Brent Burns

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Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Video: After blowout loss in Dallas, struggling Sharks off to slow start vs. Predators

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Last night, we asked: What is wrong with the San Jose Sharks?

Well, a day later, with the Sharks looking to avoid a sixth straight loss, the struggle continues.

After a blowout loss last night against the Dallas Stars, the Sharks have fallen behind the Nashville Predators by a score of 2-0 after the opening period.

Colton Sissons opened the scoring for Nashville.

It didn’t get any better for the Sharks.

Roman Josi walked right around Brent Burns, hitting the cross bar with his shot. Cody McLeod was right there for the tap-in to increase Nashville’s lead.

He is human after all: Brent Burns is in a scoring slump

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The beastly bearded Brent Burns is suddenly going through a scoring drought.

Already with 27 goals, which is remarkable for a defenseman in a league where in mid-March the loftiest individual goal totals have yet to eclipse 40, Burns is far and away the leader among blue liners in this category. Shea Weber is his closest competition in goals by a defenseman and he’s 11 back.

And yet, Burns hasn’t scored … in his last 11 games. (Gasp!)

His last goal: Feb. 18. He scored twice in that game, as part of a brief stretch that included five goals in three games.

But here’s the thing: While he hasn’t been scoring lately, the opportunities and shot totals haven’t really slowed down at all.

In this 11-game stretch, Burns has 43 shots on goal, including 14 in his last two games. As you might expect, especially because he’s still getting chances, no one in the Sharks organization seems overtly concerned.

“The messaging from us to him is not to worry about it,” Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer told the San Jose Mercury News. “Eight shots or 12 attempts or whatever he gets. He’s getting his looks. Those are going to go in. It’s one of those spells that he’s been in where the goalie has his number.

“Shots that would have gone in in the past maybe aren’t. Every goal scorer goes through that.”

So, to recap: Brent Burns is human after all.

He’ll look to bust this slump against the rival Anaheim Ducks tonight. San Jose has a six-point lead on Anaheim for top spot in the Pacific Division.

Related: Brent Burns is an unstoppable force right now

Yeo asked Blues ‘for a response’ in San Jose, and he got it

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) With points at a premium down the stretch of the NHL season, there’s no time to lament over lost opportunities. So the St. Louis Blues shook off the disappointment of a loss in Anaheim to end the treacherous California trip with two wins in three games.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored two goals to give him 34 on the season and Zach Sanford added his first since joining St. Louis to help the Blues complete a regular season sweep of the San Jose Sharks with a 4-1 victory on Thursday night.

“We asked for a response and we got it,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Last night, it was a close game, but we weren’t really happy with the way things went. We knew that we left something on the table. So we asked for a response today and the guys more than delivered.”

The 2-1 loss in Anaheim on Wednesday is the only loss for St. Louis in the past seven games. But with an early goal by Scottie Upshall setting the tone and Carter Hutton providing a solid night in goal with 19 saves, the Blues remained two points behind Nashville for third place in the Central Division and four points up on Los Angeles for the second wild-card spot.

“You want to get on them early,” Upshall said. “You want to show them you’re here to play and you have your legs. We had a tough game last night, almost came back and tied it late. I like the way we came out and played. We held them to under 20 shots. We peppered their goalie from some good scoring chances. It was a game we needed.”

Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored the lone goal for the Sharks. Aaron Dell made 32 saves.

“I thought we looked tired out there, sluggish, we just didn’t have any jump up front,” forward Logan Couture said. “I think a lot of it was on us.”

San Jose still holds a seven-point lead in the Pacific Division over Anaheim but missed a chance to pass Minnesota for the second most points in the Western Conference with a third loss this season to St. Louis.

The Blues, despite playing the back end of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights, managed to keep the Sharks away from the net for most of the night and allowed only three shots from Sharks forwards in the first 54 minutes.

They took the lead for good when they scored the only goal in the second period. The play started innocently as Jay Bouwmeester took a shot from the boards that deflected behind the net. The puck hit off the backboards and went right to Sanford, who knocked it in for his first goal with St. Louis since being acquired last month from Washington in the trade that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to the Capitals.

“I saw it coming the whole way,” Sanford said. “I didn’t know if it was ever going to make it to me. It slowed up a little there at the end, but it ended up getting there in time.”

Tarasenko provided the insurance when he knocked in the rebound of Alexander Steen‘s shot off the crossbar on the power play midway through the third and added an empty-netter late in the period.

“We fought the puck a bit and got some bad bounces,” Dell said. “It kind of didn’t go our way. The whole game went that way for us with the bad bounces.”

The teams traded goals late in the first period with Upshall scoring after intercepting a pass from Brent Burns and San Jose tying it when Vlasic’s point pass deflected off defenseman Carl Gunnarsson‘s skate past Hutton.

NOTES: San Jose’s Micheal Haley fought with Ryan Reaves late in the second period. … Sharks D David Schlemko (lower-body injury) missed his seventh straight game but could return Saturday.

UP NEXT

Blues: Visit Arizona on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Anaheim on Saturday.

Re-signing with Sharks ‘a priority’ for Vlasic

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Earlier this season the San Jose Sharks managed to keep one of their top defenseman — and one of the top ones in the league —  when they re-signed Brent Burns to a massive eight-year contract extension that will run through the 2024-25 season.

Over the course of the next year they are going to have to worry doing it again with their other top defenseman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Vlasic still has one-year remaining on his deal after this one, meaning he will be eligible to sign a new contract extension with the team after July 1.

Hearing him talk, it seems that he is eager to not only get a deal done with the Sharks, but to also sign one that will allow him to finish his career with the only team he has ever known.

“I love it here,” said Vlasic, via Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts column on Tuesday. “I’m not really a guy who wants to play for three or four teams. I like the city, I like the organization, we’re always competitive. What’s not to like? I want to play my whole career in San Jose.”

He reiterated his desire to remain with the Sharks on Tuesday.

It’s easy for Vlasic to get lost playing in Burns’ shadow because he doesn’t put up massive point totals, but he is a superb shutdown defenseman and one of the very best defensive players in hockey. Alongside Justin Braun he makes up one half of the Sharks’ shutdown pairing and has been a rock on the team’s blue line since he was a 19-year-old rookie. What makes him so valuable is that he is a reliable defensive player that also has the ability to move the puck and chip in some offense. He’s not a “defensive defenseman” whose only skill is the ability to throw his body in front of shots. He can make plays with the puck, too, and that combination makes him one of the most well-rounded — and at times underappreciated — defensemen in the league.

At 29 he is still at a point in his career where he should have several quality years in front of him so a long-term deal shouldn’t come with too much of a risk.

Given the impending free agency of veteran forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, as well as the opportunity to work out a new deal with Vlasic, the Sharks are looking at a pretty big offseason when it comes to their core.

Once Burns’ new deal kicks in next year the Sharks will already have close to $55 million committed to 15 players for the 2017-18 season.