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Brent Burns of Sharks having hair-raising offseason

Defenseman, up for Norris Trophy at NHL Awards, meets Chewbacca, finds time to train

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- With a man bun, a beard and a smile that wouldn't be nearly as bright if it had a full complement of teeth, San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns was delighted on Tuesday to discuss his brief life as a pirate.

A finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top player at the position, he changed up family plans last month with a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, a continent away from their usual trip to Disneyland in California.

It was at Disney World that Burns, with his son, Jagger, and daughter, Peyton, met up with hirsute "Star Wars" icon Chewbacca.

"Family reunion!!" Burns tweeted from beneath Yoda ears, Chewbacca's hairy paw on his shoulder, his children mugging for the camera while their father beamed inside a T-shirt featuring Stormtroopers.

"It was a lot of fun to go there, to meet a long-lost cousin. Chewy was great," Burns said with a laugh Tuesday, meeting the media leading up to the 2017 NHL Awards and NHL Expansion Draft presented by T-Mobile (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN) at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday, when the Norris winner will be announced. 

Spotting Burns' legendary beard, which he seemingly grooms with a leaf blower, kids at Disney World clustered around, Chewbacca old news next to the grinning 6-foot-5, 230-pound giant beside him.

"I actually signed a couple autographs in kids' books. They thought I was a pirate," Burns said, laughing again. "You can't blame the kids for thinking that. We always try to dress up and have a good time there."

The Sharks' early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where they lost in the Western Conference First Round to the Edmonton Oilers in six games, has proven to be a bit of a blessing in disguise for Burns, 32, who has put a lot of miles on his body the past two seasons.

Before the 2016-17 season, he represented Canada at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September after having played until June 12, when the Sharks' season ended with a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

This offseason, Burns is taking the time he needs to recharge.

"It's kind of different, more family time," he said of the longer offseason. "It's going to change [things] a lot because I'm going to get to train. The last two years I haven't really been able to. 

"You've got to take the positive with [this season] ending early. I'm really charging the batteries and getting [my body] back to where it can be. … But then there's thinking about playing hockey. I've always thought if you want to be better at something, you [train]. It's tough with the weights and stuff, but it's good to rebuild the body."

Burns was the voice of experience speaking about Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who helped the Penguins defend the Stanley Cup this season and won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the second consecutive year as the postseason's most valuable player.

"I don't know if that was classic Sid," he said of Crosby's brilliant performance (one goal, six assists) in the Final against the Nashville Predators. "It was just like an everyday Sid, almost. To be playing at a time when every team is so good and every line seems like they're hard every night, when every night is such a grind, to dominate the way that he does, [Crosby] is just special."

Burns looked forward to being at T-Mobile Arena, the home of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. He has yet to play a game there but has enjoyed a UFC show. Las Vegas, he said, "is an awesome city and there's no reason that there shouldn't be a team here. It's going to be a lot of fun, it's a great building."

This week, though, has been about letting his beard down, enjoying the chance to spent adult time with his wife, Susan, his parents and his in-laws, and hanging with friends and fellow NHL players he sees only in passing during the season.

"They do a great job setting up the awards," Burns said. "You get to see guys you've got to know through national teams and different things. During the year it's always a little crazy, you get maybe five minutes before or after a game to say hi.

"Here, you get to spend some time with guys. It's a small world. You get some time away from the game, you get to see and meet people. It's always a great time."

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