CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz continued his player outlook series with Brent Burns Thursday, Aug. 28. The former defenseman-turned forward must play well in his return to the blue line for the San Jose Sharks to succeed in the 2014-15 NHL season.
Many San Jose fans question the move given his sometimes dominant play up front (22 goals, 26 assists in 69 games), but the pictured list sums up why general manager Doug Wilson announced the move of Burns back to the blue line to Kurz shortly after the season ended. Those reasons further examined below.
For one thing, the Sharks are dead in the water without a dynamic offensive blue-line threat after the departure of Dan Boyle. He may have seen a noticeable decline in the 2013-14 NHL season, but still led the team in assists and may have been as essential as Joe Thornton in making the top line of the power play the best single unit in hockey.
His decline last season may have been more a part of the team’s 2014 Stanley Cup playoff collapse than anything else. Had the power play not gone from elite in the lockout-condensed 2013 NHL season to mediocre last season to non-existent in the postseason, perhaps it would have been San Jose hosting the parades.
Burns was on the point on the power play, so how to he take over that crucial role? By being on the unit Thornton is, improving on Boyle’s performance in the 2013-14 NHL season and by taking the same role on the even-strength attack.
That is after all why the Sharks traded for Burns in the first place. He was coming off an All-Star season and Todd McLellan had coached him in the AHL. He is a good skater, physical hitter, has good scoring instincts and a dynamic shot.
The bottom line is Burns and Jason Demers are the only Sharks capable of approaching 40 points as the top two quarterbacks on the point. Even if Matt Irwin returns to being an offensive threat, any successful team needs three such threats on their blue line.
The kind of blue-line talent Burns can provide was not going to be acquired for less on the open market. As the article pointed out, he was not consistent at forward and had not had any appreciable tutelage from Hall of Fame blue-liner Larry Robinson to make the most of his talent on the back end.
In his first two seasons on the San Jose blue line, Burns was first adjusting to a new team and then battling with injury. He still has logged more than twice as many NHL minutes in over 540 games on the back end than anyone else on the unit but Marc-Edouard Vlasic and should be its oldest player most nights.
The Sharks are much deeper at forward. At least Tomas Hertl can be added to the team’s powerful list of scoring forwards: Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Tommy Wingels almost reached 20 goals and Matt Nieto had 12 in 73 games as a rookie including the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Raffi Torres and Tyler Kennedy have each scored 20 goals in a season, and there is no shortage of defensive forwards.
What it comes down to is having Burns on the blue line fills a need he alone can fill. That makes having him at forward a luxury San Jose cannot afford.