Sharks defenseman Brent Burns elevated his game to the highest level in 2016, and his record-breaking season made him a Norris Trophy finalist.
No San Jose Shark was more dominant at his position this year than Brent Burns, who led all NHL defensemen in goals in the regular season (and second in assists and points behind Erik Karlsson) and goals, points and assists in the playoffs.
Aside from Burns himself, nobody was more crucial in elevating the 6’5″, 230-pound defenseman’s game than head coach Pete DeBoer.
Burns continually has praised DeBoer’s decision to permanently make him a defenseman rather than rotating between winger and defense, as he had done throughout the majority of his 10-year career in Minnesota and San Jose.
The decision clearly made Burns more comfortable in all aspects of the game, as the 75 points he scored shattered his previous season-high of 60 in 2014-15. He became only the second defenseman to score 27 or more goals in a season since 1994, and his 24 playoff points were tied for sixth most by a blue-liner in one playoff in NHL history and the most since Brian Leetch scored 34 in 1994.
Burns had 25 multi-point games in the regular season, a ridiculous number for any defenseman in the current low-scoring, defensive era. That’s more multi-point games than teammates Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton.
Additionally, he was one blocked shot behind Roman Polak for the team lead in that category.
What may have been even more unusual than the incredibly high amount of points for a defenseman was how many shots Burns threw on goal. His 353 shots on goal were the second most in the NHL this season behind only Alex Ovechkin – no other D-man recorded more than 312 shots. He joined legends Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque as the only defensemen to record more than 350 shots on goal in one season.
Rockets like these were seen right through the season and into the playoffs. This one came in the first game of the postseason versus the Kings.
After a somewhat slow start to the campaign notching just six points in the month of October, he exploded in November scoring eight goals in the month and reaching double digit-points again in December, January and February.
His spectacular play in March may have been the reason he made a late and somewhat unexpected Norris Trophy push. He scored a ridiculous 19 points in 16 March games and continued his work into the postseason.
The Ontario native notched eight points in the five-game series against the Los Angeles Kings, including a three-point outing in Game 5. His elite level of play continued in the next two series against Nashville and St. Louis until the Pittsburgh Penguins somewhat limited him, as they did to most of the rest of the Sharks, to one goal and three assists.
His defensive work in the Stanley Cup Final evidently slipped a bit making a few silly mental errors and taking an unnecessary penalty in both Game 5 and Game 6. He was totally suffocated by Pittsburgh with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, especially in Games 2-4, seeing shot after shot blocked by daring Penguins.
While he did finish the series with a plus-four rating on the ice with four points, the final series wasn’t one of his best stretches of games for the season.
However, one average series against the best team in the NHL shouldn’t overlook Burns’ brilliance throughout the course of the entire year. He never took a night off and was a huge reason the Sharks were feared on the power-play with his offensive prowess and was a force on the penalty kill as well.
He led the teal clad in ice time in the majority of games throughout the season and contributed in nearly every aspect of the game. His play also landed him on Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey, something nobody foresaw heading into the season.
The Norris Trophy winner has yet to be announced and the bearded man may not win the award against fellow finalists Karlsson – who scored 82 points himself on the year – and a special player in Drew Doughty, yet no one would argue that Burns hasn’t become an elite and feared defenseman in the NHL due to his massive improvement and front office decisions in the last two seasons.