LOS ANGELES — Two years after Dustin Brown accepted the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for the second time, the Los Angeles Kings' longtime captain has lost the job.
The Kings named Anze Kopitar their new captain Thursday, restructuring their leadership after a second straight early summer.
"It's time for Kopitar to take over," Kings President Dean Lombardi said. "He's one of our best players, and he's moving into his prime. It's his turn."
Brown had been the Kings' captain for eight seasons since 2008, and the hard-hitting American centre led the franchise to its only NHL titles in 2012 and 2014. But Brown's production has dipped alarmingly since that first Cup win, with Brown failing to score 30 points in any of the past four seasons.
Kopitar is the Kings' first-line centre and their leading scorer for nine consecutive seasons. The Slovenian playmaker has served as an assistant captain since 2008, but he never entertained the notion of becoming Los Angeles' captain until Lombardi asked him.
"It's a little bit of sweet and sour in my mouth, just because (Brown) and I are very good friends," Kopitar said. "We've developed a strong relationship over the course of my 10 years in LA. ... I wouldn't say it's awkward. Just maybe a little bitter, but I don't think our relationship is going to change. I'm still going to need him right beside me to help me out with a lot of stuff, and hopefully we can just manage and continue working together."
Star defenceman Drew Doughty also is expected to take a more prominent leadership role for the Kings this fall, likely assuming an assistant captaincy.
Kopitar, who turns 29 later this summer, is the 14th captain in Kings history. He has an eight-year, $80 million contract through 2023-24.
The 31-year-old Brown has a $47 million contract through 2021-22, and though he has capably managed the leadership aspects of his job, his on-ice production hasn't matched the financial compensation given to him by Lombardi. Brown is effectively untradeable with that deal, and Lombardi said he doesn't intend to buy out the final six years.
Instead, Lombardi is hoping Brown's game improves when the burden of leadership is lifted.
"I really believe he's going to get his game back," Lombardi said. "He perfectly recognizes that for us to be successful as a team, he needs to get his game back to where he's capable. It's just about putting the grind in now to figure out how to get his game back to where at one time, not long ago, he was one of the best power forwards in the league."
Brown was the Kings' first-round draft pick in 2003, and he inherited the captaincy from Rob Blake when he was just 23 years old.
Kopitar, the Kings' first-round choice in 2005, and Brown have been teammates since 2006 while spending their entire NHL careers with the Kings, persevering through several rough seasons before leading Los Angeles' rise to win two rings.
Both centres played major roles in the 2012 playoffs, sharing the post-season scoring lead with 20 points apiece while the eighth-seeded Kings rampaged through the post-season with a 16-4 record.
Brown has yet to recapture the offensive form he showed in 2012, although he still had a knack for big goals during the next two postseasons, when the Kings reached the Western Conference finals in 2013 and won it all again in 2014.
Brown's declining play has been a major drag in recent years for the Kings, who missed the playoffs entirely in 2015 with just 11 goals from Brown. Coach Darryl Sutter, who recently agreed to return for a sixth season and beyond, has always staunchly defended Brown's presence and leadership.
The Kings rebounded last season and led the Pacific Division for most of the year, but Brown managed just one assist in five post-season games while Los Angeles was bounced by San Jose in the first round.
"There's this feeling in hockey that (a captaincy) is a lifetime appointment ... and that's just something that's not always practical," Lombardi said. "This puts the responsibility squarely on the guys who need to assume that role right now."