Sharks blueline not producing as expected offensively, but a resurgence could be on the way

When the San Jose Sharks acquired Brent Burns last offseason, many (including myself) thought it would bring about a renaissance on the offensive front for San Jose. Not just for the forwards, who would clearly benefit from playing with a talented puck mover such as Burns, but for the blueline as a whole as well.

The addition of Burns would, in theory, allow San Jose to do three things-- the first is reduce Dan Boyle's minutes (making him more effective with less workload), allow Marc-Edouard Vlasic to expand his offensive game (by virtue of being paired with Burns), and free up space for Jason Demers to clean house against bottom line forwards as he played on the third pairing.

For the most part things haven't worked out that way.

Boyle will enter Wednesday's game on pace for his lowest point per game total since 2003-2004, Burns has amassed only 10 points, and Demers has struggled his way towards a mere 6 points thus far this season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is only defenseman on the team who has managed to exceed expectations offensively this season, with much of that coming during his Bobby Orr esque run in late November when he scored seven points in three games.

In other words, the Sharks blueline has continued the trend of seeing their offensive output decrease ever since Rob Blake and Christian Ehrhoff left the team in successive years during the first two years of Todd McLellan's tenure behind the bench.

San Jose Sharks Production From Defenseman

Year GP Goals Assists
2008-2009 82
2.48 22
816 5.0%
2.09 15
82 28
1.85 7
30 11
1.83 4

What those numbers don't show you at first glance is a few things. The first is the amount of shots San Jose's blueline has been putting up this year-- they're currently on pace to log 877 shots this season, which is probably a team record for shots from the blueline. This is a good sign to see and indicates some more goals could be on their way.

The average shooting percentage for defenseman last season was 5.08%, 5.16% in 09-10, and 5.39% in 08-09. For whatever reason-- whether it be putting low percentage shots on net to generate a rebound, a lack of traffic, or just plain luck-- the Sharks blueline core hasn't had the goal scoring success one would expect to see with shot totals this high. Dan Boyle is the one who has been snakebit the hardest in this regard, as 2 goals in 92 shots indicates something might be up with San Jose's number one defenseman.

Speaking of Boyle, it turns out his early season struggles weren't just age or performance related. As Boyle told Jamie Baker on Sharks radio following Saturday's game against Edmonton, he had actually been playing with a broken foot during the start of the season.

"I don’t want to make it sound like an excuse, but [injuries have] been a factor. I had a broken foot there for a while, and it really hurt my skating. Just being healthy for me has been a big difference the last five or six games or so."

Obviously, a broken foot would hinder one of Boyle’s biggest strengths – his foot speed.

"That’s been the thing. I think my skating has always been my strong suit. For the first 15 or 20 games or so I was a step behind, and I was creating a lot of problems out there," he told Baker.

>> Kevin Kurz, CSN Sharks Talk

First things first, you have to think (hope?) the Sharks wouldn't have been pushing Boyle if they felt he was at risk of aggravating the injury and becoming worse off during the year. There's still the issue of continuing to lean on him so heavily when the foot was clearly doing a pretty big disservice to his game, but at the very least it seems unlikely they would risk shooting themselves in the foot literally and figuratively by playing him with an injury that could have gotten worse.

The second aspect of this is the fact that a healthy Boyle should now be able to provide more offensively than he has given the team this year. As he mentioned to Baker, the injury really put him behind the eight ball in what has been his best asset over the years-- his skating ability, which directly effects his ability to move the puck out of the zone, up the ice, and in the offensive zone. With Boyle getting healthy for the first time this season, it only seems natural that the point production will begin to follow.

The other aspects of what will be a more dangerous defensive core going forward are circumstantial but relevant. You have to think there's more the team will get out of Burns in the raw numbers, especially when one considers just how good his underlying statistics have been all season. After a really rough stretch to start the year Jason Demers has been much better as of late and seems to be finding the groove he established himself in last season where he was one of San Jose's best blueliners down the stretch. And while Justin Braun hasn't racked up the points he looks like he is capable of, he's looked strong on the backend all season and continues to find a way to get his shots on net.

Coupled with the large shot totals the blueline has put up this season and things look like they could be on the upswing for San Jose's blueline from an offensive perspective. It won't fix the penalty kill outright, but maybe an extra goal here or there makes those shorthanded struggles moot.

One can hope.