Stop. Just stop right there. Yes, you have read all about this, and there has been more digital blood and ink spilled on the topic of Brent Burns‘ actual position and where he is best suited since he arrived. As The Big Lebowski once wisely said: “Hey, new [information] has come to light, man.”
Throughout his career, Burns has bounced from rearguard to winger and back (and then back again), so this discussion is old hat to everyone’s favorite Wookiee. But the newest wrinkle is something to consider, even for a single moment.
Experience at the Wing
Burns famously spent a year and a half as a forward skating next to Joe Thornton and posting solid, not spectacular numbers. Since returning to the blue line, Burns has evolved into a lifestyle beard-wearing Goliath on the blueline and was a finalist for the Norris Trophy while setting San Jose records for goals and points in a single season. So why change what has been working perfectly on one of the deepest bluelines in the NHL?
Can the Sharks claim Brent Burns is a forward for purposes of expansion protection? I'm assuming no, but what's the actual rule there?
— miller low life (@itwasthreezero) November 28, 2016
Interesting thought, no? Let us remember that the NHL is a bit fickle on how you adjudge player positioning. Gary Bettman cannot exactly point to a Yahoo! or Fantrax fantasy league to get position data for NHL players. So somewhere, somehow, there is a way the NHL judges what position a player plays and under what circumstances that can change.
If it’s as simple as a lineup card, well that can make it very easy. If someone at the league office is tracking on-ice positioning that might be a bit harder. But juggling Burns around the line-up when he is already viewed by many as bringing back the rover position to the sport is not a stretch at all.
Brent Burns of the @SanJoseSharks scored his seventh goal of the season to tie Shea Weber for the League lead among defensemen. #NJDvsSJS pic.twitter.com/nLQwCWTeME
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) November 22, 2016
Moving Burns from the defensive corps would be felt. There is no way to reason your way out of that fact, but it is not as if he is headed out of the line-up. It’s redeploying current assets that make managing (and maintaining) future assets more appealing.
Defense Still Solid If Burns Were To Move
As a fan of defenders playing on their natural side, the Wookiee-free defensive pairings could look like this:
Marc-Edouard Vlasic- Justin Braun
Paul Martin-Dylan DeMelo
David Schlemko-Brenden Dillon
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun have been productive playing the heaviest of assignments for the last two years. There is no reason to break them apart. Paul Martin has struggled with more regularity this year, and Dylan DeMelo has wasted away in the press box while being ready for regular NHL duty. DeMelo can skate with the puck and has a solid zone-exiting pass while not shying away from his defensive responsibilities, which could help Martin get back on track. Tim Heed has posted four goals and nine assists in 14 AHL games with the San Jose Barracuda.
Tim Heed pulls and drags to get the angle, wrists one off crossbar and down for PP goal.
— Bill Norris (@IESportsGuy) November 27, 2016
The former Skellefteå AIK defender has brilliantly acclimated to the smaller ice surface and above average skating helps him get out of trouble. Schlemko and Dillon have been fantastic together, much like Vlasic and Braun, we’re trying to upset the apple cart as little as possible.
Schlemko Situation: Protection Is the Goal
David Schlemko is the reason to undertake this entire exercise. Schlemko’s four-year, $8.4 million contract looks to be one of the bargains of the past offseason.
With the stacked blueline there are important players to protect from the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft. If Burns is allowed a forward protection slot, and the Sharks stick to the standard 7-3-1 format (seven forwards, three defenders, one goaltender) the protected roster could look like this:
Looking over that list, Karlsson is obviously the low man on the totem pole and a possible swap out if Patrick Marleau is re-signed or Mikkel Boedker explodes and becomes relevant again.
Burns, with his new contract, would likely understand what the Sharks are trying to do by employing this strategy, namely keeping the Sharks as competitive as possible. Despite the odds of it being acted upon being as likely as someone mentioning Matt Nieto without dropping a “Long Beach, CA” reference soon after, it should be investigated. At the very least, it is an intriguing thought.