(Cam Charron continues to look at general NHL issues for us here at the Nations. This week, he investigates the Sharks new top-four defense rotation and wonders if it’s one of the best in the league)
There has been a lot of chatter dealing with analysis of the trade made between the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota Wild that sent Dany Heatley to St. Paul in exchange for Martin Havlat. The earlier trade, made draft day, that sent Brent Burns to the Bay Area, may have larger repurcussions. Part of the reason is that there was a such a keen divide in the hockey blogosphere over the Heatley and Havlat trade. It included the bigger name in Heatley, even if he wasn’t the best player involved in the two trades.
Jonathan Willis wrote recently at The Score about Mike Weaver and Jason Garrison in Florida, who were one of the top purely defensive pairings in hockey last season. For good reason, I find. Weaver and Garrison were well up in my own defensive ranking which adjusts the number of Fenwick events ( goals, saved shots and missed shots) given up while the player was on the ice for the number of starts a player had in the opposing zone.
While Weaver and Garrison were the top pairing, the top four defensemen should probably at this point be San Jose’s remarkably strong unit. Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were seen as San Jose’s second pairing last season, despite being the team’s onlyduo to start more shifts in their own end than the opposing end. While they didn’t play against consistently top competition (that was the Dan Boyle-Douglas Murray combination) they outshot their opponents by a fair margin. In fact, they were #1 and #3 among regular defensemen in the entire NHL.
With the addition of Brent Burns, who was Minnesota’s top defenseman in adjusted Fenwick (shots for and against at the net minus blocked shot) and third in quality of competition and other defensive metrics, the Sharks have added another strong number two defenseman to that group. Like Dan Boyle, Burns is known primarily for his offensive instincts. He was 14th in points among defensemen last season and third in goals with 17. Unlike some scoring defensemen who sacrifice defensive aptitude for a few goals, Burns doesn’t. He was fine in his own end last season. He’s a regular for Team Canada’s World Championship team for good reason.
Boyle, Burns, Demers and Vlasic provide a top four that balances scoring punch with defensive strength. Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson no doubt has recognized that his goaltender Antti Niemi is likely the weak link on the team and has made sure to give the Sharks a lot of defensive depth to keep the puck at the other end of the ice. He has given 31 per cent of the Sharks money to his top six defensemen (who include Murray and Jim Vandermeer to round out the corps) which is actually less than the percentage dished out by, among others, Florida’s Dale Tallon and Vancouver’s Mike Gillis to their top sixes.