Evidence Shows Sharks Better With Burns at Forward

Not a Bad Defenseman

Burns Sharks
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Brent Burns is an excellent puck moving defenseman. Let me be perfectly clear about that. When playing defense consistently he has been a top four or top two puck mover. In recent weeks his minus-9 rating has improved to an even zero and he is predictably on pace for a career year points wise even playing defense. However, since the Sharks acquired him on 2011 draft day, they have never been a good team with him on defense.

Much Bigger Spark at Forward

Burns’ first year as a Shark came on the blue-line for the 2011-12 season. That year the Sharks were mediocre at best, and suffered their quickest playoff exit in franchise history. As a seven seed they were knocked out by St. Louis in five games. Then at the start of the lockout shortened 2013 season the Sharks were in a prolonged slump. They were having issues scoring and a few weeks into the season they moved Burns to forward. That move completely changed everything. It is arguably the best move of head coach Todd McLellan’s coaching career. Down the stretch of 2013 the Sharks were steamrolling opponents with three quality scoring lines. And they were doing so without exactly having a juggernaut defense. The pairs were primarily Dan Boyle-Matt Irwin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun, and Scott Hannan-Brad Stuart. Last year in 2013-14 the Sharks kept Burns at forward and he was a beast on the top line, dominating at even strength and the Sharks were awesome. They finished with 111 points and built a 3-0 lead against the Los Angeles Kings. Yes they collapsed from there, but the 2013-14 Sharks were a strong team. They finished sixth in even strength scoring last season.

This year, even with Burns turning his defensive game around recently, the Sharks have free fallen to 24th in the league in even strength scoring. Once again with Burns on defense, San Jose doesn’t have the firepower up front. For comparison sake, let us put the lineup San Jose went with against Nashville on Tuesday next to a lineup they could roll out with Burns at forward.





Vs Nashville Feb. 17:                           With Burns at Forward:

Karlsson—Thornton—Pavelski                                                             Hertl—Thornton—Burns

Marleau—Couture—Nieto                                                                      Marleau—Couture—Nieto

Hertl—Tierney—Wingels                                                                        Sheppard—Pavelski—Wingels

Goodrow–Sheppard–Kennedy                                                               Goodrow—Tierney—Karlsson

Vlasic—Burns                                                                                              Vlasic—Braun

Dillon—Braun                                                                                             Dillon—Mueller

Irwin—Hannan                                                                                           Irwin—Tennyson

By moving Burns up, the Sharks morph from a two line scoring team to a three line scoring team with a slightly better fourth. Offensively speaking, both even strength and the power-play, they will get more from Burns as a forward than a defenseman. Too many times people worry about not getting offense from the blueline. Again, it is not as if offense from the defense counts as two goals instead of one. All the goals count the same. It doesn’t matter where the offense comes from, just as long as you get it. The forward lineup with Burns is much more dangerous than without it. Furthermore, with Burns’ wild style , the Sharks lose next to nothing defensively by moving him up. Burns is far from being a strong defender in his own zone. Vlasic and Braun as the top pair will suffice just fine getting the puck up to the forwards. Dillon and Mueller have shown more chemistry together in fewer games than the Dillon-Braun pair has shown. So that is really a wash change for the second pair. And Irwin and Tennyson you could argue is better than Irwin and Hannan, much better puck moving skills with Tennyson.

Makes Everyone Else Better

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Last season with Burns at forward, all 19 of San Jose’s skaters with over 400 even strength minutes posted Corsi-for percentages over 50 percent. This year almost every key player has a lower Corsi-for and five of the 17 players with over 400 even strength minutes are below 50 percent Corsi. Most notably, two third line quality players in James Sheppard and Tommy Wingels are having considerably worse possession numbers because they have been asked to do too much. Sheppard’s Corsi is down 2.6% and Wingels’ Corsi is down 4.4%. These two are asked to carry the third line when a chunk of the season last year they complementary players on the third line. Pavelski, a 55.5% Corsi-for player centering Sheppard and Wingels has been one of the most productive third line combinations the Sharks have featured over the last few years. Yet because Pavelski is a 40 goal scorer on the Thornton line the last two years the Sharks never seem to want to use Pavelski at the center ice position.

Two line teams don’t go deep in the playoffs. Teams that win Stanley Cups have much stronger bottom six lines. In the salary cap era, every team has elite level talent on the top lines. What separates the great teams from the merely good ones are the depth players. The Sharks playoff record the last four seasons is 15-11 when they improve their bottom six by bumping Pavelski down to third line center. When he plays in the top six they are a putrid 5-10. That is over four years. Don’t tell me that isn’t a large enough sample of playoff games. Really great teams can shut down an opponent with two good lines. It is much, much harder to stop a team that can come at you with a 60 point two-way stud elevating a third line to a top line level. Burns at forward makes the Sharks offense extremely more productive and defensively they don’t get any worse at keeping the puck out of their own net. Plus it is two fold, the three lines with Burns up front means the Sharks defenders won’t have to defend nearly as much. And when they do, not having Burns back there isn’t a big deal, he isn’t a great defensive zone player to begin with.

