There’s really only one person that likes Brent Burns at forward, and it’s a fantasy hockey owner; and they won’t be happy until he’s got an ‘F’ near to the ‘D’ in his name on the roster so they can play him at every position.
Brent Burns can’t be happy, because he’s a defenseman who played at forward as a admonishment when he skated with the Minnesota Wild.
The Sharks can’t be happy, because there’s some malfunction in the lineup that would necessitate the move, which apparently will occur on Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues.
And Sharks fans can’t be happy, because they traded Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick for a puck-moving defenseman who’s now a depth forward.
OK, they’re probably not happy about the pick and Coyle, in hindsight.
Why is Brent Burns being used at forward, on a line with Scott Gomez and James Sheppard?
First, because Todd McLellan used him there while he was coaching Burns with the Houston Aeros in 2004-05.
"There was a time in his career where he was an in-between guy," McLellan said. "We'll tap into that a little bit. We'll see where it goes and what can come out of it. He's still a tremendous defenseman with a tremendous amount of skill back there, but we're trying to play to what our needs are right now and maybe he can help us."
McLellan said Burns likely would also get some ice time on defense, primarily on the power play. The Sharks have struggled to score this season, reaching three goals in regulation and overtime only twice in the last 17 games — both of them losses.
So it’s an offense-juicing move from McLellan. It moves Ryane Clowe back to the top six in the hopes that he can locate his offensive game (although he might need NASA satellite mapping at this point).
It’s also in the hopes that Burns can provide spark on right wing while still manning the power-play point. It’s what Lemaire used to do too; and Burns has had to grin and bear it throughout his career.
Burns, in 2008, when moved to wing by the Wild:
“I like playing forward. I like playing D," Burns said. “As long as I’m playing, I don’t care where I play."
Burns, in 2013, when moved to wing by the Sharks:
"Just to get back is good and help in any way I can," he said.
This too shall pass, Burnsie, because moving defensemen to forward never works. Bourne nailed it today on the move:
I don’t know why this is, but d-men-come-forwards always seem to suddenly get more physical (I think because they know they’re less likely to help in the offense-creating categories). You know what you’re getting – minimal touch plays, safe chips and dumps, finished checks.
In the end, it’s rare that a defenseman getting moved up sticks. It’s a stop-gap, it’s plugging the hole in the dam with gum, and it’s usually not that pretty. It may go well for the first couple games (“Y’know, I really liked the energy Burnsy provided us with tonight, I thought he did a good job getting in on the forecheck and getting the body, and I thought his work ethic helped us out a lot”), but for the most part, this is an experiment that tends to die on the vine.
Back in the day, the New Jersey Devils used to ping-pong Tommy Albelin between forward and defense. Whenever you’d see his name up front, it either meant an injury or a losing streak or a band-aid on a bigger problem.
It never, ever meant “OK, here’s the cure for what ails you.” Ditto Burns.
It’s a little depressing to see Burns back at forward. You’d like to think Doug Wilson didn’t flip Charlie Coyle and a No. 1 for a third-line winger who moonlights on the power play.