Blue-liner Burns takes shot at scoring crown
Shark could become only D-man not named Orr to top NHL
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 in1975.
With 64 points, Burns ranks 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’ 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 career-best 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 since1993. 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 the112 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.” Former Sharks teammate Roman Polak said it wasn’t just the quality of the shot that made Burns so dangerous as a scorer, it was also his propensity to fire it from anywhere as often as possible. Now with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Polak recalled a December tilt against San Jose in which Burns had 15 attempts on goal.
“The puck is on the wall and he just one-times it from the wall — it doesn’t matter,” said Polak. “And he’s very accurate with the shot too.”
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.
Chris Pronger was the last defenceman to win league MVP in 2000, and he was the first since Orr in 1972. Given the potentially historic nature of his campaign it might be hard to overlook Burns this time around.
“He means as much to our team, I think, as any of those other guys to any team so definitely would like to get him that vote,” Pavelski said. “I don’t know why not. He’s been complete for us this year for sure.”