After four straight playoff appearances, the San Jose Sharks have sunk back into the depths of the league. What was once considered a Cup contender is now a rebuilder, with very little cap room and multiple large contracts, both in term and average annual value. As a result, the Sharks are in a precarious situation with the upcoming expansion draft. Brent Burns‘ future with San Jose is unclear because of it.
Brent Burns Career Makes His Future Unclear
Burns has had an illustrious career in the NHL. Commonly referred to as “Chewbacca,” Burns has made himself a staple of the San Jose blue line with his personality and, most importantly, his play. After being traded from the Minnesota Wild to the San Jose Sharks during the 2011 NHL entry draft, Burns developed exceptionally well. With 698 points in 1,128 games, he has been one of the most effective offensive defencemen of the decade. The underlying numbers also support this notion.
Since 2010-2020, Burns is fifth among defencemen in total offence goals above replacement (GAR) and second among defencemen in expected total offence goals above replacement. Additionally, Burns is ninth among defencemen with a minimum of 10,000 minutes at even strength in goals for per sixty (GF/60), and he is second in expected goals for per sixty (xGF/60). There is no denying his offensive production, especially in his prime, has been extraordinary.
Furthermore, Burns has been top three in Norris voting three times in his career, including a first-place finish in 2016-17. A season and result that would earn him a massive contract extension. At the time, it was the longest extension ever signed by a Sharks’ player. Erik Karlsson signed one for the same amount of term and more money in the 2019 offseason. An eight-by-eight deal is a hefty burden for a front office to bear. However, it was a necessary one.
The Expansion Draft
The Seattle Kraken is the latest addition to the list of expansion NHL teams, which means an inevitable expansion draft. Until it happens, there will be an innumerable amount of predictions and mock drafts made. The variety in the mock drafts is evident. One draft is explicitly fascinating. The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek and Ryan S. Clark have done five installations of mock expansion drafts.
The rosters for teams have evolved since the beginning, which means specific organizations will protect new acquisitions or players eligible for selection. The San Jose Sharks section of their most recent installation was of particular interest.
In that distinct section, the two writers explored San Jose’s idea of not protecting Burns due to Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic having no-movement clauses. Additionally, it is a way to shed some salary cap to aid with the rebuild.
Pros to Selecting Brent Burns
The idea of Burns being a selection by Seattle is not unfathomable. He is a unique personality and a strong presence on the blueline. He could be very useful to a team that will need experience and potent offence on a blueline, most likely consisting of younger depth players. The leaders of an expansion team are vital to early success. Burns would become the player associated with the Kraken and the player that other members of the team look up to as a veteran presence. He would be the Marc-Andre Fleury or Deryk Engelland of the Kraken organization.
Cons to Selecting Brent Burns
However, selecting Burns could bring possible dilemmas. First, Ron Francis and the Seattle front office would need to choose players that do not dent the cap by a large amount. The depth players especially need to be low cap hit additions. Second, the players need to be relatively young. This will be less of a problem, but still, one that needs to be taken into account.
These two things are vital if the Kraken considers Burns as a selection when the time comes. One of Burns’ drawbacks is his age. At 35-years-old, he is going to continue to regress. Pair that with an eight-year deal at $8 million per year, and it is suddenly a gamble. However, the pro, within a con, is the structure of the contract. This is something that Duhatschek and Clark went over in their analysis of the possible selection.
“The good news is, the contract is front-loaded. After this year, his fourth at $10 million per, the actual dollars drop off: $7.5 million in 2021-22, then a year at $6.5 million and two years at $5 million.”
Even if the Kraken were hesitant to get Burns because of his contract, the stress is not as prevalent. A front-loaded contract can be a lifesaver for some teams. While Seattle is not a team thrown into a cap space jam, it is still important to consider. A good expansion draft and active free agency can be the difference between good and bad starts.
Looking at the Future
The landscape of the NHL can easily be changed. With that comes the possibility of a change within the Sharks and, ultimately, mock drafts. Additionally, the idea of Burns not being protected is speculation. The Sharks could take an entirely different approach than what was being considered. Nonetheless, it is not inconceivable that Burns may be on the move this upcoming offseason.