Burns' first year a season-long adjustment


Burns' first year a season-long adjustment

SAN JOSE Its been a season-long adjustment period for the guy that was supposed to put the Sharks over the hump.

Brent Burns was acquired from the Minnesota Wild last summer at a hefty cost, when the Sharks sent forward Devin Setoguchi, top prospect Charlie Coyle and a first round pick to the Wild in exchange for Burns and a second rounder, and then promptly signed him to a five-year contract extension worth more than 5.7 million a year. The prevailing thought was that Burns was going to help end a 20-year drought for a club still looking for its first trip to the Stanley Cup Final, after falling just short in consecutive seasons.

That weight and expectation may have burdened Burns at the start of the year, according to the head coach.

I thought initially, he came in and was too focused on getting it all done at once, Todd McLellan said. When hes relaxed and settled, he is very, very good.

Burns is a man of few words when there are cameras and microphones in front of him.

We let you guys do the talking, and we just play, he said. Theres going to be ups-and-downs throughout the year. There always has been and there always will be, individually and as a team. Thats the way it always goes.

Statistically, an "up-and-down" season is exactly right regarding Burns. Through his first 37 games, Burns had six goals and six assists for 12 points. In his final 44 (he missed one game in January due to injury), Burns produced 25 points (five goals, 20 assists).

That includes the 10 games immediately following the All-Star break, when Burns had two goals and nine assists for 11 points. But things got away from him and the team once more, as the Sharks struggled through late February and March. Burns slowed offensive production and mistakes defensively werent helping.

Later in the year when he struggled a little bit, I know he felt like this is on me, Im the new guy, and its not going well. We talked about it a bit, and after that he relaxed a bit and played, McLellan said.

The most noticeable year-over-year stat when it comes to Burns is his drop off in penalty minutes. He finished with 98 in his final season with the Wild last year, but that dropped to just 34 this season. In fact, Burns didnt have a single penalty minute until Dec. 3, in the 23rd game of the season.

McLellan puts a premium on playing disciplined hockey, as his club was shorthanded fewer than any other team in the league. Burns rejects the theory that he was less physical this season than in the past, even though it seemed like that aspect of his game was less prevalent in his first year with San Jose.

I didnt change anything. Im not, not hitting guys anymore because I dont want to get a penalty, he said.

McLellan doesnt equate Burns drop in penalty minutes to a lack of physical play, either.

I dont think hes less physical at all. Hes checking, hes putting himself in good positions where he doesnt have to reach and lunge or anything like that. Hes defending well, McLellan said. Hes very mobile and very agile, so if hes half-beat hes not completely beat. He has the ability to recover and not take those reaching or holding penalties.

Its Burns first trip to the playoffs since 2008 when he was still with Minnesota. Hes never advanced past the first round.

And, hey, theres still a chance that Burns could help the Sharks reach to the finals. The seventh-seeded Sharks are in a lower starting position than they are accustomed to when compared with recent years, but it was just two seasons ago that a team in that same position made it to the finals when the Philadelphia Flyers lost to Antti Niemis Chicago Blackhawks.

Its a great time to play, and its exciting to be back, Burns said.

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic will compete in the upcoming IIHF World Championships for Team Canada, it was announced on Friday.

The tournament runs from May 5-21 in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany. 

Vlasic, 30, a native of Montreal, has played in the tournament twice before in 2009 and 2012. He also represented Canada in the 2014 Olympic Games, helping it to a gold medal, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which Canada also captured.

In 75 games with the Sharks this season, Vlasic posted 28 points (6g, 22a) and a +4 rating. He was second on the team in shorthanded time on ice (2:04 per game) and blocked shots (146).

A pending restricted free agent in 2018, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson called getting Vlasic signed to a long-term deal an offseason priority for the club. The two sides can begin negotiations on July 1.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” Wilson said. “[He] is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

The Sharks lost in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs to Edmonton, although Vlasic and partner Justin Braun helped to keep Connor McDavid in check at even strength. The league's leading scorer had just one even strength point in the six-game series, an empty net goal with less than one second left in Game 6.

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

SAN JOSE – The Sharks didn’t make any blockbuster moves last summer, content to make another run in 2016-17 with largely the same group that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.

They still acquired a notable player, though, when Mikkel Boedker was signed on July 1 to add an element that the Sharks knew they needed more of moving forward – speed. Boedker was expected to make the team faster, after the Sharks were exposed for not having enough of that against Pittsburgh in the NHL’s final round, as well as play in a top six role. 

At the time, it was hailed as a slick, under-the-radar move that wasn’t going to change the dynamic of the club but could help push it over the top.

When Boedker was a healthy scratch in games three and four of the first round against Edmonton, the evidence became clear, though, that this was a decision that fell flat on its face. 

Frankly, Boedker – who is signed for three more years with a $4 million salary cap hit – brings back visions of Sharks bust Marty Havlat. You know the skill is there, but the desire to use it on a nightly basis while showing any semblance of a battle level is lacking. 

Should the Sharks give Boedker another chance next season, or should they do everything in their power to try and move him? That’s a question that will likely be debated in the front office over the next several weeks.

On get-away day on Monday, indications were that the Sharks were planning on sticking with the 27-year-old, who finished with 26 points in the regular season (10g, 16a) and added one goal and one assist in four games in the playoffs.

“He has the things we’re looking for: his career scoring average, his speed, [penalty killing] ability,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “Did he meet the expectations that he had for himself [or] that we had for him? No. Can we get that out of him? Pete [DeBoer] believes we can.”

DeBoer has known Boedker since he played for him in 2007-08 in Kitchener (OHL). Despite scratching him in the playoffs, DeBoer said he saw “huge improvement” in Boedker throughout the course of the season after the forward spent nearly all of his NHL career in Arizona.

“There was an adjustment. He’s played 6-7 years a certain way in the NHL,” DeBoer said. “We’ve asked him to play differently here, and there was an adjustment.”

Boedker still believes that he can be a fit in San Jose.

“I think it will be and it can be,” he said. “It’s learning period, but you’ve also got to look in the mirror yourself and see what you can change and what assets you need to bring. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to do that.”

The list of Sharks depth forwads that had frustrating seasons hardly begins and ends with Boedker, though.

Veteran Joel Ward’s production dipped from 43 points last season to 29 in 2016-17, although that probably isn’t too surprising considering he’s 36. Tomas Hertl is proving to be a streaky player, too, although his season was interrupted by another a knee injury.

The bigger disappointment came from players like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi, who both made big impressions in the 2016 playoffs but struggled to produce consistent offense this year. Both were mentioned by name by DeBoer on Monday.

There are some promising youngsters in the pipeline like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but it’s still too early to project any of them as can’t-miss scorers at the NHL level.

“I think we’ve got a large group of guys that I like, but need to step up,” DeBoer said. “Is Sorensen [like] Donskoi next year, where he takes a step back, or [does he take a] step forward? We’ve got a lot of guys that there’s a lot of potential there – Chris Tierney. 

“There’s a lot of those guys, but they need to have big summers and take a step, and show that they’re not just one season or one month players.”