Two Roads Diverge For Sharks GM Doug Wilson

Burns Sharks
The San Jose Sharks Brent Burns Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY SportsB

Buy or Sell

As noted here a couple of days ago, the decision by San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson to move Brent Burns back to defense has been a monumental failure. Burns has not been good in his own end and not surprisingly his even strength scoring has decreased significantly. San Jose still features essentially all the same key offensive threats from last season but their even strength scoring has free fallen down the rankings. Despite finishing sixth overall in scoring a year ago, they have dropped all the way down to as low as 24th (currently 21st) this year. With the way the roster stands and is currently being utilized, the Sharks may make the playoffs (currently in a playoff position) but they will be lucky to get past the first round being in the bottom third in the league in even strength scoring. With the state of the Sharks, GM Doug Wilson is clearly at a crossroads and he must choose a path to take. But will he take the road least traveled by? Perhaps two, three years down the line, that will have made all the difference.

The first road Wilson could take is that of being a buyer come the trade deadline. Even though the Sharks have all the same weapons, with Burns on the blue-line the Sharks are a top-six right wing short of making a deep playoff run. Later this week, I’ll take a look at some of the options available if Wilson decides to go the route of being a buyer. Wilson has frequently gone down this path over the years as the Sharks have made the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons. The road least traveled by for the Sharks and Wilson would be to sell come the deadline. If Wilson is dead set on keeping Burns at defense and isn’t interested in giving up prospects or draft choices for a scoring winger, then he ought to sell off his free agents.

A Path Must Be Chosen

If Wilson were to stand pat, it would be a wasted opportunity to either push for a Stanley Cup or stock pile for the future. During San Jose’s bizarre offseason, Wilson made comments indicating the Sharks were “rebuilding” and were  a “tomorrow team” but other moves like signing veteran bottom six players and trading Jason Demers for Brenden Dillon indicate otherwise. Those types of moves are much more “today” moves so it has been hard for fans to truly understand what direction this team is going in. And that is what every fan base deserves, a clear direction. Right now the Sharks have a number of pending unrestricted free agents, the biggest name being goaltender Antti Niemi. The 31-year-old goaltender has had an inconsistent Sharks career, particularly in the postseason. If the Sharks aren’t going to be a buyer, then Niemi must be sold at the deadline. A team like Minnesota could really use an established, quality goaltender, which Niemi has been in the regular season for the Sharks. His playoffs have been up and down but Minnesota needs some stability in net. Darcy Kuemper is only sporting a .904 save percentage right now. Niemi is at a respectable .914.

San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi  (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

Other pending unrestricted free agents like forwards James Sheppard and Tyler Kennedy, and defensemen Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin should also be shopped. Maybe not all of them get moved, but Sheppard has become an effective player for the Sharks and it wouldn’t be shocking for him and Hannan packaged together somewhere for a second round draft choice in return. Between Niemi, Sheppard, and Hannan, the sharks could at the very least get the equivalent of two second round draft choices back. After all, just two years ago the Sharks were able to steal two second rounders for Douglas Murray (now out of the league). While Wilson has made some curious signings over the years and mishandled Burns, he is an elite GM when it comes to making trades. If he is not going to be a buyer, than he should continue stocking up on draft choices like he started doing with moving Murray, Handzus, and Clowe during the lockout shortened season. Wilson is at a crossroads, each road in front him has some pros and cons, but choosing no road and simply turning around and going home would be the worst thing he could do.


47 thoughts on “Two Roads Diverge For Sharks GM Doug Wilson”

  1. Not hockey related.
    While I appreciate the Frost reference, The Road Not Taken is an ironic poem. The choice the speaker makes is irrelevant because both paths are the same.
    The “difference” is a fabrication by the speaker to create an appearance of importance where there was none.
    As you can see, Frost is not at all appropriate for the point you are making.

    • speaker says the road less traveled made all the difference, thats what ive always taken from it, as not following what everyone else has done, and making your own choice. Both paths lead the same place. In case of hockey, both paths lead to the stanley cup but which path gets you there faster?

