There's an elephant in the room that keeps getting a giant blanket thrown over it.
For starters, I'm a Brent Burns fan. I think he's a good player who attracts no negative attention to himself off the ice, or on the ice, as a person. The problem, for me, is that Burns' play doesn't merit his $5.76M per season salary within the Sharks system.
San Jose achieves success from a sound defensive system that capitalizes on its offensive opportunities while generating quality offensive chances on a minimal, seemingly average, basis.
Burns was moved to the forward unit not because he was an exceptional super player who can play any position, he was moved because he was horrifying in his own end. He's an offensive minded player who had a 'D' next to his name. You might even say he's simply a forward trapped in a defenseman's body. It can all be boiled down to one simple thing: trying to maximize the return on Burns' contract.
Burns recorded 20 points in 30 games this past season, enjoying his switch to the forward group, but his advanced stats still struggled. Take a look at a few.
GA On/60: 2.57
GA Off/60: 1.98
While Burns was on the ice, teams scored 0.59 goals more per 60 minutes. This statistic can be traced back to the switch from D to forward as the root cause. It's no secret that Burns is a defensive liability whether he lines up next to center, or behind.
GF On/60: 3.00
GF Off/60: 1.65
There are more goals scored per 60 minutes while Burns is on the ice vice on the bench, but the Sharks aren't a team built to play run-and-gun offense.
BF On/60: 13.9
BF Off/60: 17.2
There is a significant increase in the blocked shots for while Burns is riding the pine, suggesting an increase in defensive play on a whole.
BA On/60: 19.6
BA Off/60: 14.7
When Burns graces the frozen water teams enjoy an increase of blocked shots of their own. With shots, from Sharks players, being blocked at an increase of almost 35% more while Burns is on.
These stats (www.behindthenet.ca
) suggest that Burns is more suited for a style of play like the Pittsburgh Penguins have in motion. The last thing the Sharks want to do is get into a shootout at the ice saloon with the system they have.
Using Pittsburgh again as an example, who would you pick to win an offensive shoot-out over 60 minutes? What would the answer be if it was a defensive battle for 60 minutes?
My point is that Burns' case is much like the old saying of "One of these things is not like the other".
As much as I, and Sharks fans alike, may enjoy watching Burns play there isn't any emotional attachment to him. The Sharks were a perennial playoff team before Burns came from Minnesota and, defensively, would be better off if he was employed elsewhere. Offensively, I like to think that Brent Burns isn't the be all, end all, of Sharks offense. If that was the case I doubt the playoffs would even be a passing thought.
So, where's the problem? The Salary Cap.
It's not as easy to deal a player this season with the shrinking cap. Five teams are currently over the salary cap as training camps near. Burns' contract would put an additional 16 teams over the salary cap. In most cases with the remaining 9 teams you could look to unsigned RFA's that are more important to their respective teams than acquiring Brent Burns.
Realistically I know that Burns isn't going to be dealt by the start of the season to make cap room, it's just too tough to do. I think Burns can be an effective player for an an NHL team, but not for San Jose and not with the system that the Sharks use to win games. Regardless of the coach, the Sharks rely on accountability from end to end and Burns just doesn't bring that.
Unless he can adjust as a forward that doesn't solely succeed in a firefight I think it's time to look for potential suitors as the season moves on, teams get financially stable cap-wise and rumors swirl of what the new (2014/15) cap ceiling will be.
There would be options out there for a Burns deal, but those options will only open up as the season progresses, giving Burns a chance to prove he can play in San Jose's system.
Thanks for reading!
Stay icy, Sharks fans.