It’s hard to image that 10 years ago this month, the San Jose Sharks announced that Brent Burns would remain a forward for the upcoming 2013-2014 season. I’m not sure what’s more shocking, the fact that it happened considering what Burns is now or the fact that it was an entire decade ago.
Back then, writer Derek Tanabe argued that it was a good plan:
“In 23 games up front this season, Burns scored 20 points, 17 of which came at even-strength; particularly impressive because Burns played just 301 even-strength minutes as a forward. In fact, Burns averaged an incredible 3.39 points per 60 even-strength minutes in his time up front. Exactly one forward who played at least 300 minutes at evens this season scored at a higher clip: Sidney Crosby. It’s a small sample to be sure but even including his unproductive minutes on defense, Burns’ 5v5 scoring rate ranked 21st in the NHL and first on the Sharks.”
His reasoning, and Wilson’s for that matter, was sound. However, as we like to do with these flashbacks, let’s take a look at the results.
Brent Burns’ year as a forward
In his one full season as a forward, Burns played 69 games and logged 1,160 minutes of ice time. During that time, he did not score at the torrid pace he was on during the initial part of the forward experiment during the post-lockout 2013 season. Burns scored an admirable 48 points (22 G, 26 A).
Three of those goals led to Burns’ first NHL hat trick, where he put three past St. Louis’ goaltender on Nov. 29, 2013.
During the 2013-14 season, Burns had 245 shots on goal and was 46.56% in the faceoff circle. While not Art Ross worthy, it was a good season for the wrecking ball as a forward.
Everything seemed great for the Sharks. And then the playoffs happened…
The 2013-14 playoffs may be one of the more humbling experiences for Sharks fans. Headed into the postseason as a favorite, San Jose met up with California rivals the Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks appeared to have things in hand with a 3-0 lead in the series. Then, everything fell apart. San Jose allowed the Kings to roar back with four unanswered wins, giving way to the reverse sweep. The Sharks watched from the sidelines as the Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Burns, for his part, had just 3 points (2 G, 1 A) in 7 games of the series and was a miserable minus-5.
The lost season
While the loss cannot be entirely hung on the push to make Burns a forward, it led to what was possibly the most tumultuous 12-15 months in Sharks’ history.
Doug Wilson announced that fan favorite Dan Boyle would not receive a new contract. In that same moment, he pushed Burns back to defense since San Jose lacked the defensive depth to do anything else.
Joe Thornton was effectively stripped of his captaincy. The team floundered with no real leader and four players rotating with an “A” on their chest. Thornton and Wilson allowed the disagreement to play out in front of the media.
As the season began, San Jose was lackluster in its start. The team was middling through October and November of 2014 and then never found its way back. By April, the Sharks were on the outside of the playoff picture.
Burns returns to defense
Despite that, Burns did well back on the blueline. He played 82 games for the Sharks in 2014-15 and scored 60 points (17 G, 43 A). He equaled his shot total from the previous season with 245.
Burns followed that up with another impressive season, playing the best hockey of his career. With Paul Martin at his side, Burns excelled. He finished the season with 75 points (27 G, 48 A) and added another 24 points (7 G, 17 A) in 24 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sharks made it all the way to the Cup Finals, though the players ultimately did not raise the cup.
With Martin by his side again in the 2016-17 season, Burns put together a Norris-caliber run. In 82 games, he scored 76 points (29 G, 47 A) and was a plus-19. He was awarded the Norris Trophy at the end of the season.