CHICAGO - MAY 21: Adam Burish #37 of the Chicago Blackhawks checks Kent Huskins #40 of the San Jose Sharks into the Blackhawks bench in the first period of Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 21, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Burish has scored 25 goals and 54 points...in 297 career NHL games. But he's never realy been cast in a scoring role at the NHL level, especially not in Dallas where he's been deployed heavily in the defensive zone at even-strength, starting 64% of his non-neutral 5v5 shifts there over his past two seasons with the Stars. He did so against very difficult competition in 2010-11 under Marc Crawford and was still a plus player in terms of traditional +/- and finished even further in the black in terms of on-ice goal difference this past season when he was mostly playing against the third- and fourth-line competition he should be expected to face in San Jose's bottom six.
A big reason for those numbers though, and the reason I personally believe the Sharks brass specifically targeted Burish, was his considerable on-ice save percentage, meaning the combined EV SV% of Dallas' goalies when Burish was on the ice. It's been a ridiculously high .935 SV% each of the past two seasons, was a .933 in 2009-10 when he played in front of Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet in Chicago and a .943 in 08-09 when Burish's Blackhawks were backstopped by Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin. In fact, among forwards who have skated at least 2000 5v5 minutes since the start of '08, only eleven have had a higher on-ice SV% than Burish. The Sharks appeared to be interested in Kent Huskins primarily because of his spectacular on-ice SV% numbers so the question really becomes: does San Jose believe certain players, Burish among them, are capable of consistently suppressing opposing shooting percentage?
The notion of shot quality, and individual players' impact on it both on the offensive and defensive side of the puck, is a controversial one. Vic Ferrari and Tyler Dellow have both demonstrated that driving on-ice SV% isn't all that repeatable of a skill but given that Burish has been doing this for four consecutive seasons, in front of very mediocre goaltending in Chicago and Dallas with the exception of this past year, he might be one of the few outliers. And, looking at the top forwards and top defensemen in on-ice SV% since 2008, a large number of them have been acquired, drafted, retained or otherwise linked to the Sharks during Doug Wilson's regime; Burish, Kyle Wellwood, Ben Eager, Logan Couture, Manny Malhotra, Torrey Mitchell, Travis Moen, Daniel Winnik, Jamal Mayers and Mike Grier up front in addition to Huskins, Rob Blake, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Douglas Murray and Willie Mitchell (for about a week anyway) on defense. That might be considerable evidence they look at this sort of thing and believe it's a sustainable talent at the player level or I could just be creating something out of nothing.
Either way, Burish has either suppressed opposing shot quality or gotten exceedingly lucky each of the past four seasons and it's resulted in a low rate of goals against for his team when he's been on the ice, despite him playing tough minutes against good opposing players and routinely getting outshot. Despite that, I can't say this deal makes a lot of sense. Unless Todd McLellan is planning on significantly altering his forward deployment tactics for next season, Burish will be playing relatively soft minutes against almost exclusively bottom-six competition with relatively balanced zone starts. And as good as Burish has been at driving his goalies' save percentages at even-strength, that ability hasn't really translated into similar success on the penalty kill where it's no secret the Sharks need help. He's never averaged even 2 minutes per game in that game state. Burish isn't an awful player by any means but, like Michal Handzus a year ago, he doesn't appear to be much of a fit on this team barring serious strategic changes behind the bench. The four-year term also seems quite excessive for an extremely replaceable player, especially considering the volume of better options on the market. It's hard to pass judgment on a deal like this before gauging Burish's impact in a Sharks sweater but, at this point, it looks like one the Sharks will regret although at least the cap hit isn't debilitating.