Sharks 5 on 5 Woes: A Free Fall From Grace

What a Difference a Year Makes

San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl  (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

Last season the San Jose Sharks scored 24 more goals at even strength than their opponents. This season however has been a completely different story. San Jose has scored 10 fewer goals at even strength than their opponents. After 43 games Team Teal is 25th in the league in goals for divided by goals against at just 0.88. The Sharks are on pace to score only 138 even strength goals this season. A year ago they scored 169. In other words they are on pace to score 21 fewer goals at even strength. They are also on pace to give up 12 more goals at even strength this year than last. Obviously they are worse at both ends of the ice this year while skating five aside but scoring goals is a significantly bigger problem. Makes one wonder why they moved a dominant even strength scoring forward back to defense this year.

Of course the huge drop in even strength production isn’t solely based off the move of Burns from forward to defense, but that is a big contributor. Yes, plus-minus is a flawed statistic but on largely the same team a year ago Burns finished plus-26 as a forward. This year, the apparently “All-Star” defenseman is a minus-9. His Corsi-for percentage is down from 57.2 to 52.4. While Burns’ points per game rate at even strength is close to the same as it was last season, not surprisingly his goals per game rate is considerably lower as a defenseman. He is currently on pace for 13-14 even strength goals over 82 games while last year he scored at a 24 goal even strength pace as a forward. A season ago Burns finished as the seventh best forward in the NHL in goals for per 60 at 3.49 (sixth place was Tyler Seguin and eighth was James Neal for reference purposes). This season as a defenseman, Burns’ 2.11 mark is tied 107th best among NHL defenseman (tied with Minnesota stud Ryan Suter along with much lesser known guys like Connor Murphy and Paul Postma). That is a staggering drop in terms of being one of the dominant even strength forwards in the league to being in the middle of the pack as a defenseman. In terms of Corsi-for percentage, Burns is 62nd amongst defenseman. No doubt a solid offensive threat from the blue-line but not as good as being the 19th best forward in Corsi-for percentage a year ago.

Burns, Hertl, & Marleau Oh My

Certainly no statistic is perfect, but clearly Burns has been a bigger force at the forward position than on the blue-line. That said, moving him to defense and not replacing his scoring up front isn’t the only problem. Tomas Hertl has struggled this year and that has also hurt the Sharks even strength scoring. Hertl still seems to be recovering from last year’s knee injury but the second year winger played his best hockey last year while opposite Burns. Reuniting those two with Thornton would be a heck of a top line and could possibly spark the sophomore slump Hertl finds himself in.

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Furthermore Patrick Marleau’s lack of goal scoring has drastically hurt thus far. At some point though Marleau will snap out of his 20 game slump and that crazy low 5.5% shooting percentage will start to rise back towards his 13.5% career average. Marleau’s Corsi-for percentage is only 2.3% lower this year than a year ago when he scored 33 goals. Comparatively speaking, Burns’ Corsi-for from last year to this year has dropped 4.7%. In terms of goals-for percentage, Marleau’s has dropped from 51.5 to 43.8, a 7.7% decrease from last season to this season. Burns’ goals-for percentage has dropped from 63.9 last year to 41.3% this year, a 22.6% decrease. Across the board, every key player on the Sharks has had a huge percentage drop in goals for. Burns’ drop has been by far the biggest.

Minimum Replacement

The advanced numbers data in hockey is still in its infancy but the biggest change in the Sharks roster from last season to this season is the even strength position of Burns. The team has gone from the sixth best five aside scoring team in the league all the way down to the 25th. Burns was a huge positive impact forward the previous 1.3 seasons at even strength. This season he has been a net negative impact defenseman at evens. Burns has allowed more goals against per 60 minutes than all other Sharks defenseman this year who have skated over 300 minutes. Perhaps Burns converting back to a blue-liner will pay off two or three years down the line but for this season it has made the team significantly worse, not better. It is difficult to imagine that an in house replacement for Burns’ defense spot would have a worse goals against per 60 minutes. An up and down player such as now former Shark Jason Demers has a lower goals against per 60 than Burns, a similarly bad but slightly better goals-for percentage, and a slightly higher Corsi-for percentage.

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

Burns is an All Star this year because of his eye popping point totals for a defenseman but replacing his even strength production on the blue-line wouldn’t require anything close to a dominant scoring defender. While San Jose would be better off trading for an established defender if they moved Burns up, even simply filling his spot with either Taylor Fedun or Mirco Mueller and the team would still improve five on five. The fact of the matter is simple, the Sharks need an added scoring punch to their top-6 and they have the best power forward in the league already on their roster. He already has great chemistry with Joe Thornton. If they made this switch San Jose would certainly score more goals, (how many is debatable), and it is extremely doubtful they would give up more.

With the way San Jose’s lineup is currently configured the Sharks are much more a pretender than a contender. At this point a drastic change is needed and the easiest one to make is to move Burns back up to forward. Unfortunately it’s not going to happen. Despite not a soul in the world arguing Burns should return to defense during either the 2013 offseason or 2014 offseason, GM Doug Wilson made that his marquee big change this past offseason. It takes Wilson a long time before admitting mistakes, waiting until mid-season this year to waive Adam Burish, so it is doubtful he corrects the Burns mistake this season.

