In the back half of Alexandre Burrows' career, the Vancouver Canucks forward said he's better than ever at keeping his focus.
It's a skill that's come in handy, given the wide range of commentary on his game. The 35-year-old endured a season of sagging production in 2015-16, finishing with nine goals and 22 points. Speculation was frequent he'd be bought out or asked to waive his no-trade clause.
This season, playing a useful role mostly on Vancouver's third line with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi, Burrows has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 35 games. There's now plenty of talk Burrows may be a valuable veteran nearing the NHL Trade Deadline, particularly for Vancouver.
"You get immune to it," Burrows said when asked about the speculation. "I know media have a job to do, to analyze, criticize, and obviously they've got to sell newspapers and I totally get that. For me, I try to have a positive approach and listen to as little of it as possible. I try to block it as much as possible, deleted Twitter, don't read the papers.
"I had a good summer working out. The body feels good. And I was lucky enough that after 10 games, I was put into a situation where, when we had some injuries to the lineup, I was fortunate to play with Bo and Sven Baertschi. Those are two good young players, up-and-comers, and somehow we found some chemistry."
Video: VAN@EDM: Burrows scores off gorgeous setup
Burrows said he has one goal: keeping team priorities first.
"I'm more focused internally, what's going on in this locker room," Burrows said. "I've played quite a long time now. It's my 12th season. I still remember when I was riding the bus in the [ECHL] making 400 bucks a week, and that keeps me grounded."
The Canucks have started a transition of responsibility to younger players who are their future, and Burrows is a long way from his NHL highs of 35 goals and 67 points in 2009-10.
"Obviously, you want to succeed and you always want to score goals," Burrows said. "I have had some good seasons and I'd love to get those numbers again. But at the same time, I still remember where I came from, that I was undrafted in junior and undrafted in the NHL. I beat a lot of odds. Now I have a beautiful family and beautiful kids and I'm keeping a positive mindset. I try to keep working hard and never be satisfied."
Burrows, who played his 800th NHL regular-season game Dec. 31 at the Edmonton Oilers, said he has no fear of the future, including what's unfolding around him in Vancouver.
"I totally understand the business and that teams, to be successful down the road, you need to build through the draft and to give young guys experience," he said. "You need to learn the hard way, but making mistakes and going through losses and tough stretches, but I think I try to be a good mentor for those young guys, especially work-ethic- and preparation-wise.
"I try to keep them grounded; don't get too high when things are going well and don't get too low when things aren't going your way. I try to be a positive influence. I don't want to be remembered as a grumpy old vet that wasn't happy. I try to be a good guy that guys will remember was working hard and that he cared about this team and this organization and wanted to win."
Sharks change gears
New Year's Eve brought a dramatic shift in the schedule facing the San Jose Sharks.
Their game at the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 31 was the start of a steady diet of Western Conference teams. San Jose had two losses, one in overtime, against the Kings, beginning a stretch when they'll play 15 of 17 games against Western teams though Feb. 4.
Through Wednesday, the Sharks and Anaheim Ducks played 20 games against Eastern Conference opponents, the most in the Western Conference.
Video: LAK@SJS: Couture stickhandles, snaps puck past Budaj
San Jose (23-13-2) led the Pacific Division with 48 points, fueled by a 14-6-0 record against Eastern teams. The Sharks have made three road trips through Eastern Conference cities; they make their final trip to the Eastern time zone for four games from Feb. 7-12.
A change in conference opponents is less of a concern than it used to be, coach Peter DeBoer said.
"I don't see a noticeable difference like maybe you saw five or six years ago," DeBoer told Comcast SportsNet. "I think the gap has closed. The quality and the depth arguably in the East might be better, but I don't see the same real difference in style of play or things that you noticeably saw five years ago."
The Sharks, attempting to return to the Stanley Cup Final, will get busier in the next few weeks. Having 10 instances of two or more days between games (not including the League-wide three-day Christmas break), San Jose will play 10 games in 17 days from Jan. 10-26 before the break for the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game.
Canucks forward Henrik Sedin is four points from becoming the 84th player to reach 1,000 NHL points. He played his 1,200th NHL regular-season game on Dec. 22. … The Los Angeles Kings went 6-5-3 in December, holding on to one of the two wild-card spots into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. The Kings played nine straight road games (3-4-2) and have won their past two. They begin a seven-game homestand, matching their longest of the season, against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday. … On the NHL top 10 list of SAT percentage (minimum 16 games played) through Tuesday, there were two Western Conference players, each from the Kings: Forward Marian Gaborik was seventh (57.98) and forward Anze Kopitar was eighth (57.89). No. 1 was Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins (62.07).
Video: ANA@VAN: H. Sedin rips one top shelf for OT win
Games to watch
Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks (Jan. 6, 10 p.m. ET; SNP, SNW, NHL.TV)
With the Canucks suddenly hot and the Flames holding one of the Western Conference wild-card positions, their home-and-home series takes on greater urgency (the Canucks visit the Flames Jan. 7, 10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, NHL.TV).
Edmonton Oilers at New Jersey Devils (Jan. 7, 7 p.m. ET; SN, MSG+, NHL.TV)
It's the first game between the teams this season, and the first opportunity for Devils forward Taylor Hall and Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson to play against his former team. The Oilers traded Hall to New Jersey for Larsson on June 29. They play again in Edmonton on Jan. 12 (9 p.m. ET; SNW, MSG+, NHL.TV).
Minnesota Wild at Anaheim Ducks (Jan. 8, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV)
After being fired by the Ducks following a first-round playoff loss, Bruce Boudreau makes his return to Anaheim as coach of the surging Wild.
San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers (Jan. 10, 9 p.m. ET; SNW, CSN-CA, NHL.TV)
These teams have been hovering near the top of the Pacific Division and play each other for the second time. The Sharks won 3-2 in overtime on Dec. 23.
Calgary Flames at Edmonton Oilers (Jan. 14, 10 p.m. ET; HNIC, NHL.TV)
Interest in this rivalry looks to be increasing again, with the Flames and Oilers each in a Stanley Cup Playoff position. They have not played since the Oilers swept the first two games of the season, 7-4 and 5-3.
San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings (Jan. 18, 10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV)
They play their final game against each other. San Jose is 2-1-1, Los Angeles is 2-2-0 in the previous four. In the most recent game, Jan. 3 in San Jose, goalies Peter Budaj of the Kings and Martin Jones of the Sharks were excellent, and the Kings won 2-1 in overtime.