When the San Jose Sharks acquired Brent Burns at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft they parted ways with some significant assets. Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and a first round draft pick was a big package to give up in exchange for the All-Star defenseman-- no matter how much better it made the Sharks next year, Burns' UFA status heading into the 2012 offseason was a source of anxiety that many thought would hover over the front office for the majority of next season.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson ended that uncertainty yesterday when he inked Burns to a five year contract worth $5.76 MM per year. With that final nail in the wall, the picture of San Jose's defensive situation now and into the future just got a whole lot clearer.
And boy does it look pretty.
"[Signing an extension] was a huge part of the deal I'll be honest with you because we gave up some very good players to get him. The deal came together very quickly," Doug Wilson said via conference call yesterday. "To get this type of defenseman who is just coming into his prime at 26 we knew we had to move quickly and be aggressive. There was a level of risk [to the trade]. You saw what happened this summer with the D-men getting the contracts they did."
Free agency is a period where money gets tossed around with abandon. When a good but not great defenseman like James Wisniewski receives a six year contract worth $5.5 MM per year and an offensive magician with defensive questions like Christian Ehrhoff lands a ten year deal at the age of 29, chaos theory becomes applicable in more ways than one. Burns' talent, age, and ceiling would have made him one of the most attractive defenseman on the market next season. There is no telling what type of compensation he would have received. $5.76 MM per isn't a hometown discount of course, but it is in the lower end of the ballpark, and it is reasonable considering he could reach career high point totals next season on an extremely talented Sharks team.
It is the price you have to be willing to pay for a player of this caliber, something that Wilson knew when he made the initial trade. Signing Burns' was a huge priority for the Sharks before July 1, 2012 for reasons that are clear.
"I don't know if I would have called it a failure-- my responsibility is to put the best team on the ice every single year-- but it certainly would have been viewed in our minds differently if it only would have been a one year deal," Wilson said. "Absolutely. That's the risk you have to take in this business, you have to go with what makes your hockey team better for both now and the future."
"Would I have been happy if [the contract] was just a one and out? No. I wouldn't have. We're sitting here today not having to concern ourselves with that."
Going into next offseason the Sharks are in excellent position when it comes to their blueline. Burns, Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Douglas Murray, and Jason Demers are all under contract at affordable prices, with only Burns and Boyle making over $3.5 MM per year. The affordable contracts of players like Vlasic, Murray, and Demers account for a mere $6.85 MM in total, giving the Sharks excellent value in the 3-5 spots throughout their lineup.
Those deals allow the Sharks to splurge on Burns, Boyle, and their top six forward group, making the roster stronger up and down the lineup. Affordable contracts are just as important today as they were last week, and the compensation awarded to Vlasic et. al are a large part of the reason why the team is able to be aggressive when targeting players such as Burns. If you're thanking the hockey gods for this extension, make sure to send some Hail Mary's to Pickles and Demers as well. They're just as much a part of it.
Where Burns fits in on the team now and into the future remains to be seen. He will see a healthy amount of power play time, contribute on the penalty kill, and ease the minutes burden off of Dan Boyle. As Burns stated yesterday however, finding a defensive partner will be decided in training camp.
"I've talked to the coaches, I know Shawsie [Matt Shaw] and Todd from before, and nothing about pairings or anything yet," Burns said. "We just talked about hockey and life. I'm sure it will come to fruition during training camp, we'll see how I get chemistry with."
The logical course of action is to pair him with Marc-Edouard Vlasic next season, giving the Sharks one of the best young pairings in the entire NHL. If that happens, expect the "criminally underrated" tag we've assigned to Vlasic over his career with San Jose to become irrelevant by year's end. He'll finally be on the national radar playing along with Burns who is one of the most dynamic offensive defenseman in the League today.
A defenseman Sharks fans are excited to see in teal for the next six years.