Vegas picks defenseman Schlemko from Sharks in expansion draft

Vegas picks defenseman Schlemko from Sharks in expansion draft

UPDATE (6:28pm PT on Wednesday): The Las Vegas Golden Knights have selected Sharks defenseman David Schlemko in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.

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A few hours before the Vegas Golden Knights roster was set to be unveiled, word leaked on which Sharks player they have selected.

Defenseman David Schlemko will be headed to the expansion team, which will begin play in the fall, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.

A source told NBC Sports California that there is no side deal or trade between the Sharks and Golden Knights. Vegas is simply selecting one of the available players that the Sharks did not protect ahead of the expansion draft.

It’s possible that the Golden Knights are selecting Schlemko with the purpose of trading him to another team. The 30-year-old is signed for the next three years at a reasonable $2.1 million salary cap hit.

The Sharks should have internal options to replace Schlemko, who, in his only season with the Sharks, notched two goals and 16 assists for 18 points in 62 games while skating primarily on the third defense pair with Brenden Dillon.

Dylan DeMelo, who has served as the seventh defenseman for each of the last two seasons, could finally break through to earn a full time spot in the active lineup. Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan, who both spent the majority of the 2016-17 season with the AHL Barracuda, were signed to two-year contract extensions late last week and could be ready to break through.

By selecting Schlemko, Vegas is passing on other available Sharks like Dillon, Paul Martin, Joel Ward and Mikkel Boedker.

Brent Burns' path to Norris was an unconventional one

Brent Burns' path to Norris was an unconventional one

It was February 22, 2013, and the Sharks were in Chicago for a game in the first half of the lockout-shortened season.

In the third period of a 1-1 tie, Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad accelerated towards the Sharks’ end on what looked like a harmless two-on-two rush. Directly in front of Saad in the neutral zone was a backwards-skating Brent Burns, who puzzlingly slowed up, pivoted the wrong way, and allowed Saad far too much room to fire a wrist shot from the circle that cleanly beat Antti Niemi. It was the game-winner in a 2-1 Chicago victory.

In the hallway outside the visiting dressing room at United Center afterwards, then-coach Todd McLellan wasn’t pleased. 

"I thought that we let a player in a situation that wasn't very dangerous skate into a primary scoring spot without even challenging him,” MeLellan said. "I'm not sure if our goalie was on the angle or not, but I'm disappointed we didn't challenge [Saad] earlier."

Translation: Burns misplayed it. Badly.

Burns, it was later revealed, was having difficulty with his mobility after an offseason surgery. About a month later, also partially because of that injury, he was converted into a power forward – and he was an effective one, at that. The thought of him eventually winning a Norris Trophy in his career would have been preposterous as the abbreviated 2013 season came to a close.

Four years later, though, it’s happened. Burns was named as the NHL’s most outstanding defenseman for the 2016-17 season at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, the first Sharks player to ever capture the prestigious award. It capped off a dominant season for Burns, who even got some votes for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

The path that Burns took to winning the Norris is as unique as his fashion sense.

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After more than a season playing right wing, including the entirety of 2013-14 when he posted 22 goals and 48 points in 69 games, general manager Doug Wilson announced after the Sharks’ disastrous first round choke job against the Kings that Burns would be going back to the blue line the next season.

It was a move that McLellan and the Sharks’ coaching staff were never fully on board with, and when McLellan was asked in training camp whether Burns would stay on the blue line, he replied it was “a commitment, right now.”

Burns would admit more than a year later that that ambiguity wasn’t helpful, and it showed on the ice. While the 2014-15 season was a disaster for the Sharks on a number of fronts, Burns never looked comfortable in his own zone. Offensively, he was strong, posting 60 points in 82 games. But untimely turnovers, questionable decisions with the puck and poor positioning plagued him all season long. The Sharks missed the playoffs.

Internally, there were some in the Sharks organization – in addition to standing those behind the bench – that thought the team would never win consistently as long as Burns was playing 20 minutes a night on defense. He was just too erratic.

But the Sharks missing the playoffs that season may have proven to be a blessing in disguise, as least as far Burns is concerned. The defenseman joined Team Canada for the World Championships, coached by McLellan and assistant Pete DeBoer, and was dominant. He was named as the best defenseman in the tournament while the Canadiens won gold.

Soon after that, DeBoer took over the Sharks. There was no question in his mind that Burns was going to stay on the blue line in 2015-16, after he saw firsthand how Burns performed in the Worlds.

“I think there’s going to be a comfort level that he’s going to get to again,” DeBoer said at the 2015 draft, shortly after taking the Sharks job. “He’s coming [in] with a lot of confidence off the World Championships. I’m not worried about him defensively.”

