Yesterday, we started our preview of the abbreviated 2013
training preparation San Jose Sharks camp and season with a look at the team's third pairing. Today, we're onto the second defensive pair, or at least what should be that once groins stopped being sliced up: Brent Burns and the-once-and-future-#7, Brad Stuart.
2013 Cap Hit: $5.76 million
Expected Role: Top power play unit, second defensive pair
Depth Chart Position: No. 3 defenseman
Brent Burns, he of the wicked skating, hair trigger, and questionable defensive choices, is still a unique property in today's NHL. With much more in common with Sandis Ozolinsh in his prime (though Ozo never rocked facial hair quite like this) than Scott Niedermayer, when healthy Burns can be one of the top blueline offensive threats in the entire league. His good-not-great 2011-12 campaign could be attributed to three key factors.
Factor 1: The Breaking-In Period
During the first six weeks of the season or so, it quickly became clear that cutting-and-pasting Burns into Todd McLellan's system wouldn't work right away. Caught out of position like Ian Curtis on a dancing fit, Burns' incredible speed helped alleviate some of the problems. A transition period was expected, and Burns' protected competition/zone starts made sense. There won't be a brand new system for Burns to learn, and that should help minimize completely blown assignments.
Factor 2: Anchors Called Murray
No matter how you sliced up the numbers, Burns' numbers totally sank last year when paired with Douglas Murray. On the flip side, his non-Murray Corsi was among the league's best. Murray gets some slack for being some level of hurt during the whole season, but in general the combination wasn't working at all. This year, Burns looks to be paired with Stuart, who is certainly more mobile than Murray and also used to the stay-at-home role for a rover (more on this below).
Factor 3: Groin Pains
It's January 2013 and while there's nothing official about it, Burns apparently still isn't 100% from his off-season groin surgery. The problem with groin injuries is that they can re-appear at nearly any opportunity. The silver lining is that Burns played with the injury for the second half of last season and STILL looked like the best skater on the Sharks plenty of times. Burns' also carried an atrocious shooting percentage last year, something that simply can't carry over into the new campaign.
We may not get to see Burns until February, and we may not even see a 100% Burns all season. However, two of the three factors that hindered him last season shouldn't even be in the equation this year, and that bodes well for Burns - when he's in the lineup.
2013 Cap Hit: $3.6 million
Expected Role: Top penalty killer, stay-at-home second pair defenseman
Depth Chart Position: No. 4 defenseman
(Stick tap to JJ at Winging It In Motown for some insight on Stuart.)
Brad Stuart made it pretty clear where he wanted to be when the puck dropped in 2013. With a wife and kids in California, a West Coast destination was practically telegraphed in the media. Whatever the family situation was, though, it weighed on his performancewith the Detroit Red Wings, and Stuart saw his play tail off. Now that he's living in the same time zone, let alone metro area, as his family, those head-in-the-clouds concerns should disappear in San Jose. Let's hope his rocky play truly was due to family matters.
Outside of that, Stuart had the defensive role to his partner's freelancing tendencies (usually Niklas Kronwall); that's the way Detroit coach Mike Babcock wanted it, and that's they way it played out. For the most part, it worked over four seasons, and Stuart played a physical game with some (15-20 points) offensive upside while being a neutral-zone presence/defensive zone puck chaser in Babcock's system.
Generally healthy and reliable, Stuart won't win any speed competitions but is one of the better-skating defenseman in the league. He's also come into his own as a rock-solid top-four blueliner since joining the Red Wings and learning from Nicklas Lidstrom, along with being alleviated of offensive pressures.
In San Jose, Stuart is expected to play the same stay-at-home role for Brent Burns (assuming McLellan keeps the successful Dan Boyle/Marc-Edouard Vlasic pair together), though Burns' recovering groin will probably make this a fluid situation. Chances are, he'll change from the right side in Detroit to the left side in San Jose. That would be a concern except for the fact that Stuart has split between the two during his career, and that should squash any transition concerns quickly (though a proper training camp and pre-season would have been helpful).
A best-case scenario sees Stuart be Burns' rock at even strength, some second-unit power play duty, and first-unit penalty killing. Given that his uneven final season in Detroit seemed to involve family concerns that are now addressed, it looks like there's a greater chance for success than not.