Frozen Pool Forensics: Brent Burns

by Cam Robinson on March 18, 2016

Is this career season for Brent Burns sustainable?

 

The current rendition of Brent Burns’ majestic beard began November 1, 2013 when Burns shaved off his previously massive beard and untamed locks to raise over $23,000 for two charities close to his heart: Defending the Blue Line, an organization that enables children of military families to stay active and play hockey while their parents are deployed, and The Katie Moore Foundation, which honours the late wife of New York Rangers’ Dominic Moore and benefits cancer research. Two and a half years later, Burns’ wild-man façade is likely the most recognizable trait for the hulking blueliner, but it shouldn’t be; his penchant for shooting the puck and producing offense should be getting far more attention.

 

 

Drafted as a right-winger, 20th overall, by Minnesota in the illustrious 2003 draft, Burns was transitioned to the back-end by notable defensive expert, Jacques Lemaire. Burns had success at his new position and upon his trade to San Jose at the 2011 draft, the Sharks decided get a look at the 6’5” 230-pounder at both forward and defense.  

 

In 2013-14, Burns lined up next to Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski to provide one of the most physically dominant first-lines in the NHL. A gifted fore-checker, who offered silky hands and an incredible net-front presence, it appeared Burns had found his home as a winger in the California sun.

 

However, that following season saw long time power-play quarterback and offensive producer, Dan Boyle depart from San Jose as a free agent and leave a gaping hole on the Shark’s blueline. Enter Burns and with spectacular results.

 

Since being converted back to defense two seasons ago, Burns has accumulated 43 goals and 124 points in 151 games. That mark is good for second best behind the soon-to-be three-time Norris winning, Erik Karlsson. However, there is no defender with more goals in that span, as Burns’ 43 tallies sit as the high-water mark.

 

This season, the three-time All-Star has provided the Sharks with tremendous offensive production, and instead of seeing 17 minutes a night as a forward, he has been playing over 26 minutes on average and contributing in all facets of the game. His time on the ice is up over two minutes from last year and over four minutes more than his career average of 21:52.

 

2015-16 Top 10 Point Categories – Defensemen

Points accumulated during all situational strengths.

Rank

Name

Pos

Age

Yrs

Team

GR

GP

EV

PP

SH

PPG

Total

1

KARLSSON,ERIK

D

25

0

OTT

11

71

48

25

0

1.03

73

2

BURNS,BRENT

D

31

10

S.J

12

69

37

25

2

0.93

64

3

LETANG,KRISTOPHER

D

28

8

PIT

12

60

29

22

2

0.88

53

4

KLINGBERG,JOHN

D

23

0

DAL

10

66

32

20

0

0.79

52

5

SUBBAN,P.K.

D

26

5

MTL

11

68

27

24

0

0.75

51

6

EKMAN-LARSSON,OLIVER

D

24

4

ARI

12

66

20

29

0

0.74

49

7

JOSI,ROMAN

D

25

3

NSH

11

70

24

23

2

0.70

49

8

GIORDANO,MARK

D

32

8

CGY

12

70

31

15

1

0.67

47

9

BARRIE,TYSON

D

24

3

COL

11

67

22

21

2

0.67

45

10

SUTER,RYAN

D

31

9

MIN

11

70

26

17

2

0.64

45

 

To date, Burns has fired 292 shots on goal – second most behind Alex Ovechkin. His current pace will have him finishing with 347 total shots which would tie him with Dustin Byfuglien’s 2010-11 season as the most shots on goal by a defenseman not named Bobby Orr or Ray Bourque. Pretty historic stuff.

 

And its not as if Burns is simply firing pucks on net with disregard, his 26 goals this year are first among defenders and good for a share of 17th place overall. This pace to would see him score 31 times– a total that would match Mike Green’s monster 2008-09 season. To put that in perspective, no other defenseman has scored 30-plus goals since Kevin Hatcher popped 34 in 1992-93.

 

The big question is, are these numbers sustainable? The answer is yes. At 31 years of age, this season will likely go down as a career high for the Ontario native, but he isn’t accomplishing these feats with some crazy puck luck. Using Dobber’s Player Profile, we can see that Burns is converting on 8.9 percent of his shots, right in line with his career mark of 8.0 percent. His five on five shooting percentage is 7.86 percent – the same exact number he posted a year ago. Additionally, the well-dressed Burns is seeing just over half of his deployment in the offensive zone (50.5 percent) meaning he isn’t getting sheltered minutes.

 

He is however getting more than his fair share of time with the man-advantage. Through 69 games, Burns has accumulated an average 4:03 on the power play, good for a 75.9 percent share of his team’s percentage. With all that time during five-on-four play, Burns has racked up 25 power-play points – good for seventh best in the league and trailing only Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s 27 points for most by a defenseman. He’s helped lead the Sharks to the fifth best power play in the league – converting on 22.2 percent of their opportunities.

 

This season has been a remarkable one for production from the back-end. Currently Erik Karlsson is third in league scoring, while Burns sits in 10th. We have to go back to 2011-12 to see a just one defender in the top 10 scorers when Karlsson tied for 10th that year. The last time two ended up in the top 10? 1973-74 when Bobby Orr finished second and Brad Park finished ninth. Again, pretty historic stuff we’re witnessing.  

 

There’s no reason to think that Burns can’t be a very productive defenseman for the next few seasons, but as Thornton and Pavelski continue to get up there in age, the chances of seeing him produce at the 76 point pace he’s on now is unlikely. Enjoy this remarkable ride while you can and if you own the charismatic Burns, perhaps look to cash in on a trade this off season while heaps of praise are poured on him by fans and media alike.

 

Projected point-per-game-pace for the remaining schedule: 0.85 – 0.95

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