Sharks checklist, No. 10: Make Burns a forward permanently

Sharks checklist, No. 10: Make Burns a forward permanently
June 3, 2013, 3:45 pm
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Brent Burns tallied all 20 of his points this season as a forward in just 23 games, tying him for fifth on the team in scoring. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Editor's note: Over the next two weeks, Sharks Insider Kevin Kurz will present 10 suggestions (one per weekday) for what the Sharks should do before training camp opens in mid-September. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.

#10 – Tell Brent Burns he’s a forward

On the day the Sharks cleaned out their lockers, I asked Brent Burns – perhaps naively – if he would find out where the team wants him to play next year when he walks into the dressing room on the first day of training camp and sees what color his practice jersey is.

“Probably not. I have to find out a little bit, I think,” said Burns, eliciting some chuckles from the media. “It will affect a lot of training. I think the way mentally you come in, it’s going to change a lot.

“If they have an inkling that they want me to play forward, I’d have to change a lot of things in my training. If they wanted me to play D, you always change things every year. Maybe I’d ask, what are you guys thinking you want me to do, so I have a clue? That might help.”

[RELATED: Where will Brent Burns play next season?]

He won’t have to ask. Todd McLellan, later that same day, said the team owes it to Burns to tell him where it would like him to play.

It’s hard to imagine him transitioning back to the blue line, though.

There aren’t many players in the league like the 28-year-old Burns, who was the Sharks’ best forward on many nights, using his massive, 6’5’’ frame and impressive speed for a big man to get in on the forecheck and make things difficult for opposing defensemen.

Need proof? The Kings’ Drew Doughty – one of the most open and honest players in the league when it comes to interviews, not to mention one of the best defensemen in the NHL – said during the second round: “He’s still a good defensive forward, but that’s not even why we’re worried about him. On the forecheck he’s relentless, he works so hard and he finishes all his checks. He’s got a good stick, a long one, which makes it tough to get passes by him. … I don’t really know if he’s following the system, it just kind of seems like he’s everywhere just trying to run around and hit guys. It’s definitely something we need to be aware of, and he’s one of their top players.”

On the scoresheet, Burns tallied all 20 of his points this season as a forward in just 23 games, tying him for fifth on the team in scoring. More importantly, 17 of Burns’ points came at even strength, an area in which the Sharks struggled mightily before Burns moved up front on March 12 (he played one more game on defense, on March 30). San Jose’s goals-per-game, 29th in the league at the time, increased by more than half a goal after the move.

Furthermore, the chemistry both on and off the ice between Burns, Joe Thornton and TJ Galiardi was obvious. Thornton seemed to get an emotional boost from playing with Burns and carried that into the playoffs, while Galiardi was an effective player more times than not when he moved to the wing of that line in mid-April. They deserve a chance to stay together in the fall, with the benefit of a full training camp and exhibition schedule.

Burns was brought in two years ago to be the long term replacement for Dan Boyle, but there’s no turning back now after his success as a forward. The Sharks would be best served to tell him early this offseason that he’ll be returning to that spot so he can prepare physically, and be even better next season.

Tuesday: No. 9 -- Re-sign Scott Gomez, but only if the price is right.