The San Jose Sharks will return basically the same roster that frittered away a 3-0 series lead in the quarter-finals of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Los Angeles Kings. The most notable departure is probably veteran defender Dan Boyle, an aging veteran who handled third-pairing minutes at even strength a year ago.
In replacing Boyle on the back-end, the Sharks appear poised to move ace power forward Brent Burns back to his preferred spot on the blue line.
"We acquired him in a trade to be a stud defenseman," explained Sharks general manager Doug Wilson per Sharks.NHL.com. "To find a guy at that size who can shoot and skate that's played in this league and been an All-Star as a defenseman, we don't think there's going to be any issue there, and especially if you're working with [associate coach] Larry Robinson and [assistant coach] Jim Johnson.
"It's also something that Brent really wants to do. In my conversation with him, he views himself as a defenseman. Having that big body back there that can be creative and also shoot the puck like he does, we think will be a great asset to our team."
Burns has always seen himself as a defender rather than a forward. When he played for the Minnesota Wild, he was occasionally moved from defense to forward as a form of punishment. His preferences aside, Burns is an elite forward and makes significantly more sense in San Jose on the wing than on the blue line.
To begin with, Burns has been enormously effective in his 93 games as a forward with the Sharks. With Burns playing on the win,g the club has controlled a ludicrous 57.8 per cent of score-close shot attempts at even strength, and the 6-foot-5, 230 pound swing man has managed 31 goals and 68 total points in those games.
Burns' production stacks up favorably when compared against some of the best wingers in the NHL, as Fear the Fin's The Neutral touched on back in May:
Only six forwards have averaged more 5-on-5 goals per minute over the past two seasons than Burns-as-a-forward has. Only 12 forwards have averaged more 5-on-5 points per minute (not all of them are listed above since the table is ranked by goals but the others were Sidney Crosby, Taylor Hall, Ryan Getzlaf, Thomas Vanek, Chris Kunitz, Eric Staal, Tyler Seguin and Matt Duchene – not bad company). Only Alex Ovechkin generated more 5-on-5 shot attempts per minute than Burns this past season.
Beyond the extreme likelihood that Burns is more effective as a forward than he is as a defender, this seems like a sucker trade-off for the Sharks. Though Boyle is now ensconced in Manhattan, the Sharks have two reliable right-handed shooting defenseman in Jason Demers and Justin Braun still on the roster. Pushing either player to the third pairing at the expense of an elite first-line winger seems like a hopelessly inefficient allocation of resources.
So chalk up this Burns-moving-back-to-defense thing as a mystifying organizational decision by the Sharks, almost – but not quite – on par with the club's refusal to wear teal in the postseason.