When the San Jose Sharks traded for former Minnesota Wild first-round pick Brent Burns, they believed they were getting a difference-maker on the back-end.
But even the Sharks probably couldn't have anticipated Burns' explosion into one of the most prolific offensive defencemen the NHL has seen in recent decades. In fact, Burns could just end up with the most productive season from a defenceman in the last 20 years if his current pace keeps up in the second half.
Only two defenders since the 1996-97 season have cracked the 80-point plateau: Erik Karlsson with 82 points last year and Nicklas Lidstrom with 80 points in '05-06. Only one has managed 30 goals in that span: Mike Green scored 31 for Washington in '08-09.
Burns would shatter both marks at his current pace â€” 33 goals and 84 points â€” and become only the second defenceman in the last 30 years to hit both 30 goals and 80 points since Hall of Famer Paul Coffey who had 30 goals and 113 points for Pittsburgh in '88-89.
What's different for Burns since his days with the Wild?
For one, he's shooting the puck twice as much before â€” and more than any player period right now â€” while playing for a Sharks squad that's considerably more potent than those teams he left behind in Minnesota.
San Jose signed Burns for five years (US$5.76 million cap hit) shortly after the trade with the Wild, a bargain deal due to expire following this season.
The Norris trophy contender isn't going anywhere though. The Sharks penned Burns to a eight-year extension worth $64 million in November.
Eric Staal's stunning re-emergence in Minnesota continues.
In just 42 games for the Wild, the 32-year-old has surpassed the 15 goals and equalled the 39 points he managed in 83 games with the Hurricanes and Rangers last season. He's on pace for his best offensive campaign since '10-11 when he managed 33 goals and 76 points for Carolina. For now, the three-year contract he signed with the Wild last summer with an annual cap hit of $3.5 million looks like a bargain.
The NHL's best bargain deal this season? Sam Gagner's one-year pact with Columbus for $650,000. Gagner has produced 30 points in 41 games for a per-point cost of $21,667, the best such mark among non-entry-level contracts this season according to the CapFriendly website, which tracks NHL salaries all related data.
Others in that mix: Florida's Jonathan Marchessault ($27,778 per-point); Carolina's Derek Ryan ($33,333); and Ottawa's Ryan Dzingel ($35,714).
The Oilers goal-scoring leader so far isn't Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but St. Louis product Patrick Maroon, who has 18 goals (all but two at even-strength) after scoring 21 in the previous two seasons combined. Huge at six foot three and 230 pounds, Maroon has been most effective alongside the Oilers captain, pushing 60 per cent puck possession at his side.
The 28-year-old is another bargain, currently on the second-year of a three-year contract which carries an annual cap hit of $2 million. Maroon has produced more goals and about as many points as Milan Lucic, who signed for seven years and $42 million last summer.
The current NHL leader in even-strength goals entering Monday's action is Michael Grabner, who has 19 for the New York Rangers or more than double his annual total for the previous three seasons.
It looked like the Flyers might have an answer to their longstanding troubles in goal after last season when both Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth put together respectable campaigns. But that hope has quickly been vanquished this season, the same old troubles emerging in Philadelphia.
Mason has a lowly .897 save percentage after 37 games â€” the third-worst mark among those with at least 20 starts â€” and was pulled in each of his last two outings. Neuvirth, as has become the unfortunate norm, just hasn't been able to remain healthy and has struggled when he's been in there. His .877 save percentage worse than even Mason.
Both are unrestricted free agents after this season and in all likelihood the Flyers will have to turn elsewhere (yet again) to stabilize their crease.
Starring for the Washington Capitals during a nine-game win streak which has them back atop the NHL: Braden Holtby with a .959 save percentage and 1.11 goals against average; Justin Williams with six goals and 11 points; Nicklas Backstrom with 13 points, including his 500th career assist; Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov with 11 points apiece; and Matt Niskanen averaging 23 minutes per-game while chipping in with a couple goals.
The Caps have outscored foes 40-11 during the run and gone the last six games (almost 370 minutes) without allowing an even-strength goal.
-With files from the Associated Press
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press