San Jose Sharks’ defenseman Brent Burns took the NHL by storm early on this season and his dominance earned him a spot as a James Norris Trophy Memorial (best defenseman) finalist. For the majority of the season it seemed that Burns was a lock as the league’s best defenseman. There was a time where he was even gaining a good amount of consideration as a Hart Memorial Trophy candidate for leagues most valuable player among all positions. However, toward the end of the season, his production slowed down. This made the Norris Trophy race a bit more of a contest. The two other candidates are two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Last year was the first year that he was named a finalist for the trophy, but San Jose Sharks’ rival Drew Doughty ended up taking home the hardware. This year was different because not only did Burns offensive production explode, he also blossomed his game in the defensive end. Although each of the three defensemen deserve to be considered for the Norris, Brent Burns is the clear favorite.
He started the season by scoring nine points in his first five games and his offensive production didn’t stop there. It seemed that every time the puck found its way to Burns for a one-timer, he somehow found the back of the net. He ended the season with 12 more goals than the next best defenseman with 29 and also led all blueliners in points and game winning goals. His league leading 353 shots has not been accomplished by a fellow defenseman since 1996 when Ray Bourque had 390. He was truly the leagues best defenseman this season and best player overall for the San Jose Sharks for the past two years.
The argument against Burns is that the two other finalists played slightly fewer games and had several more assists than he did. They also had a more power play points, but half as many power play goals. Karlsson also had more blocked shots and Hedman ended with more hits than Brent Burns did which are key statistics for the defensive side of the game.
Although, when you watch the three blueliners play, there is something special in the way that Burns plays in his own end. His aggressive technique and 6’5”, 230lb frame make him a relentless backchecker. In seasons past, his defense was his biggest issue. That was hardly a surprise though as he played more than half his career as a forward. He led the San Jose Sharks in +/- with a plus 19 rating, which is also better than both other candidates.
In the end, Burns dominated both other finalists on the offensive side of the game and vastly improved his defense. In comparison to the other finalists, he is not as statistically dominant of defense as he as on offense. However, he deserves to take home the James Norris Memorial trophy for the first time in his career this June 21st.