Burns, Niemi, & Torres: 3 Bold Sharks Predictions

Since NHL training camps won’t get started for another month, what better way to fill a hockey news void with some bold (but perhaps not as crazy as one might think) predictions? Without further ado, here are three perhaps bold predictions for the San Jose Sharks.

1. Brent Burns Will Set a Career High For Points

In case you have been living under a rock this offseason, the Sharks have decided to move Brent Burns back to defense for the upcoming season. It is a move that yours truly strongly believes is a wrong one. Last season Burns set a career high in points while playing right wing, potting 48 in 69 games. On the surface, one would be safe to assume Burns’ point totals would come down moving back to the blue-line. However, that might not be the case.

In his last year with the Minnesota Wild Burns scored 46 points as a defenseman, only two fewer than his career high set last season as a Sharks forward. Burns was Minnesota’s No. 1 power-play point man but in San Jose he’s rarely seen time on the top unit. This year though he will almost assuredly be on the top unit with Dan Boyle moving onto the New York Rangers.

Burns Sharks

The San Jose Sharks were undoubtedly happy to see Brent Burns back in the lineup, and so should fantasy managers. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In his prime at just 29-years-old, Burns is poised to have a big, big year on the man advantage. When you consider Boyle scored over 25 points on the power-play in each of his first three seasons with the Sharks, it is a good bet Burns will score about the same. If we simply do the math and add 25 power-play points to the 21 even strength points Burns scored in his first year with the Sharks (when he was a defenseman), that would be 46 points to tie his previous career high on the blue-line.

But given the fact the Sharks are a more lethal offensive team than Burns’ Minnesota teams were, and that Burns is much more familiar with San Jose now than he was in 2011-12, it’s a safe bet he will score even more at even strength. Not to mention, this time around he will have defense guru Larry Robinson around for expert tips and advice. When one really thinks about it, maybe this isn’t so bold of a prediction. Given a healthy season, I’m predicting over 50 points for Burns, a new career high.

2. Antti Niemi Will Be Nominated For The Vezina

Given Antti Niemi’s struggles last season this may seem like a major reach, but then again, maybe not. Niemi has had an up and down career and whenever the Finnish netminder has had something to prove, he has come out the next season with a strong performance. After winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, Niemi became a salary cap casualty. Niemi played behind one of the best NHL teams of the past decade and his numbers outside his terrific series against San Jose were mediocre. Fans and experts alike were doubting what Niemi would become. The next season though saw “Nemo” prove the doubters wrong as he seized control of the Sharks No. 1 job and finished the 2010-11 season with a .920 save percentage, 2.38 GAA and six shutouts.

The following year however, Niemi struggled. He began the season recovering from the removal of a cyst on his leg and missed all of training camp. His overall performance took a hit, as his save percentage dropped to .915 and the number of soft goals seemed to increase.

Antti Niemi Sharks

(Tony Medina/Icon SMI)

People would again start to doubt Niemi but what did he do? In his third season with the Sharks Niemi would be the team MVP and earn a nomination for the Vezina Trophy. He sparkled from start to finish during the lockout shortened 2013 season. He finished the year with a .924 save percentage and a miniscule 2.16 GAA, once again proving his doubters wrong.

This past season though the trend continued for Niemi. After a strong 2013, Niemi took a step back as his save percentage fell back down to .913 and he struggled mightily in the playoffs. Rookie backup Alex Stalock even started Game 6 of the series because of Niemi’s poor performance. Once again, Niemi has plenty of doubters going into 2014-15, which also happens to be his contract year. You all know what that means!

Niemi will once again have a terrific bounce back season, and it will be the best season of his career. Playing for a new contract, Niemi will set a career high in save percentage and be nominated for the Vezina trophy earning himself a handsome pay day in free agency.

3. Raffi Torres Will Score 20 Goals

Hockey fans who haven’t had Raffi Torres play for their team can’t stand the guy. They often group him in with other goons who can’t score. In reality, he’s a tremendous offensive role player and fans who have seen him on their team absolutely love his presence. He is physically intimidating but he can also score goals. In his first two seasons in the league in 2003-04 and 2005-06 Torres scored 27 and 20 goals for the Edmonton Oilers. While he hasn’t reached the 20 goal plateau since, he has consistently been between 14 and 20 during full years with some not so great teams. He scored 19 with the Columbus Blue-Jackets during the 2009-10 season and 15 with the then Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes in 2011-12.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

While a majority of players in the league have more assists than they do goals, Torres is one of the few who scores more goals. For his career he has 137 goals to just 123 assists. In other words, Torres is a finisher, a top-9 goal scoring winger.

There are certainly question marks concerning his health after missing nearly all of last season with a second ACL injury on the same knee. That said, there have been no reports of setbacks this offseason and so far Torres has done nothing but score and score a lot in his small sample size with the Sharks.

