To mark the quarter pole of the 2016-17 season, NHL.com is running its third installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Hart Trophy.
San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns is slightly more than three-quarters of the way through a historic season that could put him in the same company of six Hall of Famers, including Bobby Orr, Eddie Shore and Chris Pronger.
"I've had the luxury of coaching some great players, but he's having a historic-type year," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "I haven't had a player like that, that I can remember. It's great."
Burns is NHL.com's leader at the quarter pole in the race for the Hart Trophy, which has been won by six defensemen a total of 12 times since it was first awarded in 1924. Pronger (1999-2000) is the only defenseman to win the Hart since Orr won it three straight seasons from 1970-72.
Shore won the award four times in the 1930s. Fellow Hall of Famers Herb Gardiner (1926-27), Ebbie Goodfellow (1939-40) and Babe Pratt (1943-44) each won it once. Tom Anderson (1941-42) is the only defenseman not in the Hall of Fame to win the trophy.
Video: SJS@ARI: Burns scores second goal on a power play
Burns is on track to win the Hart because he's on pace to become the first defenseman in NHL history to lead his team outright in goals, assists and points in the same season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
He has 67 points (27 goals, 40 assists) in 63 games.
The only defenseman to come close to doing what Burns is on pace to do this season was Kevin Hatcher, who tied for the Washington Capitals lead in goals (24) and assists (50) while leading them in points (74) in 1990-91.
Among the League leaders this season, Burns is tied for ninth in goals, tied for seventh in assists and tied for third in points behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (72) and Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (68). Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand each also has 67 points.
He is first among defensemen in goals and points. Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson leads NHL defensemen with 45 assists.
Burns also leads the League in shots on goal with 249, putting him on pace for 324.
"I find it remarkable, the season he is having," Hall of Fame defenseman and two-time Norris Trophy winner Brian Leetch said. "Usually a [defenseman] will benefit offensively from being surrounded by a lot of goal-scorers where points and assists come easier. Not that the Sharks don't have a talented group of players, but Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are more playmakers or all-around players rather than goal-scorers.
"The fact that he is scoring so much is impressive. His size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds), strength and shot obviously help, but I have to believe his couple years in NHL as forward and especially his carryover confidence from last year's playoffs had to help him make this jump this year. Just really impressive. With most [defensemen], I expect to see stats like [Erik] Karlsson; fewer goals and more assists."
Though Burns' rise comes when he's approaching his 32nd birthday (March 9), it shouldn't be surprising considering he has been trending this way since the 2013-14 season, his last as a right wing.
Video: FLA@SJS: Burns scorches a wrister past Luongo
Burns scored 22 goals on 245 shots and finished with 48 points in 69 games in 2013-14, when he averaged 16:49 of ice time per game. He played 82 games in 2014-15 and scored 17 goals on 245 shots, finishing with 60 points averaging 23:57 per game.
His numbers rose to 27 goals, 48 assists, 75 points and 353 shots on goal last season, when he finished 11th in in the NHL in points and second in shots on goal.
Burns isn't shooting more this season but he's scoring at a better rate. He has a 10.8 shooting percentage; his NHL average before this season was 7.3 percent.
"He's a difference-maker for us every night," DeBoer said.
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks, 55; Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, 50; Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, 45; Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild, 23; Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings, 5; Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets, 3; Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins, 3; Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals, 3; Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2; John Tavares, New York Islanders, 1; Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks, 1; Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets, 1; Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, 1.