Last week, Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy had a great breakdown of which NHL teams have the most expensive defense. I don’t know why, but I was surprised to see the Sharks at the top of the list. But the Sharks have a mix of experienced defense men who come with hefty price tags, as well as promising guys still early in their careers. We’ve already looked at two of the Sharks’ top D-men, Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray, so now it’s time to look at the guys who appear to be inSan Jose for the long haul: Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
I suppose you could say Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are the Sharks’ new franchise players, or at least the players GM Doug Wilson feels comfortable building his long-term defense on. With five and six years, respectively, left on their contracts, it looks very likely that Burns and Vlasic will be sticking aroundSan Josefor awhile.
Burns joined the Sharks last season, but he came at a high price: Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round draft pick were shipped toMinnesotain exchange. Burns was brought in to bring some more scoring to the Sharks’ blue line, as well as to be a big body with quick feet and good puck-handling skills. His previous season (10-11) inMinnesotahad been big; Burns finished the season with 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists), with a decent 133 hits and 106 blocks. He was just what the Sharks needed after previous big body (big butt, specifically, but I digress) Rob Blake retired: a big man with sniper like tendencies who didn’t shy away from physical play.
Burns fit right in in San Jose, organizing bike rides with fans and connecting with Bay Area residents via Twitter, but he took some time meshing with his Sharks teammates and getting comfortable. He scored 37 points last season with the Sharks (11 goals and 26 assists); not bad, but still 11 points less than #1 Dan Boyle. But his point production wasn’t for lack of trying: Burns put up 201 shots on goal.
But while his offensive production was down slightly, Burns’ defensive game improved. In his previous seasons with the Wild, Burns’ plus/minus was -15 (09-10) and -10 (10-11). In his first season with the Sharks, it improved to a +8. His 68 hits weren’t anything to write home about, but he had a career-best 117 blocks. He led the team in takeaways with 25, but on the flipside he also had 75 takeaways (6th highest for a defenseman in the NHL).
At 27 and signed through the 2016-2017 season making a cool $5.75 million, Burns looks to be set for awhile in SJ. His contract doesn’t include a no-movement clause though, so things could change at any time. He puts in strong minutes (he averaged 22:32 TOI last season), and with a little more puck discipline could make a serious impact on the Sharks, both offensively and defensively. New associate coach Larry Robinson mentioned Burns (along with Boyle and Murray) as a strong defensive player, and emphasized working to make him a better player. With the long-term signing of line-mate Marc-Edouard Vlasic, it looks like Doug Wilson has solidified some core D-men he feels comfortable with. Oh, and Burns is also a nice guy. He strongly supports the military and their families (he has a luxury box at HP Pavilion that he invites military servicemen and women and their families to use each game, and is a big supporter of Defending the Blue Line), and he has a huge collection of exotic (and not so exotic) animals.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Pickles, if you’re classy) has so far been the Sharks’ major off-season player investment. On July 11, it was announced Pickles had signed a five-year contract extension that will pay $4.2 million a season and run through the end of the 2017-18 season. While that’s not a meager sum of money, it doesn’t put Pickles close to being one of the highest paid D-men in the league, but is a considerable step-up from the $3.1 he will make this season on the remainder of his current contract. It was a smart move on Doug Wilson’s part, too, because at 25 years old but in his seventh year in the NHL, Pickles would have become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season, and signing him now surely saved the Sharks quite a bit of cap space had they tried to resign him then, or worse, had to find a replacement.
Pickles was drafted in the second round (35th overall) by the Sharks in 2005 and has played his entire NHL career inSan Jose, only spending one game with the AHL affiliate Worcester Sharks. Vlasic is still trying to mimic his 08-09 and 09-10 seasons, probably two of his best, while playing on a line with Rob Blake. In the 08-09 season, Vlasic scored 36 points and had a +15; in 09-10, he scored 16 points and had a +21.
While his point production has remained steady (garnering him the nickname Eddie, like “Steady Eddie”) Pickles two-way game has improved greatly, and this previous season was his best all-around season yet. Vlasic averaged 23:09 time on ice, second only to Dan Boyle. Pickles put up 23 points (4 goals, 19 assists) and 119 shots on goal. His +11 was down slightly from previous seasons, but his 171 blocks were the 5th most in the NHL, and his 18 takeaways aren’t anything to scoff at either.
If Burns and Vlasic can find a groove early in the season, they will be a force to be reckoned with. Head coach Todd McClellan also has some flexibility to move the lines around if they don’t find a groove. Maybe Vlasic will fit better with Boyle, and Murray better with Burns.
There is one additional piece to this expensive defensemen puzzle: Brad Stuart. Next time, we’ll look at what the acquisition of Stuart can bring to the Sharks, and what it means for the current top four D-men.