Throughout this offseason, there has been many a debate in Sharks circles on what went wrong this past season. In fact, such conversation has become an annual rite of summer here in the Bay Area.
And while everyone has their own ideas (some more far fetched than others), there is one particular notion popping up over the offseason that has yours truly rather perplexed.
There seems to be a general consensus among the teal faithful that Brent Burns gave an underwhelming performance in his first year with the club.
Could he have been better? Certainly, but the same is true for Joe Thornton. The question is: did Burns provide what he needed to for this team to get deep into the postseason?
The simple answer here is “yes, he did.”
Now, it is understandable to have expected more offense from Burns last season given the fact he was joining a much more lethal offensive squad in San Jose than that of his previous employers.
But the only problem is Burns came into the Sharks fold to be a part of San Jose’s top four defense, not all of it. With the Minnesota Wild, Burns was THE GUY.
In 2010-11 he made his first ever All-Star appearance and finished the year with a career high 17 goals and 46 points. Those 46 points were 22 more than Minnesota’s second highest scoring defenseman that year (Marek Zidlicky had 24). And Burns not only led the Wild in ice time but his 25:02 average was over three full minutes more than the next skater (Zidlicky).
Included in the 25 minutes of ice time was 3:04 per game average on the power play. It was a phenomenal year for an elite player who had played his entire career with the Wild organization.
Then he gets traded to the West Coast and has to get used to a new area to live, new style of game play, and new teammates.
And when you consider the Sharks already have their own version of THE GUY in Dan Boyle, it was clearly unrealistic to expect Burns to eclipse his 2010-11 offensive output. But while 37 points isn’t 46, it still isn’t shabby, especially when you consider his reduced role.
Last season, in his first with the Sharks Burns averaged 22:32 in ice time, two and a half minutes less than what he got in Minnesota. Plus his power play time also fell to 2:46 per game and more often than not he wasn’t even on San Jose’s top unit with Boyle and Joe Pavelski manning the points.
Furthermore, while Burns may have been struggling offensively in the first half of the season (just 12 points in his first 37 games), he also didn’t take a single minor penalty until December. In total his 34 penalty minutes were just eight more than Patrick Marleau’s 26, and Marleau has been a Lady Byng candidate in the past.
For someone criticized at times for not putting the puck in the net, Burns was more than adequate in his own zone. With his size and skating ability, Burns is rarely in position where he has to take a penalty and he can simply out-skate any fore-check.
Plus when push came to shove, Burns eventually snapped out of his offensive funk and put together a strong second half by putting up 25 points in his final 44 games. That is a rate which would be good for 47 points in 82 games.
Next season the first year difficulties of moving and adjusting should be behind the 27-year-old and the spotlight will no longer be primarily focused at him.
So yes the Sharks ought to and most likely will see much better production out of Burns next season. And if that’s the case, San Jose is set to have one of the strongest blue-lines in the league since Chicago’s 2010 blue-line carried them to the Cup.
Last season Burns’ 37 points were more than that of the highest scoring defenseman for 12 teams and better or equal to that of the second highest scoring defenseman for 24 teams.
Without a doubt Burns is a No. 1 defenseman on many, many teams in this league. Combined with the ageless Dan Boyle, still a top-10 puck mover in the league (with above average defensive ability) and the penalty killing prowess of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brad Stuart, San Jose’s top-four matches up toe-to-toe with any other team in the league.
Not to mention a bottom pair of Douglas Murray and Justin Braun who are no slouches in their own right. For years Murray was Boyle’s main defensive partner and Braun is an up and coming puck mover with tremendous work ethic.
Burns is a big part of an elite blue-line in San Jose. Last season he certainly went through growing pains in his transition to San Jose but moving forward Sharks fans should have nothing but confidence in what he can bring to the table.