Thornton and Hertl Will Miss Brent Burns on First Line

Hockey is so close you can almost taste it. Mere hours until puck drop, San Jose looks to put their past behind them for good. A nightmarish playoff series that ended their season will undoubtedly be revisited many times this year. Unfortunately, they must begin 2014 right where last season ended, facing down the LA Kings. But this time, Brent Burns will spend most of his time on the blue line.

Brent Burns
An intimidating force on offense, Burns moves back to defense this season (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Brent Burns Last Season

To get a quick rundown of how effective the hairy (and then not as hairy) Brent Burns was, check out his stat line.

  • 22 goals, 26 assists, 48 points
  • A +26 rating, good for 17th best in the league
  • In the playoffs: 3 points in 7 games

His Corsi For percentage was a strong 57.3% and boasted a 64% goals for while on the ice. Out of all those points he earned, 11 were on the power play, where he played on the second unit. The forward was a physical force to be reckoned with and his forechecking prowess opened up more ice for Tomas Hertl.

Leaving Linemates Behind

Brent Burns played with Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl on the Sharks top line last season. Before Hertl’s injury, they were some of the most dominant players on the ice. All three player’s enjoyed Corsi for percentages well above 58% when on the ice together. Their goals for percentages were even more impressive. Each player was well above 60% with Hertl even rising above 70% when on the ice with Brent Burns.

Brent Burns
Hertl missed Burns last season and he’ll miss him more this year (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports).

While Brent Burns went down with an injury for 13 games from October to November, Hertl’s production dipped. Without Burns, Hertl scored 0.61 points per game, but with Burns, that points/game production went up 0.71. While Joe Thornton earns most of the credit for bringing Tomas Hertl up to speed in the NHL, Brent Burns was invaluable in his own right. The speed and physicality that Burns used to disrupt defenses allowed Hertl more space for himself. Defenses can handle one man causing havoc, but two? That makes it nigh impossible.

Brent Burns
Joe Thornton centered the line between Burns and Hertl (Icon SMI)

It is a similar story for Joe Thornton. With Brent Burns, Joe Thornton was effective and scored 82% of his even strength points. The other 18% came in nearly 30% of his ice time. In other words, another drop off in production. Joe Thornton did not shoot the puck much, but while he had two goal scorers, he didn’t need to. Without his more veteran shooter, defenses were able to clamp down on Hertl and force Jumbo into mistakes.

Brent Burns: Professional Forechecker

145 hits last season made Brent Burns the second biggest hitter among Sharks. But his hits cannot be compared to just any hit. It surely is nothing like the hits John Scott or Mike Brown. Instead, they are disrupting hits on the opposition’s attempt to break out. They are momentum changing hits that cause turnovers. His gritty play has made him invaluable up top.

Much of this article makes it sound like Burns will be playing for a completely different team. While not true, he is definitely not going to have the same impact. In all likelihood, he will be paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Burns loved to play the tough minutes in front of the net. He got dirty in the corners when the puck was dumped. But this year, he will be dumping the puck in the corners, not chasing. Burns will be shooting from the blue line, not looking for the rebound.