Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every day leading up to the start of training camp.
Name/Position: Brent Burns, D
2015-16 cap hit/contract: $5.76 million, signed through 2016-17
2014-15 year in review: After a season-and-a-half playing left wing, Brent Burns shifted back to the Sharks’ blue line full time with mixed results. Offensively he was a force, particularly on the power play, scoring 16 goals and 60 points (second in the NHL among defensemen). He was the Sharks’ lone representative at the NHL All-Star game in Columbus based on his skill at that end of the rink.
Defensively it was an adventure, as Burns’ transition back there (along with the departure of Dan Boyle) threw a disastrous monkey wrench into the team’s previously solid structure while taking a dangerous weapon away from the top six forwards. He just made too many blatant errors and wasn’t committed enough, driving the coaching staff crazy in the process.
As we’ve previously pointed out, the Sharks seemed to have better results the less Burns played. In 33 games that Burns played more than 25 minutes, the Sharks were 13-14-6 while allowing 2.94 goals per game. In 29 games in which Burns played fewer than 23 minutes, the Sharks were 16-11-2 while allowing just 2.34 goals per game. That’s not a coincidence.
2015-16 outlook: Once again, the Sharks’ success as a team will depend heavily on the performance of Burns, who has become one of the more popular players among the team’s fan base. Pete DeBoer has made it clear that Burns will remain on defense, putting to rest any possibility he would move the Wookie back up front again.
Burns, who led the Sharks in ice time last season at 23:57 per game, will likely remain in the top four. DeBoer has already revealed his plan of pairing Burns with newcomer Paul Martin, hoping that the 34-year-old has the same positive effect with Burns that he had with the talented Kris Letang in Pittsburgh.
DeBoer already has a handle on Burns, too, having coached him in the World Championships twice. Most recently, Burns was named as the tournament’s best defenseman as Canada took home gold while DeBoer served as an assistant to Todd McLellan. “I had no issues with him defensively,” DeBoer told me at the NHL Draft in June. “I’ve had him in two World Championships, and neither time did he have issues defensively.”
That’s encouraging, as Burns will simply have to be better in his own end – while maintaining his dynamic offensive play – for the Sharks’ season to be a successful one.