Looking ahead to his 17th season in the NHL, the veteran Sharks defenseman still has more left in the tank.
Like many players on team teal last season, Brent Burns had a bit of a down year. Scoring 45 points in his worst season in eight years.
However, this is not a career decline; this results from a fluke season tied to a microcosm of the team as a whole underperforming.
Since arriving in San Jose back in 2011, he established himself as one of the best ‘offensive’ defensemen in hockey. That comes with a flip side argument that he is a one-dimensional player and is a liability in his own zone.
These statements do have some validity to them, but it does not mean that his style of play does not work for the team.
Many forget that he is one season out from five straight years in the all-star game. Even more impressive is that he won the Norris trophy during the 2016-2017 season and finished second during the 2018-2019 season.
For five consecutive seasons, he posted 60+ points. He has proven time and time again that he is capable of being an elite defenseman.
When Burns is in peak form, the Sharks have one of the most aggressive offenses in the NHL. For many years he lit up the assists column with the help of Joe Pavelski tip-ins.
He is paired up with Radim Simek, who complements him very well. His Czech counterpart is a bit more physical than he is, with 91 hits through 48 games, compared to his 72 hits through 70 games. But in addition to Simek’s physicality, he is a more conservative and pure defender.
This ultimately gives him the freedom to be more aggressive in the offensive zone without drastic consequences.
A lot of changes need to happen for him to be able to regain his status as an elite defenseman.
First and foremost, the Sharks’ five-on-five defense was horrendous. It felt like the team had to be on the penalty kill to put forth any effort on the defensive end. It is worth noting that in that department, San Jose had a league-best 85.78 PK%
Everything outside of that has to improve. The Sharks have to be better on the powerplay, five-on-five offense, and in the net.
Should significant changes come in some or all of these areas, it could be a different narrative around Burns.
With the length of off-season the team had and some young talent walking through the door, there is some reason for cautious optimism.
If he can return to a 70-point season or better, the team could be in a good position to be a wild card team.
On the other end of the spectrum, if Burns finishes with a stat line similar to that of last season, it will indicate much bigger problems within the organization. In the present, it has become a wait and see situation.