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TimeJan 12, 2017

Brent Burns - Runaway contribution leader at the turn

Photo: Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire

The San Jose Sharks can breathe a sigh of relief that Brent Burns has not only avoided the post (mega) contract hangover but has focused on proving he is worth every penny of the 8-year deal he signed in November.

Forty games into the 16/17 season, he is leading all NHL defensemen in overall contribution and is a huge 19.4% ahead of second place.

Burns is coming off an exceptional 15/16 offensive performance but has managed to increase his offensive contributions in 16/17. Specific to his points production, he is on pace to break his career best for goals (27) and assists (48).

His offense created at even strength is up by 29.8% and the cost of creating that offense (weighted turnovers) is up only 7.8%, which are great offensive hockey economics.

Burns is strongest in Offensive Zone Play (1st among d-men) but still trails several d-men on the Rush, Neutral Zone Offense, and on the Breakout (the weakest of his offensive game situations).

Defensively, Burns has increased his proficiency by a huge 72.7% from 15/16 through the first half of 16/17.

In Defensive Zone Coverage, he has jumped 17 ranking spots to 74th, and in Defending the Rush, he has passed 75 defensemen to a ranking of 46th.

A closer look at Burns improved defensive play, reveals his positive defensive contributions are nearly identical to last season, but has managed a significant reduction in negative defense (defensive mistakes). Burns is making 26.9% fewer defensive mistakes per game in 16/17 than 15/16. Improvement is always based on either making more (positive) plays or fewer mistakes, or preferably both.

There is no guarantee these improvements will be maintained into the second half of the 16/17 season or beyond, but these are substantial improvements for a player already among the best in the league. A large part of these leaps can be attributed to his relative adolescence when it comes to his time playing as a defenseman. As a (young) defenseman, Burns has been fortunate to be the recipient of some great coaching and direction ever since former Minnesota Wild coach Jacque Lemaire steered him to the blue-line. Larry Robinson, one of the best ever, tutored Burns when he arrived in San Jose, and recently assistant coach Bob Bougher has shown great knowledge and communication in helping Burns continue his climb.

With a continued commitment to improve and a strong coaching crew around him, there could be much more upside to the 6’5”, 230 lb D-man. At age 31, this could be the start of a multi-year run as the best defenseman in the NHL.... by a wide margin.


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