  2. I am at a loss here as to how people think moving Burns has been a bad decision. He was an all-star defenseman on a bad Wild team. I am pretty sure Jacques LeMaire knows hockey better than all of us combined. Doug Wilson also knows hockey better than all of us combined. Last season, Burns I believe had 3 streaks of 5 or more games where he did not produce anything on the score sheet and for most of those games he was a minus player. This season alone and we are halfway through the season, Burns has had one streak of 3 games with no point production. It could be me, but when you have a guy who is that offensively talented you want him on the ice more than less, as a defenseman he can impact the game more for longer perios, yes he is high risk high reward, but he is clearly settling in. The Sharks gave up two goals per game on average in December. I think december has validated Burns should be on the blue line. Plus how much stronger are the Sharks going to be getting these kids more ice time up front, I like the make up of this team. Scott and Brown have been assets. Team commits and plays hard like it did last night, you can clearly see they are more talented than most teams. They just need to commit to the defensive side of the puck that is what wins games. They have enough firepower, based on numbers they have some players fighting some bad puck luck despite creating opportunities, over a season you regress or progress towards the historical mean, sharks really should be trending up for the rest of the season while not having played their best hockey yet.

    • Not sure where you come off knocking burns as a minus player last year, he was a +26 a year ago, minus-6 this year. His corsi isn’t as dominant as a dman, and his GF% while not a good predictor, so far has been terrible. Like Marleau, his luck should turn around as time goes on, and in 2-3 years from now maybe he is back to the type of dman he was with minnesota and first year as a Shark. But even if he becomes that guy again, he is still not a smart player for a defenseman. He doesnt have the awareness defensively and smarts like Boyle did, his makeup is better suited at forward. Thus far this year he has hurt them at even strength more than he has helped by virtue of defensive miscues and a corsi-for percentage on par with other defenseman. If he was this No. 1 stud dman, he should be leading that group in corsi and not being giving up as many goals against.

      • I come off from factual numbers, in 36 games where he produced nothing he was a minus 7. I said when he did not get on the score sheet he was a minus player. I did not imply he was a minus player for the season did I? Boyle had to fine tune his hockey sense, he had to make up for being a smaller player who was constantly pushed off the puck by developing his hockey IQ. Burns can flat out run people over and dominant with his skill. So he has not had to develop that sense yet, he is still a young player and is learning the position all over again. This move was not a one year try-out, he is better suited to be a blueliner, he has more impact on the game. Boyle was not drafted or highly touted, different work ethic needed to just make it. Burns has God given talents that most people would kill for. He needs to learn the mental part of the game and that comes with time and getting inured to circumstances and situations, learn through repetition. There is no right or wrong answer, people will use stats to make their case either way. I just want to see this team win. And I trust the coaches and management know more than you or me. Since December 1 or post Dillon trade what are his numbers? I am going to guess, trending upward toward that elite 1 offensive d-man that people want to see.

        • but why do you chose to focus on his plus/minus in games he didn’t score? Of course it is going to be lower than when does score. He was still on of the most dominant 5 on 5 scorers in the league last year. 7th of all NHL forwards in GF/60 at EVS.

        • “why do you focus on the games he doesn’t score in”
          If that is your answeer why do you defend Matt Nieto and Patrick Marleau’s play at every turn when both have been offensively challenged for the past 20 games.

          Or is it just convenient for your dumb articles?
          THW quality is just getting worse and worse. What writer argues with fans commenting as if his opinion is more valid? How insecure can you possibly be?

  3. I don’t think there is any doubt Burns should be a forward. Moving him back to D is no different than the Oilers fixing their D problems by moving Taylor Hall back to D. Burns is, at best, an average overall defender (which has value, but not nearly as much as a top 20 NHL forward).

    And to Andrew’s main point, Doug Wilson should be a buyer at the deadline. He has 3 years left of Thornton and Marleau, who are miraculously still top forwards in the NHL at 35 years old. They refuse to be traded, and so the obvious solution is to go for it for three more years. Go with young guys like Karlsson because they are better players, not for the sake of youth.

    And Nieto has been incredible. If you have been watching the games, you know that every line he is put on controls play. That’s what I love about Corsi and Fenwick, they simply quantify what your eyes are telling you if you are really watching for more than goals and assists.

    • Idk about the hall reference, was he ever a D growing up? Yup im in the camp that they should go for it. And yes Nieto has been awesome. just super snake bit points wise.

