“There’s a shortage of high-end defensemen in this League. When they become available, you don’t hesitate. You better move quickly. This whole deal came together very quickly within the last 24 hours. If we turned it down, it would’ve been a lost opportunity.”
|Minnesota Wild's Brent Burns in the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) |
That’s what Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson said in explaining why he acquired defenseman Brent Burns
from the Minnesota Wild along with a second round pick in the 2012 National Hockey League Entry Draft in exchange for forwards Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and San Jose’s first round (28th overall) pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
The 26-year-old Burns enjoyed his best NHL season last year. He set career highs in games (80), goals (17), assists (29), points (46) and penalty minutes (98). Burns also tied a career high with eight power play goals. His numbers earned him a mid-season trip to the NHL All-Star Game.
But the stats alone don’t tell the whole story on the 6-foot-5, 220-pound defenseman.
“He can play anyway you want him to play,” Wilson said. “He brings the element of puck pursuit, skating with the puck and he closes a lot of time and space very quickly. He’s also a good penalty killer. Rarely do you find all of that in one package.
“This guy has a big body who can play a lot of minutes and play in all roles,” Wilson added. “He’s got a big shot and that will help on the power play. The threat of a big shot always helps. Teams are always looking for defensemen who can shoot the puck and jump into the attack. We’ve been looking for it for awhile.
“That’s why you have to pay a pretty steep price when they become available,” Wilson concluded. “We had to give up two very good players.”
The Sharks, like all NHL teams, always keep an eye on the other teams. Wilson said the Sharks always had an interest in Burns. “He was a guy who was at the top of our list,” Wilson said. “If he ever became available, we would go after him.”
A factor in the decision-making process was having two people in the Sharks organization who were familiar with Burns: Head Coach Todd McLellan and Assistant Coach Matt Shaw. Burns played for both when McLellan was the head coach and Shaw the assistant for Minnesota’s American Hockey League team in Houston.
“That type of knowledge is invaluable,” Wilson said. “Our coaches know this guy. There shouldn’t be any integration time. He comes from an organization where he’s been well coached.”
The Sharks did give up a former 30-goal scorer who had just signed a three-year contract (Setoguchi) and a highly touted forward prospect (Coyle) to get Burns. How will the Sharks fill that void?
“We’ve got seven top-6 forwards. We’ve got a surplus in that area,” Wilson said. “We don’t think offense will be an issue going forward.”
“We’ve had the luxury of having Joe Pavelski play in the bottom six,” McLellan said. “That was a luxury a lot of teams don’t have. He’s going to gradually move up to the top-6 again. We feel he can play in that role. Everybody else will have to contribute a bit more. There’s no one individual who can replace Devin’s 22 regular season goals. That will have to be done by committee.”
Wilson knows he did pay a big price to get a player with lots of upside. He also acquired someone not just for 2011-12, but for a lot longer than that.
“He’s really excited about the opportunity,” Wilson said of Burns. “We acquired him because he fits for the long term. We’ll get to business (long-term contract) when the time is right.”