Hurricanes Solidify Top Pair With Burns Acquisition

The Carolina Hurricanes have revamped the top of their roster in a highly intriguing fashion this summer, and the lineup will look a good bit different when the puck drops in October. Gone are key names such as Vincent Trocheck, Nino Neiderreiter, and Tony Deangelo, replaced with a few new faces, proven veterans that the front office hope will bring the team closer to chasing down another Stanley Cup. In this mini-series, we’ll take a look at those new faces brought to town by general manager Don Waddell, and break down how, why, and where they fit into the ‘Canes lineup.

The Hurricanes fell short in the postseason in the goal-scoring department, and all the additions have seemed to have that issue in mind. Improving in that area was made more difficult by having to say goodbye to two reliable, 20-plus goal scorers, but, if things go right, this team has a chance to be absolutely ferocious in all areas of the game with their new additions in tow. In case you missed it, the first post considered the Max Pacioretty addition that gave the team one of the purest, deadliest finishers they’ve had in some time. Today, we’ll consider the other marquee addition acquired from the San Jose Sharks, towering defenseman Brent Burns.

Who is Brent Burns?

Drafted in the first round, 20th overall back in 2004, Burns has done just about everything you can do in a professional hockey career – with one notable exception. The Barrie, Ontario native has represented his native Canada in international play on multiple occasions, he’s won the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL, and he was a leader on a Stanley Cup Finalist in 2016. Unfortunately, he’s never gotten to lift hockey’s holy grail, but perhaps his new team can help him to check that one off the list, too.

Burns played just one year of juniors with Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), then jumped directly into the NHL for 36 games as a teenager. After bouncing back and forth briefly between the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL), he has become one of the most feared offensive performers from the blue line over the course of his career. A seven-time NHL All-Star, he scored at least 15 goals in seven different seasons over his 18-year NHL career. In 2017, the year he won the Norris, he scored an incredible 29 goals along with 76 total points.

In fact, he’s so good offensively, that he’s spent a significant amount of time playing forward. This isn’t the same scenario as someone like, say, former Hurricane Brendan Smith, who was moved up front at times in his career, but mostly just to get his toughness into the lineup on the fourth line. Rather, Burns was a legitimate offensive weapon and produced 22 goals with 48 points in 69 games while playing on the wing in 2013-14.

Brent Burns Sharks
Brent Burns with the San Jose Sharks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In addition to his massive career totals of 1,251 games, 227 goals, and 777 points, he’s produced in the playoffs as well, adding another 20 goals and 62 points in 94 career postseason games. The only thing missing is that Stanley Cup ring. Burns, while still effective and plenty to offer is getting towards the twilight of his career. The Sharks were nowhere near contention, so this move could give him a nice spark, coming to a young, high-flying team with true Stanley Cup aspirations. It’ll be a lot of fun to see him potentially play out his career with such a squad, and especially so if he can, in fact, win a championship. He’s simply an easy guy to root for.

Why Burns Makes Sense For the Hurricanes

Apologies for once again going back to a New York Rangers playoff series that Hurricanes fans would like to soon forget, but the other blatant shortcoming was the special teams production. Tony DeAngelo struggled mightily after the Boston Bruins series and had serious struggles in his own end in general over the course of the season. As good of a bargain as he was for just $1 million, and for all his impressive offensive production, he was miscast as a top pairing defenseman. Jaccob Slavin’s defensive performance fell off a bit as a result, and a lot more weight was put upon the shoulders of Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei.

Related: Hurricanes Add Proven Veteran Scorer in Pacioretty

Enter Burns. The 37-year-old certainly isn’t the player he once was, when he was one of the most feared shooters and offensive defensemen of the generation; no one is questioning that. Regardless, he can still flat-out play. Per StatMuse, he played the most minutes in hockey a year ago at 2144:02, an average of 26:09 per game (only Seth Jones averaged more per game, at 26:13). Also, despite playing on the third-lowest scoring team in hockey he was still able to rack up 10 goals and 54 points. That’s similar production to DeAngelo, and without some of the headaches such as undisciplined penalties, a volatile on-ice personality, and poor defensive play.

Now, that’s not to say his defensive play is superb, but it is, objectively, better than DeAngelo’s. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Burns is an absolute horse out there that is difficult to carve out space against. He has one of the most active sticks in the league that helps on zone entry denials and blocking passing lanes (much like his partner-to-be), and, while he isn’t the most physical player in the league, he can easily clear the front of the net and disrupt just about any oncoming attack with his reach. Plus, when he does choose to lay the hammer down, it usually results in a lot of pain for whoever has to bear the brunt of that force.

If there’s one thing you can wholeheartedly expect from Burns, it’s pucks at the net. Lots and lots of them. The Hurricanes are a team that loves to let it fly from everywhere anyway, and that’s why so many defensemen with heavy shots have seen success with the organization. Justin Faulk put up the gaudiest offensive numbers of his career while in town, and Dougie Hamilton found twine 42 times in Carolina in just over two full regular seasons’ worth of action (184 games). Burns is very similar in this vein, so expect that he is going to have the green light to bomb every chance he gets. After falling off ever-so-slightly in the goals department last year, it shouldn’t be surprising at all if that goal-scoring number potentially creeps back up towards the mid-teens or more.