    • There is a lot of doubt as to where Burns should play. Seems most pundits believe he should be on the blueline, I too concur with that assessment. He is too talented and impactful to play less minutes as a forward and go long stretches wasting energy with little production. Burns at best is an all star caliber blue liner based on his past.

      Why do people say that Marleau and Thornton refused to be traded? We do not know ever they were even asked to waive anything, people can speculate because of rumors, but I believe those guys were never asked. You have to realize other teams leak stuff to disrupt other teams and cause dissension.

      Marleau just sold his house..not sure if that means anything….

      Nieto is a dominant offensive player and at some point pucks will be going in for him.

        • Pierre Mcguire, EJ Hradek, Buccigross oh and good ol Barry Melrose have been complimentary of Burns play at defense this season.

          But I highly doubt that you are on a first name basis with any of these people. There is a difference between a “blogger” which you are and an actual writer.

            • Uhm…Pierre McGuire constantly covers and writes about the Sharks genius. Do you ever watch non Sharks broadcasts? Because there is a country called Canada that considers hockey a pretty big deal.

            • AHAHAHHAAH so the opinions of the analysts who are paid to watch hockey do not count. Way to defend your opinion with valor my friend. Truth, valor, and pure vanity.

              I applaud your blatant disregard for anyone’s opinion but your own and your persistence to insult the readers. Take a bow.

  4. Please explain how trading for Dillon was a ‘today’ move?? Yes, I know they gave up a draft pick but Dillon is 2 years younger than Demers and definitely somebody that fits into a youth movement for the ‘tomorrow team.’ You have a habit of twisting the facts to fit whatever the premise of your story happens to be…that is hack journalism.

    oh, and….fire Wilson.

    • Dillon may be younger than JD, but look right now they need a right handed puck mover like Demers if they want to move Burns back to F. If the Sharks were building only towards the future, they would be looking to acquire players like Dillon but not giving up other young players to do so. Giving up on a guy like Demers is showing that the org is still very much focused on winning now as well. Question is how much are they going for it now and how much are they going for the future. The deadline will show us.

    • Asking wilson to be fired is hack opinion, 10 seasons of playoffs and fielding an upper echelon team. Fleecing the Wild on a couple of trades…..adding subtle pieces that help the team. Wilson knows what he is doing, his biggest challenge is waging psychological warfare on these guys to get them tougher mentally. He called out his game plan in May, he has executed it almost flawlessly, can’t wait to see how this turns out. A trade acquiring non prospects or draft picks is made for today, but can also help obviously tomorrow.

      • well you seem to love scott and brown so you would think he has executed a plan flawlessly, but lots of people believe Wilson has been all over the place, wasting cap space on useless players

        • There are a lot of ignorant people who just did not listen to what Wilson said after the playoff flop, otherwise none of his moves would have been a surprise to anyone, and some people seem shocked. People say he overreacted. Really? He hardly made any changes, he jettisoned to older D-men whose use had come and gone, and he brought in some grit and he allowed some of the younger sharks to compete and take an equity stake in the group. I think Wilson has done a great job after a very difficult off-season, probably the toughest one in franchise history. This franchise has made one mistake of firing Lombardi who apparently knew a thing or two about hockey, let’s not make another one. Sutter too, apparently he knows how to coach. Look at the path of Quenneville in Chicago, eeeerily similar to that of McLellan in terms what the Blues did in the playoffs……fans want quick fixes, kicking two highly respected hockey men is not a good solution.

      • our set up limits replies, so ferrall just add a new comment stream to reply to this if you see it. Brown and Scott average 6-7 minutes a game, any fights or hits in that time is not as effective as 10-12 minute fourth lines who give top guys rest. Thats what a lot of people believe. Fighting is coming to an end in hockey and players with skill are more valuable on the fourth line. You want grit too, but grit and skill in guys like Torres, Desjardins and Wingels.

        As for not overreacting, by player personnel he didnt overreact, but it was widely agreed that Wilson wanted to move Thornton. Thankfully Thornton wouldn’t give in because this team would be lost without him. From sources close to the team, Thornton was never asked to waive but Wilson was hoping to make it so that he would want to leave and ask to leave.