In 28 combined games between the regular season and the playoffs, Torres has scored eight goals for the Sharks. At that pace over 82 games, Torres would score either 23 or 24 goals. If he is healthy and San Jose does the wise thing and play him with either Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, or Joe Pavelski as his center, mark my words Torres will eclipse the 20 goal mark.

What do you think?

Are these predictions really that bold? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!

 

Andrew Bensch

Andrew Bensch

Andrew has been credentialed to cover the Sharks since 2010 and the 49ers since 2012. He graduated with his BA in Broadcast Electronic Communication Arts in 2013 from San Francisco State University. You can follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch
Andrew Bensch
@heychrismorris dont think they are big believers in it with the way they sign guys like burish, scott, and brown - 9 mins ago

31 Comments

  1. I agree with you about Burns. He’s poised to have a great year, I think he will be one of the Sharks to step up and make up for the playoff loss.
    However, there’s NO way Niemi rebounds to Vezina level. He had no excuses last year, he got the majority of the playing time and he Never was near that level. Niemi often let in a soft early goal which demoralized the team. Niemi was terrible in the playoff series against LA. Stalock should have been put in sooner.
    It’s too bad Doug Wilson didn’t trade Niemi in the off-season. Maybe he tried but found no takers. They should have packaged Niemi with Kennedy and/or Burish to get a younger goalie like Riemer or whoever else was available. He’ll, I’d ever like to see tha Sharks bring in Tim Thomas for a tryout just to stir the pot some. Hopefully, Niemi gets traded by the deadline. He was a BIG reason the Sharks didn’t advance.

    • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

      Niemi has had an up and down career, based on his track record, he is bound to have an up year, and with it being a contract year, something makes me feel like he will have another .920+ save percentage.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with #1 and #3. Burns will be the default #1 PP guy and with a bit more confidence carrying the puck, so I can see #1 being nearly a mathematical certitude. Raffi has been a bit snakebitten with the injury bug, but seems to be a great player for Todd McLellan’s system.

    With that said, #2 is an “either/or” proposition for me with either Niemi being in the Vezina, or firmly behind Stalock by the Winter Classic at Levis Stadium, if not already traded.

    I don’t see Niemi having an average year, which I think last year was for him. It’s either going to be the Neimi of old and Sharks fans will be set-up for the inevitable crushing of our collective hearts come early May, or the Sharks will have Grosenick backing up Stalock after the deadline.

    Just my not so humble opinion…

  3. Can’t believe all the hate you’re getting Andrew. I enjoyed the article and I definitely think Niemi could challenge for the Vezina on a still very powerful Sharks team in a contract year. I also really like your Burns prediction and I think it’ll happen. You should write for my Flames up here in Calgary! Way less trolling up here. These guys just seem to be really angry about something and decided to take it out on you.

    • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I like Niemi, I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of his, but he’s a good goaltender that has had ups and downs. Based on his track record, why wouldn’t one expect a really good year? 2 out 4 seasons so far with the Sharks he’s had a save percentage of .920 or better, that’s an All Star save percentage! Like you said, contract year! Lots of guys have career years in contract years.

      Burns prediction is easy math, sharks are bound to return to being a dominant pp unit this year, and Burns will be on that top unit.

      Yeah, people don’t seem to get that these are somewhat bold predictions but also come with valid reasons to think they will come true.

  4. I see burns having a breakout as a good bet Torres between 15-20 no problem but more than 20 unlikely because he will often be paired with Sheppard at center. and i make the bold prediction Stalock gets the Vienna nomination and niemi is looking for a job come next off season.

    • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

      Appreciate the read and comment Robert! You know your stuff if you think Torres will get stuck with Sheppard as a center. I fear the coaching staff will make this mistake as well and that the third line will struggle without pavelski. As I wrote yesterday, Pavelski should center his own line. Torres healthy playing with pavs will net 20.

      I love Stalock, friends of mine that follow me on twitter would joke that I have haterade for Niemi. Its not true, I like both goaltenders, last year I just thought that Stalock deserved more ice time because of the way they were both playing.

      • Got it. No offense taken. I know how it can be, I was beat writing on the Kings for Yahoo! Contributor’s Network – Hockey fans can be a tough crowd! Keep doing what you’re doing, Andrew.

  5. Realistically, it’s extremely unlikely that any of these things happen. Torres isn’t even close to a top 6 forward with the Sharks to get many goal scoring opportunities.

    • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

      Torres has always been an underrated offensive player, he scores quite a bit 5v5 over his career. The norm for him over 82 is about 14 or 15, but if he plays with a good set up man like thornton or pavelski or on the right wing with marleau and couture where he has played b4, 20 isnt out of the question.

      • I’m glad you are pumping Torres’ tires now, that might take some of the heat off me for listing him about my “Comeback Candidates” for 2014-15. I have similar high expectations for him if he’s healthy and focused on playing hockey. Two pretty big “ifs” but he’s definitely capable of making your bold prediction come to fruition. Nice call, IMO.

        • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

          He is definitely focused on playing hockey, the stoll suspension was a terrible call by the NHL, in reality hes been playing within the lines when healthy the last 2 years. If he plays 70+ games primarily playing with one of the big 3 Cs then he should get at least 15, maybe not 20, but its definitely within reach. People forget he is a very skilled player due to his reputation.

        • Totally agreed. This is what I had about Torres in the Big List of Comeback Candidates, but I have since edited it out due his injury setback:

          Raffi Torres (F San Jose) — If he can keep it classy, Torres can be an effective player for the Sharks. He had 3 goals and 5 points in 5 games before a knee injury ended his 2013-14 until the playoffs where he added 2 goals and 3 points in 7 games. His best year was 2005-06 with Edmonton, tallying 27 goals and 41 points, but he’s more likely to be in the 20-goal, 35-point range for 2014-15.

      • 10-15 I could see. 20, which is your prediction, I cannot. He doesn’t belong on a scoring line anyway, that’s not what he excels at.

        The homer is strong with you, amigo.

      • Yes, I read your article, thus why I’m commenting. Don’t need to talk down to your reader. Extremely unbecoming for a sports writer.

        You state he scored over 20 goals about 10+ years ago for offensively challenged clubs. Not entirely true, the 2005-2006 team was decent. Furthermore, Torres is not the same player he was, he has too much mileage on his legs, and he’s too injury prone; there is exceptionally little reason to believe he scores more than 15.

        I understand you’re a Sharks fan, and I appreciate that, but you don’t have much sense of reality here.

        • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

          Lots of people who comment only skim titles and paragraphs, had to ask the question. Didn’t mean to make you think i was talking down you.

          And I never stated his Oiler teams were offensively challenged, only that his CBJ and PHX teams were.

          In the few games he has played for the sharks, hes been producing a lot of offense. If he can stay healthy, and play 70 or more games next to either 8/19/39, he ought to get at least 15 based on his ability to score. 20 is pushing it, but thats why its a bold prediction.

        • Adam,

          Thanks a lot for taking the time to drop by and share your opinions – much appreciated.

        • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

          Cosign what Bruce said, didn’t mean to be snark or anything, appreciate any and all feedback. Thanks for the dialogue!

  6. New comment cause this on the side thing is getting ridiculous. I respect your homer opinions but disagree with most of it. Torres may be cleaner than he used to be but that’s a fairly loose comment. Neimi isn’t that great and burns is going to be interesting this season but not going to have a career year in stats

    • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

      Burns scored 46 on defense with a Minnesota team that couldnt score, you really think im being a homer giving him 50 points on a much better offensive team with increase in power play time?

      Torres cheap shot incidents have come down, ask anyone in the know, it started in Phoenix with Dave Tippet, they went over film together and worked on keeping him in line.

      As for Niemi, two out of four seasons with San Jose he’s posted a .920 save percentage or better, for comparison purposes, many think brodeur is best goalie ever and his career save percentage is .912.

      Last year Niemi clearly struggled but still posted a .913. In a contract year he could definitely get over .920 again and push for a Vezina just like he did in 2013.

  7. Should be titled 3 wrong guesses for the upcoming season

    • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

      #haterade.

      Burns will have at least 40 points minimum playing on top unit. 50 isnt a stretch at all if he plays all 82.

      Niemi always seems to bounce back when people start to doubt him

      Torres if he’s healthy and Sharks are smart, they play him with a good center, very possible he nets 20.

      • Not hate rate as you so eloquently put it. Just seems logical that a guy who played on the first line as a forward would not get more points as a first line defender. Also my math is terrible but 40 is less than 48 so first would be wrong. As for Nemo he has a terrible 5 hole similar to nabby. Not a vezina candidate even when he won the cup with Chicago. Also torres won’t net 20. He won’t stay healthy and he is a dirty player

        • Haterade*

        • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

          AT LEAST 40, and 50 (would be a career year) isnt a stretch. And yes as I mention in the article, it would be safe bet in theory that his points decrease as a defenseman but he’s going to get so much more power play time on the top unit this year. Thats where he will get his points increased.

          Niemi’s actually pretty good at stopping anything along the ice, his holes are up high. And as I say in the article, Niemi was a Vezina candidate just two years ago.

          As for Torres, he’s cooled his dirty act over the last couple years but yeah he might not stay healthy to do it. If he does stay healthy and plays alongside mostly either JT/LC/Pavs then he should net 20.

  8. You weren’t kidding. These are bold.

    • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

      what do you think about my reasons why they will happen? As I wrote this, the less bold they seemed

      • Your reasons why were solid, im just so bitter as a sharks fan that its scary to get any more optimistic :P. Theres so much that can go right with this team and so much that can stay the same.

        • Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

          I honestly think the least likely to happen is Torres because of health. I think there is a really good chance Burns sets a career high, I’d go as high as 75%, Niemi playing for a new contract but only 3 get nominated, I’ll go as high as 25% (still pretty decent shot) and Torres about 15%.

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