15 thoughts on “Sharks 5 on 5 Woes: A Free Fall From Grace”

  1. Andrew as a Wild fan, Burns was questionable defensively, so moving him to forward isn’t that bad of an idea. IIRC, didn’t he play forward last season as well?

    • He was the 7th best evs scoring forward in the league last year at 3.49 GF/60. He was a huge force at forward for the last 1.3 seasons before they moved him back to defense this year. Thanks for the read and comment Eric!

  2. An article about the Sharks struggles at 5v5 and no mention of Matt Nieto.a minus 7 at 5v5 or Barclay Goodrow a minus 6. The Sharks have a grand total of 5 goals from Nieto, Marleau and Hertl combined over the past 20 games. That sentence says it all.

    Corsi unfortunately doesn’t win games. Heck the Wild are ranked 6th in Corsi and just found themselves dead last in the Central division.

  3. The math really is simple. Burns is producing roughly as many points on defense as Pavelski, Thornton, Couture and Marleau produce. First, he would be lucky to maintain that level at forward – he has never produced at the same level as those four guys in the past. Second, whoever would take his place on the blue line would have much fewer points than Burns on the blue line. Finally, the defenseman replacing Burns should have much fewer points than the player Burns takes the spot of on a top line. These point differentials are not just numbers on a stats sheet. They represent goals the Sharks will not have scored as a team. Loss of that production would have the team a few places lower in the standings.

    The notion that you create offense by replacing a high producing defenseman with a solid producing forward is ludicrous.

    Feel free to attack Burns on not being Scott Stevens in his own end. That said, he has been playing even hockey for a long time, since going negative early before settling back into defense.

    But only a numbskull would attack the Burns move to defense as unsuccessful based on offensive output of the team.

  4. This guy just linked to his own articles 4 times. No outside data backing up his opinion or other writers sharing his idea. Just Andrew Bensch leading you down a road of his own opinions with no one else voicing the same. Good lord THW if I wanted to read garbage I would go to Bleacher Report.

    • Four hyperlinks, 1), 2) 3) colleague’s article from October, 4) One of my more recent pieces. Feel free to disagree, but no need to lie.

  5. Founder Bruce Hollindrake, is this what you had in mind when you made the website? A writer who argues with fans and talks about the EXACT SAME TOPIC in every article? This is pathetic, you can do better.

    • Yeah this is pretty pathetic. Every single article I read about the Sharks focuses on Brent Burns moving back to forward. It’s like beating a dead horse throwing it off a bridge, then proceeding to jump off that bridge yourself to impale what is left of the corpse. Get this guy off this website.

      Can we talk about how Marleau only has 3 goals in 38 games. Or how Nieto only has 3 goals as well. Or they injuries trouble. Or Justin Braun’s struggles. Seriously THW, there is a lot more going on in San Jose than “Brent Burns moving back to defense” its old news and us fans are tired of reading about it. This is the only guy that still talks about it.

  6. And yet again, this moron focuses on Brent Burns in every article. Not to mention compares the Corsi of a defensemen to the Corsi of a forward. This is why advanced stats are not taken seriously because of hack writers who swoon over one statistic yet fail to realize what it even represents.

    I’m sorry but THW is turning into a terrible bleacher report rip off that wants to be like SBNation but fails because of writers like Andrew Bensch. No mentions of PDO, Ice time, SH Goal differential, Zone entries or starts. Just Corsi and only corsi like a stubborn child. I hope Brent Burns knows how much this guy hates him.

    • The Brent Burns write-ups are obsessive and wondering what the real underlying motive is..I ignore most of Andrews write-ups by now(some for entertainment value) and read a more credible source.Chalk it up to being young and immature writer?

      • yea it reminds me of that South Park episode where Cartman creates a false reality in his mind. It’s basically what the author is doing by constantly re-writing the same article.

  7. If they move Burns back to forward, are they not making a panic move that would be incongruous to the philosophy that the Sharks are a team of tomorrow rather than today. You say the move could pay off down the line in 2-3 seasons which is really what this team is looking at, they want to make the playoffs that’s the goal for sure, but they need to do it consistent with a long term objective and philosophy. So do you just forego a longer term plan and panic now? Plus it is possible the Sharks might not be better with Burns at forward, we do not know, what if Burns had a Marleau like season at forward. Chances are they would be better but there are no guarantees. If the long term goal were to create an elite blue liner in Burns offensive juggernaut and working towards becoming a better defensive defenseman, and to grow their younger players with experience at the NHL level, then I think anything to shake that up is panicking. Fans want a direction, it is clear to see what their direction is with Burns and younger players. What is not known is how do they replace Thornton and Marleau in a couple of seasons, because this team seems heavily dependent on Thornton still. Obviously it is much easier to see what happens with the prospect of being Marleau-less since he has dressed for all games but has not really played in a lot of them…

    • It looked like a panic/desperate move in 2013 but it worked out wonderfully. Burns right now is a top flight NHL forward if he plays up front. It makes no sense to waste chances at the Stanley Cup now while he struggles defensively. A long term plan at defense in terms of puck movers could include someone they haven’t even drafted yet, a natural defender who will have that natural defense first mindset that Burns has never had. It is mind boggling to me why an organization would choose to forgo having a dominant power forward in the hopes that he regains defensive form when he is such a unique weapon up front. If they don’t fix the scoring problem, they are basically throwing this season down the toilet, and that is a sad way for the organization to treat two of it’s biggest stars in Thornton and Marleau, who deserve so much better.

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