        • Regarding the grit I think we saw Brown has some skill and he showed in games 1 and 2 of the playoffs. However, either McLellan has no faith in his 4th line or he just likes playing 3 lines in the third. So either Wilson needs to address that with McLellan or they need to find some players that McLellan feels like he can play in the third period and take on more minutes. Personally I think the 4th line with Desjardins can handle 10-12 minutes a game.

          it was certainly widely reported that Wilson was trying to trade Marleau and Thornton. But I am not sure he was trying that hard or was all that interested unless the right deal came that did not compromise this team’s ability to compete. Now I do believe Wilson wanted to test Thornton to see how committed he was by making it difficult on him and changing up the leadership somewhat. I think this off-season was a strategic mind game with a lot of fluff and litle substance.

          Wilson to his credit has run a tight ship with very few leaks, so it would seem either he was feeding info or others were just speculating. Apparently there were a couple of locker room incidences that occurred but were kept out of the media, so to be able to do that is pretty impressive and shows he still has a tight grip on the organization. We still do not know what was said in those post collapse meetings.

  5. Plenty of folks think Burns ought to be moved to forward. And if elite 5 on 5 scoring isn’t enough, go look at the +/-. Or pretty much any major stat when he was on the ice as a F at even strength. That said, this team is probably 2 players away from being a serious Cup contender. Unlike prior seasons, this team does have the cap space to pull it off. David Perron, who got traded recently, is the sort of player that could fill one of those spots. If a right handed d-man comes to market at a reasonable price, Burns to forward should be an option. If not, another top 6-ish forward would be helpful

    • You know people just want to pick a fight with me when the main point of this article wasn’t even about Burns to forward, but the Sharks making a decision to buy or sell. If they aren’t going to buy, then they should move as many UFAs as they can for picks.

  6. I have a few questions, first of all what is with the picture “fantasy owners were happy to see Burns back in the lineup?” Uhm he hasn’t missed any games. Seriously what kind of writing is that?

    Also, why is the author shouting at the people making comments? Kind of unprofessional, I mean is he seriously that sensitive about this subject? I dunno THW seems to be getting more like Bleacher Report as the months pass.

    • Ignore the caption, that has been placed with the picture a long time ago, just learned that our editors want us to change the captions if they are outdated.

      I’m not the one typing in all caps lol

  7. Talking EVS because he would still be on the top power play even as an even strength forward. Ignoring power play production because that has nothing to do with his position at EVS. They can still use him on the top unit point man if they chose to even if they also chose to play him as a forward at even strength.

    Burns may have a better GA on the pk this year, but if you are trying to sell to people that Burns is a better pk dman than Vlasic or Braun, be my guest. Burns is not the defensive player away from the puck that those two are.

    • But you have no idea if Burns would be on the top unit if he was a forward this season, you are not the coach. If he wasn’t last season there is a good chance that he wouldn’t this season. And ignoring special teams play is to ignore 20% of the game of hockey.

      Blatant ignorance of these statistics is in a word “bias.”

      • I said if they chose to, they could still have him on top unit, with Boyle gone, regardless of where burns plays at EVS, he is the best fit for No. 1 pp replacement.

        • But you are not the coach. This isn’t a world of “what ifs”
          When burns was a forward he did not play on the top power play, had what 15 minutes of ice time and put up less than 50 points which is quite low for a top line forward.

          You are basically saying, put Burns at forward, put him on the top power play with 5 forwards, something the Sharks have never done and to my knowledge only the Capitals once did back in 2010. You are essentially living in a fantasy world, similar to the one Leafs fan live in where Steven Stamkos will agree to sign there in 2 years.

          NHL Coaches DO NOT and will not think like you. The reason is because they are not named Andrew Bensch. They played NHL hockey, lived it, breathed it and earned it. So suggesting that your way is the only way is a little self indulgent. Suggesting that you know how the Sharks will win the Stanley Cup is quite possibly the most arrogant way of thinking I have ever seen.

  8. Burns Relative Corsi is currently 2nd among Dmen at 2.7% only behind Dillon (better than both Vlasic and Braun)

    Burns 5v5 Goal Differential is indeed dead last no arguing that BUT did you there is an average of 12 penalty minutes called every NHL game AKA 20% of every game is NOT played 5v5. Burns plays 4-5 minutes of his 23 during this span. Disregarding 20% of statistics is a huge disparity. Missing 20% on a test means you just accepted a B- or a C+. That is the type of article and writing that Andrew Bensch is giving by ignoring all advanced stats and only focusing on certain ones.

