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.
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.