[UPDATE: Burns has been traded to the Carolina Hurricanes.]
To a certain extent, there really isn’t a “bad” time for the Sharks to unload expensive veteran contracts. Deep down, the Sharks must at least have an inkling that they need to rebuild. Yet, evidence is mounting that this specific offseason — heck, maybe this week — may serve as the perfect time for the Sharks to trade Brent Burns.
Interestingly, new Sharks GM Mike Grier isn’t exactly throwing cold water on a possible Brent Burns trade.
Grier’s even wisely framing the situation as Burns taking the lead (not the Sharks) when it comes to a possible trade.
“He’s been here a long time. He’s been a great Sharks player. I’ll let him kind of lead the way a little bit on that, go off his lead,” Grier said about Burns on Tuesday, via San Jose Hockey Now’s Sheng Peng. “As a former player myself, as you get older, you want to keep that competitive fire burning. And what keeps that burning is the chase for the Cup and winning.”
Well, isn’t that interesting.
Brent Burns, not Sharks, would call shots in a trade situation
For one thing, Grier’s wording works as clever PR. Fans will be more likely to approve of a popular player being traded if that player is on board with the idea.
Of course, it’s also pragmatic.
Brent Burns’ contract carries serious trade protection, as he merely submits a list of three teams he’d accept a trade to.
That said, there can be wiggle room between a mandatory no-trade list and the array of teams a player might accept a trade to if someone merely asks them. That’s especially true that veteran player’s team is in a rebuild — voluntary or not.
[NHL free agency tracker 2022: Full list of offseason signings]
Beyond that pivotal no-trade clause, there are some key notes about Burns and his contract.
- The deal has three years remaining (through 2024-25). This is especially relevant because Burns is older than some might realize. In March, he turned 37.
- If Burns signs off on a trade (or the Sharks hash out a deal with a team on his list), then the contract could be appealing for a market that values under-the-radar savings. Burns carries a robust salary cap hit of $8M. The actual cost is quite a bit less. In 2022-23, there’s a $3.5M salary bonus that was already paid, and a mere $3M actual salary. In 2023-24 and 2024-25, his combined actual salary is just $5M.
Stars, Hurricanes among plausible Burns trade destinations
If Burns ends up flexible with trade destinations, you could talk yourself into quite a few possibilities. That said, there are a number of teams who may be especially interested in a Burns trade.
As Elliotte Friedman mentioned, Brent Burns owns a permanent residence in Texas. One assumes that domicile includes many strange and exotic critters. So, logically enough, the Stars stand as a preferred trade destination for Brent Burns.
(It probably doesn’t hurt that Texas is one of those states with relaxed taxes compared to other markets.)
Notably, the Stars tap into why this could be an especially lucrative time for the Sharks to trade Burns. They’re likely to lose John Klingberg to free agency, and Klingberg might be the most prominent defenseman available. That ranking changes quite a bit if you can get a similarly-priced, bigger name blueliner in a trade, though.
Now, it’s worth noting that the Sharks might need to be creative to trade Burns to the Stars. While Dallas has a projected $17.8M in salary cap space, RFAs Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger are poised to eat a lot of that up.
Would the Stars want to shake loose from Radek Faksa (a player who they love, but costs $3.25M) or Ryan Suter (3.65M) to make a deal work? Would the Sharks retain some money, realizing that they’d be retaining for three seasons?
That could get tricky, but it’s worth a look — especially for San Jose.
When it became clear the Hurricanes would let Tony DeAngelo walk, it felt like they got a value contract (even while holding their nose about his many negative headlines) and they’d want to find the next bargain. Maybe the Hurricanes instead want to go even bigger?
The Hurricanes have made replacing Tony DeAngelo on the right side a top priority. Two players I believe they've kicked tires on: Brent Burns and Jeff Petry.
There are other trade options as well, but something to file away.@TSNHockey @TheAthletic
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 12, 2022
It’s unclear if Carolina ranks as a “preferred destination.” That said, they’re a winning team with the space to add Burns without too much pain.
For a squad that’s sometimes been about creating tons of chances without finish, maybe Burns could be the exclamation point at the end of those sentences?
Other suitors are possible, if Burns ended up flexible
Really, plenty of other teams could get in the running if Burns was willing to play ball. The Stars and Hurricanes make the most sense, though.
No better time than now for Sharks to trade Burns
As mentioned before, the Sharks balked at some opportunities to jumpstart their rebuild. Instead of making the painful-but-wise decision to trade Tomas Hertl, they gave him a risky extension.
With all of that money and three straight years out of the playoffs in mind, you could argue there really aren’t many bad times to unload shaky Sharks contracts. Yet, this is an especially shrewd time to move Burns.
First things first, there’s the market. Plenty of teams won’t want to pay top dollar for John Klingberg, but want a defenseman. That’s where someone like Burns or Jeff Petry steps in.
Considering his age (again, 37), the more the Sharks wait, the more they risk bribing someone to trade for Brent Burns, instead of getting something for him. The clock is ticking.
Take a look at Burns’ career xSPAR (expected standings points above replacement) chart at Evolving Hockey, and you’ll note that Burns’ underlying impact has been more understated for a while now.
Hockey Viz’s heat map also tells some of the story. Burns brings offensive value, but struggles in his own end. (It’s part of the reason some argue that Burns should move back to forward.)
[Top storylines heading into 2022 NHL Free Agency]
Don’t get this twisted, this isn’t a point about Burns being “bad.” Instead, there are red flags that match the concentration of scoring chances the Sharks bleed away in front of the net with Burns on the ice. This is an aging player whose flaws may only become more exaggerated with time. Any suitor must determine if Burns is actually worth that $8M cap hit (or whatever the price may be after possible salary retention).
Plenty of teams will see this as a worthwhile gamble. Still, more analytics-leaning teams may shy away, at least from a significant price tag. With more teams investing in analytics as time passes, the Sharks risk losing more potential trade destinations for Burns.
Again: with time, that could mean begging someone to take Burns off your hands while giving up assets, instead of receiving nice futures for Burns.
Ultimately, this is the best time for the Sharks to trade Burns. It will be a lot easier if he’s on board with the idea, though.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.