SAN JOSE – So is he a power forward, or a puck-moving defenseman?
When it comes to Brent Burns’ position for the 2013-14 season, it’s still TBD, according to Doug Wilson. Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan mentioned after the season that they would like the 28-year-old to know what they have in mind for him, and Burns himself said it would affect how he trains in the offseason.
“We’re not there yet, but it’s a good luxury to have,” Wilson said about the looming decision.
While Burns was a force up front with 20 points in 23 games, playing mostly with Joe Thornton and TJ Galiardi, it doesn’t appear to be a slam dunk that he’ll be a forward when training camp opens in the fall. That will likely depend on what the Sharks’ roster looks like.
For instance, Wilson could always explore the market for defenseman Dan Boyle, whose name has been consistently circulated in trade rumors and who has one year remaining on his contract and a limited no-trade clause. The Sharks acquired Burns in the summer of 2011, and Wilson still sees him as a potential long term replacement for the 36-year-old Boyle.
“That’s why we acquired him. He scored 17 goals as a defenseman two years ago. That’s why we did that deal. The supply and demand to find offensive defensemen who can shoot and run a power play, that’s the unique skill set that Brent has,” Wilson said of the trade that sent Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first round pick to Minnesota for Burns and a second round pick.
“The Danny Boyle’s, you can probably only fill one hand with that level of player. That’s why, when we went through the process of acquiring Brent Burns – there are so few players of that nature, that you’ve got to give to get.
“I think Danny can still play several more years, especially if you manage his minutes, like we did this year. But, there will come a point. … that’s why having a guy like Burnzie, who can play forward but still play the point on the power play, you have that luxury.”
Wilson also suggested that even if Burns returns as a forward in the fall, the option still exists of him returning to play defense at some point. Burns is signed through 2016-17.
“He can be a dominant defenseman in this league, he’s proven that in the past," Wilson said. "It’s where we need to use him, and the timing of that this year, was we needed him up front. He filled a need for us. We wanted to play an attacking game. I don’t know how you defend against him because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, so how do they know? But, that was part of how we wanted to play. We’re coming after you, we’re attacking, and he fit perfectly.
“But he can also, when we get to the decision point, it could be a different decision this year than it could be next year.”
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Along with Boyle, the Sharks also have two other key contributors entering the final year of their contracts in Thornton and Patrick Marleau. All three players would be unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2014.
Wilson never comments publically on contract negotiations, but said: “We’re in a great situation with all three of them in that they all want to be here. They’re playing at a very high level, and are still playing at a high level."
“We try and make this be a place where players want to play. They respect, and I think have welcomed, the additional growth of some of our guys. I think those conversations will take place in due time and at the right time. Much like this year, it’s how we perform as a team, too, as you go into next season. Guys that are healthy, can still skate and still play, they don’t have a tendency to fall off the map as players that struggle a little bit or have injury histories.”