Chas­ing Bobby Orr

Sharks’ Burns has a real shot at his­tory this sea­son


Brent Burns has a chance to move into the rar­efied air of legendary de­fence­man Bobby Orr.

The 31-year-old from Bar­rie, Ont., could be­come only the sec­ond de­fence­man to ever win the Art Ross tro­phy as the NHL’s lead­ing scorer, join­ing Orr who did it twice for the Bos­ton Bru­ins — the last time in 1975.

With 64 points, Burns ranked third in the scor­ing race en­ter­ing Wed­nes­day’s ac­tion, only three points back of Con­nor McDavid for the over­all lead.

“It’s out of this world,” Tampa Bay Light­ning de­fence­man Vic­tor Hed­man said of Burns’s per­for­mance for the San Jose Sharks this sea­son.

Burns is on pace for 37 goals and 88 points, to­tals that are prac­ti­cally un­heard of for an NHL de­fence­man. Only two have ever hit both marks in the same sea­son and they’re both Hall of Famers from ear­lier eras — Orr and Paul Cof­fey did it three times each.

No one has man­aged the feat in more than 30 years. Cof­fey was the last to do so with 48 goals and 138 points as an Oiler in the 1985-86 sea­son.

Two-time Nor­ris tro­phy win­ner Erik Karls­son has led NHL de­fence­men in scor­ing in four of the past five sea­sons, but he’s long since given up catch­ing Burns this year and be­lieves his heav­ily bearded coun­ter­part will eas­ily sur­pass the ca­reerbest 82 points he man­aged last year for the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors.

“What Burnsy’s do­ing is great,” said Karls­son, 12 points back of Burns with 52 this year. “It’s good for the league. It’s good for ev­ery­body. It shows that it’s pos­si­ble.”

With 27 goals, more than the en­tire de­fence corps of 19 teams, Burns has scored al­most three times as much as Karls­son and al­most dou­ble the next clos­est de­fender, Mon­treal’s Shea We­ber at 14. Burns should soon post only the 18th ever sea­son of 30 goals by a de­fence­man and only the sec­ond since 1993. Mike Green man­aged 31 for the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals in ‘08-09.

While Green got a whole bunch of his goals (18) on the power play, Burns has scored 20-of-27 at even-strength as a shot-fir­ing mon­ster from ev­ery­where on the ice. He leads the league with 243 shots, which doesn’t in­clude the 112 at­tempts (also tops in the NHL) that missed: four hit­ting the post; 13 go­ing over the net; an­other 95 gone wide.

“He gets away that shot so quickly,” Hed­man said. “It’s not usu­ally the big wind-up and the big slap-shot, it’s usu­ally a good wris­ter with traf­fic in front.”

Hed­man said if he could steal el­e­ments of Burns’ game for him­self it would be that shot and “his beard, too.”

Burns is ac­tu­ally shoot­ing a bit less than last year — when he had 27 goals and 75 points, both ca­reer-highs — but his shoot­ing ac­cu­racy has spiked to what would be a ca­reer-best of 11.2 per cent.

He of­ten catches goal­tenders by sur­prise with a rapid re­lease from some­where in­side the blue line.

Burns has scored 12 of his goals with the wrist shot Hed­man so adores, seven each with the slap­shot and snap-shot and an­other with the back­hand.

While he’s thought to be unique in NHL terms for that wildly ex­pand­ing beard and goofy per­son­al­ity, it’s more the pack­age Burns comes in that sets him apart. He’s not only hu­mon­gous at six foot five and 230 pounds, but moves with the grace and skill of the winger he was as re­cently as the 2013-14 sea­son.

Burns isn’t just scor­ing him­self. He’s on pace for a ca­reerbest 51 as­sists, al­ready boast­ing 25 helpers at even-strength, tops for any de­fence­men this sea­son. While not typ­i­cally tasked with de­fend­ing op­pos­ing top lines — Marc-Edouard Vla­sic and Justin Braun draw those du­ties — Burns does lead the Cup-con­tend­ing Sharks in ice time at 25 min­utes pergame.

Burns looks more and more like a lock to win the Nor­ris as the league’s top de­fence­man, but Sharks cap­tain Joe Pavel­ski be­lieves he’s also wor­thy of Hart con­sid­er­a­tion — a tro­phy de­fence­men al­most never win.


San Jose Sharks de­fense­man Brent Burns smiles af­ter scor­ing his sec­ond goal dur­ing an NHL game against the Ari­zona Coy­otes in Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 18.

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