The Keeper Value of Brent Burns

May 18, 2014


The debate over whether or not the Yahoo Fantasy Hockey system would list Brent Burns as both a RW and a D for the 2014-2015 season is now purely academic. On May 15, San Jose Sharks' GM Ron Wilson announced that Burns would be moved back to defense for the upcoming season. And with that announcement, the idea of using Brent Bruns as a keeper in your fantasy leagues became significantly less appealing.

Brent Burns as a Right Wing

When the 2013-2014 Yahoo player rankings were published last Summer, we immediately focused on the list of defensemen. We knew that Brent Burns was being double-listed as a RW and a D for the upcoming season and his position in the defensive rankings was going to make a huge difference come draft time. As it turns out, Burns was listed as the 36th best defenseman for the 2013-2014 season. Given that only 1-2 defensemen typically break the 20-goal barrier each season, we knew there was a huge inefficiency to exploit in these rankings.

In our fantasy hockey draft kit, we devoted three pages to the specific case of Brent Burns. With a fantasy hockey defenseman playing right wing in real life, we were excited for the chance to make an accurate projection of his goal scoring potential. The key to an accurate projection would involve estimating two crucial numbers:

  1. how many more shots per game would Burns take?
  2. how much more accurate would his shots on goal be?
After guiding our readers through this data, we arrived at a projection of 23 goals for Brent Burns - making him one of the most desirable fantasy hockey defensemen in recent years.

Brent Burns as a Defenseman

Burns finished the 2013-2014 season with 22 goals, leaving him one shy of Norris Trophy Candidate Shea Weber's goal total. But the days of 20+ goal seasons for Brent Burns are over. The move back to defense will drastically reduce Burns' shot production and accuracy making him a keeper option only in deeper leagues. But before you can make that decision, you need to assess the expected goal production for Burns as a defenseman.

A first approximation to get a ballpark figure for Burns would involve looking at his career shooting percentage (SH%) and his typical shots on goal production (SOG). But if you take this approach, you might overshoot. Why? Because Burns is playing as a defenseman next season and about 24% of his career data is influenced by numbers he produced while playing the wing. You'd be on much firmer ground with your projections if you removed the Burns-as-a-winger data from your sample before crafting his SOG and SH% projections. We'll do that for you here:

A Breakdown of Brent Burns' Career

The real key to this analysis is recognizing that Burns could see a 50% drop in his shot production with the move back to defense. And since his shots on goal will be coming from a greater distance, his SH% is expected to drop as well. Note the difference in SH% for Dustin Byfuglien as a forward (8.9%) and as a defenseman (5.6%).

The 2014-2015 Season

You may be asking yourself if it's worth the effort to analyze players to this level of detail. We've only looked at goals and shots in this article, but what about assists, blocked shots, and all the other categories? Each Summer, we publish a 200+ page fantasy hockey guide that includes sortable spreadsheets with projections for over 600 NHL players and over 20 statistical categories. The spreadsheets are customized to your particular scoring system. We do the dirty work so that you can focus on drafting a championship team. Consider supporting the site and giving yourself a huge step ahead of your competition by purchasing the 2014-2015 fantasy hockey draft kit. If you act soon, you can customize the draft kit for three different scoring systems for the price of only one!


This news was surprising, to say the least. My fear going into next season was that Burns and Byfuglien were going to lose their defensive eligibility and only be listed as RWs due to their play this year. Now that Burns is going back to defense full-time, eligibility isn't so much the issue as production is now. Maybe Burns will still be eligible at both RW and D and it'll leave owners a bit of hope that someday he'll move back to forward; who knows?

I wonder why they're switching if he's played great at forward? He played forward in junior, it was the Wild that converted him to a dman. There's always the chance he'll end up playing forward again.

@Nomad - My guess is that Boyle is gone, so they'll need Burns more on defense. I'm also seeing rumblings that San Jose could try to move Pavelski this summer. Interesting times for San Jose.

How did Burns rate as a RW? Even if he only plays D next year, he should be dual eligible for 1 more year. So there'd be a chance to play a D @ RW. (Although it seemed the Burns & Byf owners only rarely used them as RWs. Is that true, Burns/Byfuglien owners?)

@the Olympia: The dual positioning gives you the occasional edge on nights where you have 5 defensemen with games and an open RW slot. How often that happens is highly manager-dependent.

@MillerTime89 Boyle is definitely out. Wilson made that announcement on the same day he mentioned the Burns' move to defense.

I guess Wilson expects that replacing a 25-goal forward will be easier than replacing a 10-15 goal defenseman.

@Olympia - I owned both at one point in the D2, and I can say I never played Burns or Byfuglien at the RW slot.

@Mike - San Jose will be fun to watch this off-season. Will they blow things up or make small changes?

@MillerTime89 If I'm San Jose, my off-season is centered on finding a buyer for Joe Pavelski. You've got a 30 year old forward who is coming off of a 41 goal season. San Jose is on the hook for another five seasons with a $6M cap hit. If we fast-forward five years and you told me that Pavelski never broke the 30 goal barrier again, I wouldn't be surprised.

What do they do with all those NTC's?

Brett Burns ain't got nothing on Drew Doughty.