The fact of the matter is the Sharks organization has seriously miscast Burns as a defenseman. They have done nothing but play consistently strong hockey with him at forward. At defense they have been nothing short of a mediocre team, that is close to missing the playoffs completely.

12 thoughts on “Evidence Shows Sharks Better With Burns at Forward”

  1. Brent Burns as a forward in 2014
    Average TOI 16:49- Ranked 140th among forwards
    Points 48- Ranked 90th among forwards
    Average Power Play TOI 2:12- Ranked 146th among forwards
    5v5 Corsi For % 57.1- Ranked 19th among forwards
    5v5 Points Per 60- 2.1 Ranked 42nd among forwards

    Brent Burns as a Defensemen in 2015 (Through Feb 19th)
    Average TOI 24:15- Ranked 17th among defensemen
    Points 44- Ranked 3rd among defensemen
    Average Power Play TOI 3:24- Ranked 11th among defensemen
    5v5 Corsi For % 53.0- Ranked 39th among defensemen
    5v5 Points Per 60- 1.5- Ranked 4th among defensemen

    Essentially Burns has an even larger impact as a defensemen BUT the team itself has gotten worse thus accounting for the drop off.

    • It’s not hard to say that. I mean the amount of Sharks who are having BETTER years than 2014 you can count on one hand.

      Joe Pavelski- better
      Joe Thornton- worse, heck its his worst season as a Shark and he’s one of the best on the team still.
      Tomas Hertl- worse
      Patrick Marleau- worse, his worst since 2008
      Logan Couture- better
      Matt Nieto- worse
      Tommy Wingels- same
      James Sheppard- same
      Tyler Kennedy- slightly better but injuries have ruined it
      Raffi Torres- injured
      Andrew Desjardins- worse
      Mike Brown- injured…and worse
      Eriah Hayes- the same I guess
      Adam Burish- worse
      Freddie Hamilton- worse

      Brent Burns- the same..I guess positions make it tough
      Marc-Edouard Vlasic- worse, possibly his worst since 2011
      Matt Irwin- the same
      Justin Braun- worse
      Scott Hannan- worse

      Outside of Karlsson, none of the new forwards have provided anything special.
      Tye McGinn
      Barclay Goodrow
      John Scott
      Chris Tierney
      Melker Karlsson
      Micheal Haley

      None of the new defensemen have helped alleviate pressure off Burns or Vlasic. Dillon is well on his way to leading the league in negative +/-. And even with the improvement of Tennyson and Mueller it isn’t a step forward from Stuart or the aging Boyle.

      Mirco Mueller
      Brenden Dillon
      Matt Tennyson

      Yet Burns…aka the Sharks best defensemen in almost every statistical category is the problem? I laugh at that statement.

  2. not to put to fine a point on it, but the Sharks may well be hiring a new coach and I suspect any of the people worth interviewing would ask the question about if they get to decide where to play Burns. If the answer is ‘no’, the smart ones will wait for another opening. Its kind of hard not to see the absurdity of the situation that forces Matt Tennyson — the lone overachiever among young d-men on the roster (wasn’t that DW’s theme?) — to the minors while Mueller, Hannan, Irwin and Dillon are all playing up here. That’s what keeping Burns on defense does to you.

  3. One of the easier ways to decide on a major move like Burns to defense is to ask a simple question : How will I know if it works?

    Burns had been so successful at F, +26 in 69 games, that it’d be a hard to prove a move to D was successful. He’s need to be something like +35 in order to make it obvious that is was a good move. But it’d be pretty easy to figure out if it didn’t work. That +26 would turn into something a lot less.

    And poof, it has. He’s been a minus player this year.

    The sadder part is that Burns has really only been good on defense when paired with Vlasic. With pretty much everyone else, he’s been a liability. And even though he’s on the ice a bunch more on defense and its supposed to be a more physical position, a look at the hit numbers is telling. He’s already had 20+% more ice time this year than all of last year (1430 minutes this year vs 1160), and has 20% fewer hits (145 last year to 117 so far this year).

    It can’t be that hard for mgmt. And to me, the SMH topper came yesterday, when the Sharks had to send someone down because too many healthy d-men. And it was Matt Tennyson, perhaps the lone positive surprise on this year’s blueline.

  4. Okay, I actually agree with you but you are beating a dead horse here. As long as Wilson is the GM Burns is going to play defense. I firmly believe that the Burns to D decision was solely Wilson’s and McClellan would move him back to forward if he could. I’d much rather see you start writing 2 or 3 ‘Fire Wilson’ articles a week than the 2 or 3 ‘Burns to forward’ you’ve been producing.

    Fire Wilson

    • I actually haven’t written on this in awhile. As for Wilson, moving Burns was his decision. Criticizing it harshly time and time again, shows how I think of the job he has done.

  5. Literally man, get some new material, how many times are we going to read you write…. Burns to forward and slot Pavelski on the 3rd line…. NOT HAPPENING

    • When the team continues to be awful with him at defense, and could be much better with him at forward, every now and then I like to point out the absurdity of the matter.

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