Feb 21, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (88) controls the puck against the Los Angeles Kings in the first period during the Stadium Series hockey game at Levis Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The debate will always rage on with regards to Brent Burns, and his 2014-15 with the San Jose Sharks did nothing to quiet the noise about whether Burns should be a forward or a defenseman.
On the one hand, Burns was an offensive force, leading the San Jose blue line with 17 goals, 43 assists and 60 points. His 60 points were good for fourth on the team, three points more than Patrick Marleau. He was his usual self on the power play, logging more than 255 minutes of ice time with the man advantage and netting seven goals and 17 assists with a shooting percentage of 9.09 percent.
Burns’ booming shot generated plenty of offensive chances for a Sharks team that ranked 15th in goals scored. While he was on the ice, San Jose still controlled more of the shot attempts, as he led all regular Sharks defensemen with a Corsi For percentage of 53.4.
Burns was the San Jose player jumping over the boards most often last season as he led all Sharks players by averaging 23:57 of ice time, a full one minute and 50 seconds more than Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Despite all of his offensive exploits, the defensive end of the ice was a struggle of Burns last season. Coming off a 2013-14 season where Burns was a remarkable plus-26, he finished last year a minus-nine, the fourth worst figure on the team. Burns had a tough time adjusting to the defensive nuances and his positioning. At forward, Burns was free to roam around and create havoc; however, on defense, he was often scrambling in his own end.
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Also, Burns turned the puck over at an alarming rate, and those mistakes often led to scoring chances or goals. Case in point, it was Burns’ neutral-zone turnover to Marian Gaborik that led to the game-winning goal in the Los Angles Kings 2-1 victory over San Jose in the Stadium Series. It was those kind of maddening mistakes that had many Sharks fans and media pundits wondering why Burns wasn’t returned to forward.
As Kevin Kurz of Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area points out in a great analysis piece, San Jose has been outscored 250-237 while Burns has been on defense since the beginning of the 2013 season. Also, Kurz notes how the Sharks had a losing record when Burns played more than 25 minutes (13-14-6, allowed 2.94 goals per game), but had a winning record when he played less than 23 minutes (16-11-2, allowed 2.34 goals per game).
The numbers are pretty staggering, but new head coach Peter DeBoer has been steadfast that Burns is going to remain on the blue line moving forward. Part of his struggles last year probably had to do with his transition back to defense, and it’s not like the rest of the San Jose defensemen were much better. The Sharks ranked 24th in the league in goals against last season and it was a group effort.
Burns has the potential to be a dominant defenseman in San Jose, but he’s got to be more consistent in his defensive zone. The skills are obviously there as he was named the top defenseman at the 2015 IIHF World Championships and he was an All-Star last season. The Sharks brought in veteran Paul Martin to provide a steadying presence for Burns, and if he can improve on his defensive game, San Jose could finally have the game-changing blue liner that they’ve long coveted.