I thought I would have much more ready to say after this happened.
I've only been championing Brent Burns since the beginning of last offseason, advocating for a trade that would bring the massive, offensively gifted blueliner to San Jose. When it did happen last night, I was shocked, and literally speechless. I had to wait to put this together until this morning.
Before I go any further, this isn't a statistical breakdown of the player. I'll touch on that a little, but for a good summation of what Burns means to San Jose, check Jason Plank's article from this morning. This article is more of a reflection of what this trade means for the franchise and the future of the San Jose Sharks.
Two years ago, I wrote a similar piece after Doug Wilson made his last blockbuster trade. Then, in multiple moves to create cap space, he most notably traded a young, blossoming two-way forward (Milan Michalek), a former star trending down (Jonathan Cheechoo), and a talented but inconsistent defenseman (Christian Ehrhoff) for superstar forward Dany Heatley.
Back then, I made a pretty ballsy claim about the future of the team and their chances that season. With the addition, I suggested that the Sharks looked like the best team in the NHL. That team, however, still lacked a number two defenseman, a deficiency which would prove lethal to the team's Stanley Cup chances two years in a row.
Now, after an incredibly ballsy trade which brings Brent Burns to San Jose, Doug Wilson has patched that hole in his roster. This isn't a temporary fix with a player at the tail end of his career (Rob Blake), or a player who didn't fit the team's real need (Niclas Wallin). Burns is one of the best players in NHL at his position, and one who at just 26 years old, still has room to grow.
I've heard varying reactions from Sharks fans about the trade. Some are excited for what Burns brings, others seem to believe that the Sharks gave up too much to acquire a player with just one year left on his contract. Although I agree that Burns' pending unrestricted status and cut-throat agent makes the proposition of retaining Burns after this season less than certain, I still make the trade.
Before you call my past articles to my attention, I'll do it myself. I have said, on multiple occasions, that trading Devin Setoguchi was a bad idea. Last season though, I started to warm to the idea, with the caveat that he be moved for a young defenseman on the upswing of his career. That's exactly what the Sharks got, and it's exactly what they needed.
Losing Coyle hurts a bit, especially since the Sharks are so thin at the forward position in their system. We expect him to be a good player, but in reality, no one knows if Coyle pans out in the NHL. Burns is a known commodity at a position where the Sharks had a dire need. Coyle, although promising, wasn't going to help the Sharks in their quest to win the Stanley Cup this year, and likely not in the next few years. San Jose, with an aging core, needs to make their moves now. Coyle could be good years from now, but by then, the Sharks may not be a team as ready to win as they currently appear to be.
The first round pick doesn't even move the needle for me, especially because it was so late in the draft. Many have said that the Sharks gave up too many first-rounders to get Burns. If the pick was three later in the draft, it would have been a second. I don't think anyone would have had an issue with it then.
Minnesota got a haul for Burns, there's no denying that. But in today's NHL, skilled defensemen don't come cheap. Keith Ballard, who didn't even start for Vancouver in the playoffs, cost them Steve Bernier (a former Sharks first-round pick), Michael Grabner (a thirty-four goal scorer who was a Calder Trophy candidate), and a first-round pick.
Defensemen are expensive. Burns is much, much better than Ballard, and the cost was about equal. That's a win for Doug Wilson.
Lets just take a step back and realize what the Sharks have. They have a top-six forward group which is one of the best in the NHL, especially if Dany Heatley returns to even 80% of his previous form. (Many have called for a Dany Heatley trade. I'm not going to sidetrack this article, but Heatley is a perennial 40 goal scorer who struggled with injuries all year and still scored 26 goals despite a career low shooting percentage. Enough said.) The Sharks also now have one of the best one-two punches on defense in the league, and a strong supporting cast of Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jason Demers, Douglas Murray and Justin Braun. They also have a goaltender who began to come into his own as an elite player as the 2010-2011 season progressed.
In summation, they're stacked.
Incredibly, too, the Sharks have approximately $9MM left to spend to improve their lower lines or even add another defenseman if they don't believe Justin Braun to be ready. Doug Wilson could further improve his team, and do so by leaps and bounds.
I could not be more excited about this move, because it's one I've been waiting for since I joined Fear the Fin with Jason Plank three seasons ago.
The only thing I'm unhappy about is that I have to wait three months to watch this team play.