30 in 30: Sharks X-factor Burns a Force at Forward
The San Jose Sharks roared out of the gate in 2012-13, going 7-0-0 through January while never scoring fewer than three goals. The team then proceeded to go winless in seven straight, and during February scored three or more goals once in 12 games. The Sharks needed offensive answers, and they needed them fast.
Would they tap a prospect to help jump-start the offensive engine? Pick up a depth veteran off waivers? Make a big trade to acquire one?
How about moving a defenseman to forward?
It wouldn't be the first option for most teams, but that’s exactly what Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and coach Todd McLellan did when they bumped Brent Burns to forward for a March 12 game against the St. Louis Blues. Burns had played forward before -- he was a power forward during his junior-hockey career in the Ontario Hockey League then split time between forward and defense with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League when McLellan was coach. But since arriving in the NHL during the 2003-04 season, Burns had been a defenseman exclusively.
Burns scored that night against the Blues -- his first point in an injury-riddled season -- and added a goal two nights later against the Los Angeles Kings. Burns stayed up front the rest of the season, skating mostly on a line with Joe Thornton and TJ Galiardi, and his nine goals and 11 assists in 24 games helped revive a flailing Sharks attack.
His bruising style and heat-seeking shot made him a key part of San Jose's "reset/refresh" philosophy, which recommitted the team to a physical, attacking game.
"He is a horse out there," Wilson said. "When he gets going and gets in on the forecheck, he meshes in with how we wanted to play the game: Attack, make the other team defend around their net."
Despite Burns' success on the top lines -- he scored two goals and had two assists in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games -- the Sharks stayed quiet on whether Burns would play forward in 2013-14. On July 5, Wilson told reporters Burns would remain at right wing, though he clarified to NHL.com that fans also would see him at the point on the power play. Ultimately, Wilson said, the decision was an easy one thanks to Burns' versatility and team-first attitude.
"We went to Brent and said, 'This is what we think is best for the team,'" Wilson told NHL.com. "He didn't even hesitate. He said, 'Absolutely, let's go.' That tells you a lot about Brent Burns. He's a team-first guy and he's going to be valuable to us for many years going forward, whether as a forward or a defenseman. It's a luxury to have a guy who can play multiple positions."
Wilson equated Burns' value to the Sharks to that of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
"He's a difference-maker, whether he plays defense, whether he plays forward or whether he plays the point on the power play," Wilson said. "We kid around a little bit. We have a very close relationship with the 49ers, so we kind of call him our Kaepernick. You've got to figure out a way to stop this guy."
For all of Burns' success and versatility, there is a difference between jump-starting an offense and being a consistent performer over the course of an 82-game season. For example, there are few who would anticipate Burns matching his 3.39 points-per-60 minutes at even strength from 2012-13, an average that ranked just below League leader Sidney Crosby.
Burns may not match those numbers in 2013-14, but Wilson is confident he will pick up where he left off and survive the rigors of a full season at forward.
"He's 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, and he's a fitness guy," Wilson said. "I wouldn't want to play against him, that's all I can tell you."
Author: Davis Harper | NHL.com Staff Writer