While there were still some kinks in Burns’ game early in DeBoer’s first season as the Sharks hovered around .500 through Christmas, the Wookiee kept improving. DeBoer and assistant coach Bob Boughner decided that the best way to handle Burns play was to allow him the freedom to roam, while pairing him with responsible free agent addition/defensive-minded defenseman Paul Martin. Burns was free from the shackles of the McLellan-Jim Johnson approach, which was a little too technical for his liking.

“I think it was great with Pete coming in and just saying, ‘hey, he’s a d-man.’ I think that set the tone a lot for me,” Burns said late in April 2016.

By the end of the season, Burns was dominant. He ended up as a Norris Trophy finalist for the first time, ultimately finishing third, after he was second in the NHL in scoring among defensemen with 75 points while playing a sound defensive game, too. His play over the second half and in the playoffs catapulted the Sharks to their first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Final that June.

* * *

This season Burns picked up where he left off at the end of the Sharks’ lengthy playoff run. He was far and away the team's most valuable player, leading the Sharks (and all NHL defensemen) with 76 points. His 29 goals were tops among NHL blueliners and tied for the Sharks team lead, while his 320 shots led the NHL.

Now one of the best two-way players in the NHL, skating as a forward for a season and a half helped to make Burns the force he is today, according to McLellan.

“I think the time that he spent up front has allowed him to finally become that dynamic offensive d-man,” McLellan, now the Oilers’ head coach, said last December. "He understands what it feels like to drive the puck to the net, where the holes are. I think that time that he played up front really allows him to be a multi-positional type guy. … He’s taking charge, and it’s happening for him. Tremendous player."

His development resulted in the Sharks signing Burns to a massive eight-year, $64 million contract extension on Nov. 22, 2016. That’s as clear a signal as any that the Sharks believe the 32-year-old will continue to be a Norris contender, at least in the near future. 

Wilson, who deserves an enormous amount of credit for getting Burns back on the blue line amid a sea of doubters, expressed confidence that the six-foot-five, 230-pounder could keep on dominating when that contract kicks in next season.

“To see that size and that skill set and that type of shot, there’s not many players like that that can create offense from the back end. But, he also defends well,” Wilson said.

“I honestly do feel he’s just coming into his prime.”

Sharks' Burns wins 2017 Norris Memorial Trophy as NHL's top defenseman

Sharks' Burns wins 2017 Norris Memorial Trophy as NHL's top defenseman

Brent Burns was presented with the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league's most outstanding defenseman at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

He is the first-ever player in Sharks franchise history to win the award.

“At the end of the day it just shows that you’re around great people,” Burns said. “I’m lucky from day one Doug [Wilson has] really believed in me, [and] our coaches have been awesome.”

Burns, who quipped that he “kind of blacked out there for a little bit” when his name was announced, rattled off a list of past and present Sharks that aided him on his journey.

“I’ve said before, coming to San Jose and getting to learn from a guy like Jumbo (Joe Thornton), and Patty (Patrick Marleau), and Pavs (Joe Pavelski), and Clowie (Ryane Clowe), Boyler (Dan Boyle) – these guys all really helped change my mindset and the way I looked at the game. And Paulie (partner Paul Martin) now has been huge for me on and off the ice. I can’t say enough about how much he’s helped me.”

After finishing first among defensemen in the regular season with 29 goals and 76 points, and leading the league with 320 shots, Burns was thought to be the frontrunner ahead of fellow finalists Erik Karlsson from Ottawa and Tampa Bay’s Viktor Hedman. Karlsson, a two-time winner, was second.

Last season, Burns finished third behind winner Drew Doughty and Karlsson. This time, he got to walk up to the mic.

“Going up there doing a speech is a lot harder than getting forechecked by four or five guys,” he said.

Burns received 96 first place votes to 63 for Karlsson and three for Hedman.

Burns, 32, became just the second NHL defenseman to lead his team in goals (29, tied with Joe Pavelski), assists (47) and points, joining Kevin Hatcher (1990-91, Washington Capitals). Burns’ 29 goals were the most by an NHL defenseman since Mike Green had 31 for Washington in 2008-09. He played in all 82 games, posting a plus-19 rating with 40 penalty minutes.

Named as the Sharks team MVP as chosen by the local media, as well as the Fan Favorite award this season, Burns signed an eight-year, $64 million contract extension with the Sharks on Nov. 22, 2016 that kicks in next season.

The deal keeps him with the organization potentially through 2024-25.

Burns was also a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award as the league’s most outstanding player as chosen by the NHLPA, but that was won by Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.