Usually the offseason is filled with ridiculous contracts, trades that send expensive contracts to new teams, and arbitration hearings. In some way, shape, or form, it seems like every single bit of news has to do with players trying to maximize their compensation or teams trying to get the best deal for players to fill out their roster for next season. It’s this offseason landscape that makes Brent Burns signing with the San Jose Sharks such an interesting story. Instead of playing out the last year of his contract and exploring unrestricted free agency next summer, he jumped at a chance to sign a long-term extension with the team that acquired him only a month ago.
Which brings us to the $30 million question: Why did he forgo the riches of free agency? As Burns tells it, he was just looking for a little security and the chance to win. Hey, can’t argue with either of those. Here’s what Burns had to say after signing his 5-year deal worth $28.8 million:
“To have a chance to start talking about signing the extension, it was really a no-brainer for us. We have a little bit of security for our family and I can concentrate on playing hockey, training and getting ready for the year.”
“I don’t have to worry about (the contract) any more for the next six years and can concentrate on winning, being on a great team and being a great teammate. I think that’s important to me.”
Let’s get one thing straight: the man is getting paid almost $30 million to play hockey. It’s not like he’s a martyr and has taken a vow of poverty. But after taking a quick glance around the league at the contracts that were thrown at free agents this summer, it’s clear that Burns would have been able to make more money next season if he continued to produce in his first year with the Sharks.
Part of the risk for the Sharks when they traded Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and a first round pick for Burns was that he was only signed through the 2011-12 season. Upon signing the defenseman to the five-year extension, Sharks GM Doug Wilson admitted that the team could have lost Burns if he went on the open market in 2012.
“There was a level of risk at this. Supply and demand dictates that defensemen always are going to get their money and terms. But we know this is a guy who loves to play the game, wants to compete and wants to win. We thought we would be a good fit for him. From Day One, signing him was our ultimate goal. And for him to agree to this kind of contract, I can’t compliment Brent enough for him stepping up and being a great teammate.”
Since they’ve locked-up Burns until 2017, the Sharks are betting that the former Wild defenseman will be their cornerstone blueliner of the future. In the short-term, he’ll team up with Dan Boyle to give the Sharks one of the better one-two punches in the Western Conference from the back-end. He’ll join a group of otherwise underrated defensemen in Douglas Murray, Jason Demers, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to form a formidable defensive corps for the next two seasons. That’s right: the Sharks have their five best defenseman already signed through the next two seasons.
The defense has admirable depth—but they were sorely lacking a top-pairing guy who could play on the power play, penalty kill, and 5-on-5 each and every night. Burns will be depended upon to do that for 82 games each year—all of which are merely a prelude to the playoffs in San Jose these days. His ability to thrive in his new home will be imperative for the Sharks to make it back to their third consecutive Conference Final (and beyond). Ray Ratto of CSN Bay Area also understands Burns’ importance to his new team:
“Burns is obviously more important than any of the other acquisitions (Havlat, Michal Handzus), and will probably join with and eventually supplant Boyle as the defensive nucleus. It explains the size of the deal, but explaining Burns’ importance will require October, and November, and on and on.
Ultimately, you see, this is a deal for a player, not a deal for a signature, and in truth, Burns need to be the best defenseman the Sharks have ever had. Not because the money says so, but because the roster and the expectations and the resume say so.”
The next step for the former first round draft pick will be to improve upon his career bests from a year ago. In 80 games, Burns finished the season with 17 goals, 29 assists and 98 penalty minutes. His 17 goals were third in the NHL among defenseman and his 25:02 ice-time per game, placed him ninth among defenseman who played at least 70 games last season.
He’s shown in Minnesota to be a cornerstone defenseman—now he’ll look to prove that he can be “the man” for a team that’s annually expected to make a deep run into the playoffs.