was easier to forget what else Dustin Brown brought to the table this past regular season. As usual, the captain led the Kings with 246 hits - good enough for ninth-overall - while his closest competitor, Robyn Regehr, dished out 211. But as thrilling as it is to see Brown level an opposing player, there is extra significance behind those hits that make the 29-year-old stand above the rest of the pack.
With each hit he records, Dustin Brown donates $50 to a different charity each season. In 2012-13 and 2013-14, Brown selected Children's Hospital Los Angeles' Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit. With his 156 hits during the lockout-shortened season combined with his 246 this past year, the Children's Hospital collected $20,100 thanks to Brown's physicality - and generosity.
Prior to the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13, Brown and his wife partnered with a nonprofit company called KaBOOM! where they raise $70,000 and helped build a new playground in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson. The playground now hosts over 100 kids per day.
A native of Ithaca, New York, Dustin Brown had previously been nominated twice for the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award. The third proved to be the charm as the Los Angeles captain took home an awarded presented by arguably the greatest leader in NHL history, someone who captained two different teams to Stanley Cup victory while winning six in total in addition to a Conn Smythe win as the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs. Heck, Messier even threw in a guaranteed-win in there en route to guiding the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years back in 1994. It is only fitting that Dustin Brown belongs in the same category, matching the same amount of championships as a captain as the great Messier.
But for everyone who has ever suggested that Dustin Brown's best days are behind him and that he should be traded, it is difficult to judge them. After all, I was one of those critics who believed No. 23 should have been shipped out of town on more than one occasion. But I was wrong. Dead wrong.
While he may not score at the same rate that the aforementioned Getzlaf or Toews do, Dustin Brown makes up for it by bringing a physical presence that is, more often than not, unmatched by opposing teams. Even if that weren't the case, what he and his wife do for the Los Angeles community speaks volume on the quality of Dustin Brown as a human being and not as a player.
If a player can score 40 goals year after year, they may prefer that over what kind of person he is off the ice. But that can only last so long. Dustin Brown has the humility that many players do not, and will not, possess. Plus, as an added bonus, Dustin Brown is the exact player that opposing teams love to hate. Whether it was his knee collision with San Jose's wunderkind Tomas Hertl or his devastating hit on Vancouver's Henrik Sedin in 2012, the Los Angeles captain consistently sits near the top of everyone's revenge list, so to speak, and that couldn't feel much better than it already does, knowing that one of the most hated guys in hockey (for all the wrong reasons, mind you) is on our side.
Maybe Jason Pominville can set up a few more goals, maybe Gabriel Landeskog can make a couple of more highlights and maybe the aforementioned Jonathan Toews can net a few more game-winners, but while that is all well and good, none of them can replace the impact that Dustin Brown has not only for his team but for his fanbase, for his community.
O Captain! my Captain! Rise up and hear the bells.