Brent Burns garnering Norris Trophy buzz as Sharks streak out of break


Brent Burns garnering Norris Trophy buzz as Sharks streak out of break

With the 2018-19 NHL season more than halfway over, it’s approaching that time when everyone watching the game begins taking a good look at contenders for the end-of-year awards. As far as the Sharks are concerned, there is already buzz that defenseman Brent Burns should be in the discussion for the Norris Trophy.

Given his body of work this season, especially over the last month or so, it’s hard to disagree with that. 

The buzz around Burns has gained some momentum after the All-Star break, particularly with San Jose getting big victories over the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames this past week. Burns tallied his 50th assist of the season against the Flames, becoming just the seventh blueliner in NHL history to do so in 55 or fewer games, and the first since Sergei Zubov in the 1993-94 season.

While many will look strictly at how many goals Burns has scored this season and see he’s in a four-way tie for fourth place with 11, that high assist total cannot be overlooked. Sure, scoring goals is a big part of the conversation, but Burns’ work as the setup guy cannot be ignored. Plus, that high number of apples is in part due to how often his shots from the point are deflected in by his teammates. (Anyone who has watched a handful of Sharks’ games this season knows captain Joe Pavelski is a master when it comes to redirecting Burns’ slapshots.) Looking at the campaign as a whole, No. 88 currently leads all defensemen in the league with a whopping 61 points. Calgary’s Mark Giordano -- potentially also in the Norris conversation -- trails him in second place with 54 points. 

Keep in mind, Burns is achieving all of this while doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the blue line. With the injury bug biting multiple members of San Jose’s d-corps over the last month and a half, Burns has been averaging close to 30 minutes of ice time almost every night. With Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, Radim Simek, and Erik Karlsson all being sidelined at some point during the month of January, Burns was tasked with keeping things in order. While having Vlasic now back in the lineup and healthy has aided in distributing some of the blue line’s duties, Burns still logged a little over 27 minutes in Tuesday’s game over the Jets with Karlsson remaining sidelined. The fact Burns keeps racking up points while maintaining the heavy workload is nothing short of admirable.

[RELATED: Sharks' confidence growing with wins over Flames, Jets]

Burns doesn’t look to be slowing down, either. As one of three Sharks who participated in the All-Star festivities a couple weekends ago, Burns didn’t get the extended time off most of his teammates got between the All-Star break and the bye week. Nevertheless, he continues to contribute to San Jose’s cause, registering multiple points in all three games since the team returned from break. 

Sure, there’s plenty of hockey left and there are a few defensemen who deserve to be in the Norris Trophy conversation at this juncture of the season. There’s no denying, though, that Brent Burns is a candidate everyone should be talking about.

Why Erik Karlsson re-signed with Sharks, passed on NHL free agency

Why Erik Karlsson re-signed with Sharks, passed on NHL free agency

The 2019 NHL All-Star Game might have been more meaningful than you realized.

It wasn't because the Sharks hosted the event at San Jose's SAP Center for the first time since 1997, or even because the Sharks had an NHL-leading three representatives. No, it was because of what the event ultimately signified to defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Five months before re-signing with the Sharks for eight years on Monday, Karlsson was still in the middle of his first season in San Jose and about a week removed from injuring his groin for the first time. He missed three games before the All-Star Game -- and the first six after -- because of the injury, but he played in the All-Star Game on home ice because it was important for San Jose's fans. 

And ultimately, San Jose was important to him, he told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil in a 1-on-1 interview Monday.

"If the All-Star Game would have been somewhere else, I most likely would have not played," Karlsson said. "But I do think that having an All-Star Game at home means a lot for the organization and the fanbase, and I felt like that was something I was possibly going to be a part of for a very long time, so it meant a lot to me and I wanted to do that. So yeah, when you look back at it, I don't even think that I fully understood at the time what it really meant, but ... we felt connected to this organization since we got here."

In a conference call with reporters Monday morning, Karlsson repeatedly mentioned how the Sharks gave him the time and space to get comfortable with his new surroundings, and ultimately make a decision about his future. Before a Sept. 13 trade brought him to San Jose on the eve of training camp, the Senators were the only NHL team he had played for. Ottawa had become his home.

It was a position Sharks general manager Doug Wilson knew well. Before joining San Jose ahead of its inaugural NHL season in 1991-92, Wilson had spent the entirety of his career in Chicago. His wife is from there, just as Karlsson's is from Ottawa. As a result, Wilson knew how important it was to let Karlsson acclimate, despite the defenseman being in the final season of his contract.

After all, Karlsson entered the season as the only active defenseman to win the Norris Trophy twice and is the leading scorer at his position since making his NHL debut in 2009. Although the aforementioned groin injuries hampered him in 53 regular-season games and the ensuing playoff run, Karlsson would have had suitors in free agency -- look no further than the New York Rangers acquiring right-shooting defenseman (and pending restricted free agent) Jacob Trouba hours after Karlsson re-signed with the Sharks.

But Karlsson didn't want to let things get that far, and if he did, he told Brazil he still would have had San Jose in mind.

"I think that speaks to how everything transpired since the Sharks acquired me," Karlsson said. " ... I think that ever since I got here we've had a great relationship and if I, by any chance, wanted to test the free-agency market, I would have let them know as early as I possibly could because I do understand that there's a lot of things that need to be done, and a lot of things that require a lot of time, so I wanted to give them the most time that they possibly could to have the best team that they possibly can."

[RELATED: Sharks to face Pacific rivals throughout 2019 preseason]

Karlsson told Brazil he is happy to be a big part of the Sharks trying to do just that. Wilson said Karlsson's decision gives San Jose's offseason clarity, even as the general manager is faced with other tough choices in building out the roster this season and beyond. 

But Karlsson, a six-time All-Star, now is in the fold for the foreseeable future. And as a result, his latest All-Star appearance could be remembered for much more than just a midseason exhibition.

2019 NHL preseason schedule: Sharks to play Ducks, Flames, Golden Knights

2019 NHL preseason schedule: Sharks to play Ducks, Flames, Golden Knights

The Sharks accomplished offseason priority No. 1 Monday, with the re-signing of defenseman Erik Karlsson to an eight-year contract.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner is already rehabbing from groin surgery, and hopes to be ready for the start of next season. As for when the Sharks' regular season will begin, that has yet to be announced. But we now know the full details of San Jose's preseason slate, which features six games, all against Pacific Division opponents.

The Sharks will play home-and-home series with each of the Ducks, Flames and Golden Knights in the preseason, beginning with a matchup against Anaheim at SAP Center on Sept. 17, and concluding with a battle in Vegas on Sept. 29.

That first game against the Golden Knights, of course, will represent the Sharks first time facing Vegas since Game 7 of their Stanley Cup playoff first-round series this past season. Not only did San Jose erase a three-games-to-one series deficit, but they scored four goals on a single power play in the third period of Game 7 to spur an epic comeback and advance to the second round. The power play resulted from a controversial major penalty assessed to Vegas' Cody Eakin, which several Golden Knights felt ended their season prematurely.

[RELATED: What Karlsson staying means for Sharks GM's offseason]

With six games against divisional foes, there's no shortage of rival animosity within the Sharks' preseason schedule. With any luck, that should help ensure they're ready to go once the real games start.