With every type of shot he can fire, Burns brings elite accuracy and velocity. He stuns goalies from distance no matter if they see it coming or not. Plus, if he doesn’t have a lane, he’s fully capable of dropping his shoulder and getting by defenders with a power move. He has excellent hands and one-on-one ability for a big man, which makes him a legitimate triple threat with the puck on his stick. Late in his career, he’s really taken off as a playmaker as well, racking up at least 44 assists in the last six normal (non-COVID-shortened) seasons. He’s also especially effective with stretch passes, which could lead to some fun sequences with a young and fast forward group in Carolina.

His shooting ability also gives Burns the type of gravitational pull from defenses you may see from a player like Stephen Curry in the NBA – if you leave him open, you’re likely to get burned (pun intended). Having him eat up space defensively and play a big role in controlling the flow offensively, while Slavin continues his all-around excellence and defensive supremacy, ought to give the Hurricanes a fantastic top pair that can do it all. They should be expected to contribute in every phase and eat a TON of minutes. This deal is a huge win for the Hurricanes, and for Burns, who will now get away from a San Jose squad far away from contention and into a lineup competing right now.

Burns’ Impact on Hurricanes Lineup

In return for their new RD1 (with a third of his salary retained), the Hurricanes gave up Steven Lorentz and goaltender prospect Eetu Makiniemi. Lorentz was a great energy piece and simply a human being that was easy to root for. He had an awesome story as an overage, seventh-round pick that worked his way up from afterthought, to ECHLer, to AHLer, to NHLer. In San Jose, he ought to get a bigger opportunity and carve out a more consistent role than he was afforded in Raleigh. Makiniemi is a solid goalie prospect but missed a majority of the season to injury, and his chances of being the goalie of the future were slim in the same organization as Pyotr Kochetkov. Both of them may very well carve out a nice role on the West Coast, so this trade could easily end up being a win-win.

Steven Lorentz Carolina Hurricanes
San Jose Sharks forward Steven Lorentz with his former team, the Carolina Hurricanes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Hurricanes’ defense is now set up to be pretty ferocious, even without knowing what the bottom pair is going to look like as of now. Jalen Chatfield has a two-year contract extension kicking in this season, Ethan Bear has an upcoming arbitration hearing on Aug. 8, and the newly-acquired Dylan Coghlan also figures to slot into the equation. The problem is, all three of those guys are right-shot defenders, so one would have to play on their off-side if the team keeps the current roster. If Jake Gardiner is healthy and ready to roll, that’s a decent option for the left side, but the offensive defenseman has never been particularly well-suited for a third-pair role. You want a little more of a low-event player in that spot, and all the things tend to happen when Gardiner is on the ice – good and bad.

Regardless of how that third pairing shakes out, this is the best top-four the Hurricanes have had since the Hamilton days, and with an improved offense in front of it (not to mention in net, too), it’s easy to foresee a nice step forward for the group as a whole. Pesce and Skjei won’t have quite as much responsibility against top lines, and on the road, it will become considerably more difficult for opposing head coaches to play matchups. Having a more reliable top pair to lean on makes things easier for the whole group, and it’s not a luxury that was afforded last season. Even then, the Hurricanes weren’t a particularly easy team to gameplan for, but that’ll be even more difficult this upcoming season.

Like with Pacioretty, another obvious area this acquisition will pay off is on the power play. If the Hurricanes were to stack the top unit with Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and the two new guys, Burns and Pacioretty, it would be an utter nightmare for opposing penalty kills to defend. Or, just as easily, you could split the talent around and have multiple legitimately dangerous players on both units that are able to quarterback the power play. Though, even with that top quintet it would leave Martin Necas, Jarvis, perhaps rookie Jack Drury, or even another recent acquisition, Ondrej Kase, on the second unit. The Hurricanes could, perhaps, finally achieve some semblance of balance, with two power-play units actually worth rolling. Taking a little pressure off the top group would be huge.

Burns may be on the “back nine” of his career, as he said in a Zoom interview with the media after the trade, but getting to a young, contending team at this juncture of his career could certainly rejuvenate him and help him post a big season. The big guy can certainly still rip it, and on a team that wants shots from anywhere and everywhere, it isn’t difficult to foresee a big offensive season from him. While there is some question about how he will keep up with the pace the Hurricanes play at, he is a player that is well-known to be highly focused on nutrition and taking care of himself, so there is surely still plenty left in the tank to bring his new team. He and Rod Brind’Amour ought to get a long awfully well, and I just hope we get to see a few videos of the two going at it in the weight room. I’d pay to see that.

New Carolina defenseman Brent Burns (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Burns also has a reputation as a beloved teammate, a player well-known around the league as an extremely high-end locker room presence. For a young team like the Hurricanes, having two positive, veteran additions in he and Pacioretty that can help lead alongside captain Jordan Staal could go a long way in helping a team that still has quite a few young faces push through the rigors of postseason hockey. There are no sure bets in this league, but the team is better positioned on paper today to make that deep run than they were at any point last season, especially with their defense. That’s all you can ask for from a front office in the dog days of summer: improvement. Especially when taking into account how little was given up, you have to commend Waddell on the work he did in a quick, efficient manner this offseason.