The hockey community, like all professional sporting communities, may look big, but it’s really small.
Someone is always familiar with somebody. Coaches, players, training and equipment staff and front office personnel always seem to know at least one or two people from another team.
New Sharks defenseman Brent Burns
is no exception.
He knows Dany Heatley as they were teammates for Canada in the 2008 World Championships. Burns also heard nothing but good things about the Sharks from Wild teammate Brad Staubitz, who played for San Jose from 2008-10, and Assistant Equipment Manager Rick Bronwell (who left the Sharks for a similar position in Minnesota after the 2009-10 season).
But most importantly, Burns played for Head Coach Todd McLellan and Assistant Coach Matt Shaw when they had similar positions with Minnesota’s American Hockey League team in Houston for one game in 2003-04 and 73 games in 2004-05.
“We understand his demeanor,” McLellan said. “The way he carries himself, his energy that he brings to the rink and his hockey skills. The familiarity (with Burns) allowed us to be more sure of our opinion (when asked about acquiring Burns) because of our past experience with him.”
“I’m really excited to work with them,” Burns said. “That was my first year (2004-05) playing defense (Burns had been mostly a forward to that point). I learned a lot then and I know I can learn a lot this year. I feel really good about my game, but I know I can get better. Those are two guys who can push me to that next level. I’m really excited for that.”
Burns is also excited about being able to play for a perennial contender. Since 2005-06, the Wild had been in the postseason just twice, while the Sharks have been to the last two Western Conference Finals and haven’t missed the playoffs.
“I’m excited. I’m nervous,” Burns said. “I’ve got a chance to win and do well. Growing up, I won a lot and was on a lot of good teams. Part of me always wants to win. When you don’t make the playoffs, it’s really hard to look back on your year and feel good about it. I’m really excited to be part of San Jose. I can’t wait to get there.”
How will Burns fit into the Sharks defensive rotation?
“We need to get him in and see how he interacts with his new teammates,” McLellan said. “There may be somebody he migrates to and feels comfortable with. We’ve played some pretty consistent pairs over the last couple of years, mostly (Dan) Boyle and Dougie Murray. You never know. We could split them up and experiment.”
Regardless of who he’s paired with, Burns will get plenty of power play time. After all, he tied a career high with eight power play goals last year and he has a very strong right hand shot.
“Absolutely,” McLellan said. “There’s not many pucks that come his way that he doesn’t want to shoot. If you look back, a lot of goals he scored were back from the blue line. He’s got a bit of a Rob Blake quality where when he gets it, he wants to bomb away at it. He’s very aggressive in that way.”
And Burns knows he and his family, which includes a 14-month old daughter and a son who was born last Sunday, will be very comfortable in Northern California.
“My wife is from Texas, so she’s no stranger to the heat,” Burns said. “It will be good to get her out of the snow.”FROM THE FRONT END TO THE BACK END
When Burns was drafted by Minnesota in 2003, he was a forward. When he made his National Hockey League debut with the Wild in 2003-04, two people decided he should play defense.
“(Former Wild General Manager) Doug Risebrough and (former Wild Head Coach) Jacques Lemaire,” McLellan said. McLellan had him for the 2004-05 season in Houston when the move was suggested.
“We were asked to experiment,” McLellan said. “Jacques had a vision for him based on his size, skating ability, stamina and puck movement from the blue line. That (skilled defensemen) was a need Minnesota had at that time. So we went with it and that’s made him the player that he is. He’s a hybrid. He’s got some Dan Boyle
qualities to him.
“He’s also been coached by one of the best defensive coaches in Jacques,” McLellan added. “He’s got a strong foundation of how to play in his own zone and against some of the other team’s top players.”
Burns had played a little defense for Couchiching in the Ontario Junior Hockey League in 2001-02. But before he played full-time defense for Houston, he gave it a six-game trial with the Wild in 2003-04.
“We weren’t going to make the playoffs,” Burns said. “They asked me if I was comfortable playing the last six games on defense. I said, ‘Yeah.’ I guess the experiment went a little longer than that.”
Burns has no complaints about the switch, which has gone on for seven years.
“I really love playing defense,” Burns said. “I love the challenge of pressuring guys.”THE BUSINESS SIDE OF THE JOB
As Wilson said, he had to pay a steep price to acquire Burns. He gave up two former first round picks in Setoguchi (2005) and Coyle (2010). Telling the players what he had to do wasn’t easy.
“We always talk to the player before a trade is done,” Wilson said. “I talked to Devin and Charlie Coyle and told them it was a really difficult decision to make. We had to do what was right for the team.
“This is a tough part of the business," Wilson added. "For where we’re trying to get to, you have to make tough decisions. We wish both of them the best.”