    Burns goal differential in ALL situations is tops among all Dmen, while his GA per 60 is a mere 5.4 (better than Vlasic, Braun and Hannan) only Dillon is better on the PK per 60.

    Oh my god Burns GF per 60 last season was amazing!!!! anything else? because that is literally the only thing that this stupid argument hinders on, one statistic. His Corsi is doing well right now, his defensive play though not pretty is actually statistically sound. Ignoring PK stats, and total offensive output is a major downfall of this writer.

    It’s as if he is trying to convince both himself and everyone that reads this. Please only read these advanced stats but ignore EVERYTHING ELSE. Ignore Burns PDO, ignore his Corsi, ignore his PK goal differential. IGNORE EVERYTHING ELSE!

    All advanced stats courtesy of

    • Power play isnt included because they wouldnt change a terrific top unit just because he changed positions at EVS. Also, there is a reason Braun and Vlasic see more minutes on the PK than Burns. Better defensive sticks and awareness. They don’t leave their feet and wander out of position. They are known as defensive studs, Burns isn’t.

  9. 75% of his articles include Joe Pavelski moving back to the third line, forgetting the lose of Dany Heatley/ Devin Setoguchi. Or moving Brent Burns to forward, forgetting that he put up a mere 48 points (which he is on pace to eclipse as a Dman. Because NO OTHER SOLUTION EXISTS. And those solutions obviously lead to a Stanley Cup.

    • Judging Burns on points last year is a disservice as he didn’t play on the top unit power play. For example Thornton had over 20 points on the top unit. Burns could have easily had 65-70 points if he were 1) on the top pp and 2) healthy all 82 games.

        • With No. 1 unit pp time, Burns is currently on pace for 22 points come his 69th game of the season. Last year he finished the season with only 11 pp points on the 2nd unit. 48 plus 11, that is 59 points in 69 games last season if he were on the top unit. 59 point in 69 games is a pace for 70 points over a full 82. The math is there if you choose to use it. But if you or anybody wants to disregard Burns’ skill set as a forward by judging him on lack of points, than be my guest. But judging a player primarily on standard player card stats is foolish.

        • “The math is there”
          You just took his 48 points from last season and magically added another 11 points assuming that he would be on the top powerplay unit. If he wasn’t on the top unit last season as a forward why would he be this season?

          And you just made ANOTHER shoulda woulda coulda statement. Burns was on pace for 57 points in 2014. You can’t assume he would have put up more points “if this happened or that happened” Perhaps John Scott would put up 40 points this season if he was paired with Joe Thornton.

        • Sharks blew a 3-0 lead because they did not up their game when it got tougher, they wanted everything on sale and wanted to show the coaches they could win outside of a system that had been proven to be successful, they went mental midget.

    • Seriously, every single article this guy writes he includes Burns in some fashion, its pathetic. Forget the fact that Braun is playing worse as the season is progressing, or that both Nieto and Hertl are having major sophomore slumps on top of aging Marleau and Thornton. Nah everything is on Burns reverting to defense (among league leaders in points)

      • Nieto is having a terrific season if you actually looked into advanced numbers and didn’t just look at player card stats.

        • Is that why Melker Karlsson is about to pass him in points? with close to 1/3 the amount of games played.

          Where you see terrific season most fans see sophomore slump.

        • Most fans do not have the acumen to understand how hockey is played, they are boxscore fans. Whereas hockey is comprised of many different things, and the most important thing is be in a position to succeed, and then other things will follow overtime as things average out. Nieto is doing everything right and having bad puck luck. His speed last night was amazing. Melker is seeing the game incredibly slowly right now which is amazing for a rookie. he has good hockey sense. Nieto is doing the right things and is helping his line to at least be in a position to succeed. It is like fans want to blame the goalie when the puck goes in instead of looking hard at who blew an assignment or who was out of position or who failed to clear a puck. Hockey is a team game and when the puck enters your defensive zone give guys need to be busting their butts doing their jobs, not just the guy in between the pipes.

  10. Story by Andrew Bensch? No need to read. Spoiler alert, its just gonna be comments how Brent Burns should be a forward.

    • I do not get why people waste time posting negative comments. You know who wrote it so why comment if you do not like it. It is like trolls who waste time ripping Niemi or Stalock, really are missing the bigger picture.

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