Geek of the Week: Is Brent Burns Still an Elite Fantasy Defender?

by Ben Burnett on December 1, 2019
  • Geek of the Week
  • Geek of the Week: Is Brent Burns Still an Elite Fantasy Defender?


It’s been several years now that Brent Burns has inarguably been the best defenseman in fantasy hockey. The 34-year-old blueliner was a bit of a late bloomer, not rising above a 50-point pace until his age-27 season. At that time, the Sharks were trying him out as a forward. In 2014-15, the Sharks put him back on the back-end, and his 60 points were tied for second in points among defensemen that year.

In the four years since Burns has put up point totals unparalleled by any other d-man in the NHL. His 361 points from 2014-15 until 2018-19 ranks first among all d-men, while his .88 points per game over that span is second only to teammate Erik Karlsson’s .89 point-per-game rate. In addition to his elite point totals, over those four years Burns topped 300 shots each season, and finished as a Norris finalist three times. His “worst” season since 2015 saw him total 67 points, 332 shots, and finish eighth in Norris voting.

This year the pirate patrolling San Jose’s blueline was drafted fifth overall in a ton of leagues, and the returns have been… quite underwhelming. He’s pacing for 62 points, a respectable if not elite pace. When Burns first hit 60 in 2014-15, only six other blueliners paced for that threshold. That number jumped to 13 defensemen in 2018-19, and 15 (including Burns) are currently on pace to do the same this year.
 

Season

GP

G

A

Pts

SOG

Sh%

Hits

Blocks

2019-20 Pace

82

15

47

62

220

6.8%

97

88

2016-19 Avg.

82

19

56

75

317

5.9%

79

128


That 64-point pace would be a 19-point drop-off from last year, and a big bump down from “elite” to merely high-level production. In fact, despite being tied for sixth in points among defenseman, he’s 14th in points per game. Players like John Carlson, Dougie Hamilton, and Roman Josi seem like easy choices ahead of Burns if your league were to redraft today. And while Burns’ peripherals remain generally solid, it’d be tough to take him ahead of players like Victor Hedman and the rookie phenom Cale Makar in points-only leagues.

The most concerning thing here is Burns’ falling shot rate. From 2015-16 until last year, he finished second, first, third, and seventh league-wide in shots on goal. This year, through his first 28 games, Burns’ 75 shots barely keeps him in the top 50 in shots league-wide.  When you drafted Burns in the first round, or kept him this off-season, you did it in part because it was a given he’d provide 3.5 shots per game on average, but it doesn’t look like that’s in the cards this year. Through 27 games, Burns’ shots per-60 have cratered at even strength. From 8.51 shots / 60 in 2018-19 to 5.72 shots per 60 minutes this year, this is his lowest rate since 2011.

Having said that, Burns’ paces only tell part of the story. Those are the results of his work, but let’s take a look at what is going on with his underlying numbers, and what they might tell us about how we should project him over the course of the rest of the season.

To do that, we’ll look at his on-ice shooting percentages and individual point production rates this year versus the last few years to see whether this drop in production is sustainable or not. I’ve projected these numbers by looking at his on-ice shot rates for this year, and then feeding those rates through his three-year on-ice and individual shooting percentage averages.
 

Game state

GP

ATOI

G

A

Pts

SOG

PIMS

Hits

Blocks

ES

54

19:02

3

22

25

98

19

60

44

PP

54

3:11

4

13

17

46

3

1

3

PK

54

2:53

0

3

3

6

5

9

9

Pace

82

25:06

11

58

69

228

41

100

85


Fantasy outlook

If you can get Burns at the cost of a 60-point defenseman, go wild. But my guess is, the Burns owner in your league put a ton of draft capital into getting him, and isn’t willing to give up on him for that little. If you’re a Burns owner? I’m happy to trade him if you’re getting a return similar to that of a top-3 defenseman. The upside is still just too high to give him up for less than a 70-point defenseman.

So what is Burns now? A 69-point pace is nothing to sneeze at. But without an elite shot rate or a point pace inside the top ten, you can’t draft him as a top-five defenseman, much less a top-five draft pick.