The Evolution

Brent Burns is having a juggernaut of a season.

He’s ranked third in NHL scoring with 64 points as Burns sits behind Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid for the League’s top scoring race.

The 31-year old Barrie, Ont., native could become only the second defenceman to ever win the Art Ross Trophy-  which is awarded to the League’s top scorer. The only defenceman to win the Art Ross was none other than Bobby Orr. Orr won the award when he was with Boston Bruins during the 1974-75 season.

Burns point totals are unheard of for an NHL defenceman and that’s due to a large part of his abilities. During his first NHL training camp in 2003, he was converted to defence by Minnesota Wild defensive-minded coach Jacques Lemaire. He switched from forward to defense on occasion until the Sharks announced he would stay on defence in August 2014.

With 27 goals this season, Burns is set to post only the 18th ever season of 30 goals scored by a defenceman and only the second since 1993. Mike Green was the last one to do it when he scored 31 goals for the Washington Capitals in 2008-09.

Burns is on pace for a career-best 51 assists for 88 points. He’s starting to look more like a potential favourite for the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the League’s best defenceman. Some say that he’s worthy of consideration for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the League MVP as well.

Over the last ten seasons, the Norris Trophy has been awarded four times to the leading scorer among defenceman. Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty won it last year against Burns and Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson. However,  Doughty just made it in the top-ten in scoring among defenceman.  Karlsson was the best offensive defenceman as he tied for fourth in scoring with 82 points in 82 games.

Doughty’s plus/minus rating was significantly different than Karlsson’s and Burns. Doughty had a plus-24, whereas Burns was a minus-five and Karlsson was a minus-2. It’s kind of why Karlsson and Burns didn’t win the Norris last year. It underlines the most difficult award to win, but to get it right.

Is it time for the NHL to possibly consider recognizing that there are two types of defenceman in the League? Perhaps, although a common misunderstanding when looking at any offensive defenceman is that they take a sacrifice with offense over defence.

Here’s the thing. Chris Pronger was the last defenceman to win the Hart Trophy back in 2000, and the first since Bobby Orr back in 1972. No defenceman has been nominated for the Hart since Pronger last won it. Given the potentially historic season he is having, it might be hard to overlook Burns this time around.

Some would argue that defenceman like Shea Weber are reasons why his defensive, and physical style of play are worthy to win the Norris. Weber doesn’t necessarily put up big numbers, but he’s a strong force on the blue line, who, like Burns, has yet to win the Norris. Don’t be surprised if both defenceman get nominated for the award at the end of the season.

People may not like the way Burns and Karlsson play compared to the way Doughty and Weber play, but sometimes it’s easier to focus on points than actual finer points of the game itself.

Altogether, Brent Burns has done enough to be considered for individual hardware for this years NHL Awards. His skill and value mean so much to the Sharks organization that on Nov. 23 they signed him to an eight-year, $64 million contract which runs through the 2024-25 season. He leads the League with shots on goal, while logging an average of 25 minutes of TOI. He’s  also an offensive force on the power play with the Sharks. Most notably, Burns does play on the penalty kill whenever the Sharks are up or down by a goal.

Talent and skill only get you so far in sports. Brent Burns might come off a bit careless with his Chewbacca-like beard, it might be because he puts so much focus into what he does on the ice.

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