When the San Jose Sharks shipped Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick to Minnesota for Brent Burns on draft day, the Sharks had to have had mixed feelings.
San Jose knew that they added one of the league's best two-way defensemen, but must have also been feeling worried about the void they created by moving Setoguchi and Coyle.
Setoguchi was one of the speediest skaters in San Jose's top six, and added an explosive dimension to the offense. Coyle was a young power forward prospect expected to become a fixture of the top six within a couple seasons.
Without these two players, San Jose became a slower, older, team, with a less impressive group of forwards and smaller window to win the Stanley Cup.
In the last two playoffs, San Jose has been skated off the ice by the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks. Going into next season with an even slower group of forwards just didn't seem to make sense. While the Brent Burns trade was made to increase team speed on the back end, it left nearly as big a hole as it filled.
Devin Setoguchi brought an element of speed to the Sharks' top six that was not going to be replaced internally. So the Sharks looked at their remaining top six, and decided who was the most expendable. The conclusion was not hard to reach. Heatley had the biggest contract, the worst playoff track record, and the most personal baggage.
So, if Heatley was so undesirable, why would anyone want him?
He is the NHL's third-most prolific goal scorer of the past decade. The Wild are, to put it mildly, an offensively challenged team. With the addition of Setoguchi, they improved their offense, but still lacked a go-to goal scorer, a guy who can play in front of the net, and a sniper on the power play (especially after losing Burns).
So the Sharks found a team willing to take on the contract and the baggage, and capitalized.
Looking at these two trades as separate is misleading when trying to understand the Sharks' agenda. For a moment, think of it as a Havlat-for-Setoguchi swap.
Martin Havlat will not only reintroduce Setoguchi's speed, he'll bring even more of it. He'll at least match, if not surpass Seto in the clutch department. He is also an excellent puck handler, and a far superior set-up guy than Devin. Finally, he brings more consistency on both ends.
The question then becomes: if Havlat was traded for Setoguchi, was trading Heatley and Coyle for Brent Burns worth it?
The Sharks had an abundance of size up front, with guys like Heatley, Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe. However, while the latter two are two of the best puck-possession players in the league, Heatley did a lot less with his size.
In contrast, they had a lack of size on the back end, and the size they did have (Douglas Murray, Kent Huskins) was practically impotent offensively.
So, the Sharks traded away a valuable but personally useless commodity in Heatley, and added a valuable and ultra-useful one in Burns. This swap makes so much sense, it's barely worth analyzing.
However, one important facet of this double-trade still must be addressed: the long-term.
In moving Setoguchi, Coyle, and a draft pick, the Sharks gave up a lot of youth. In acquiring a defensemen with an expiring contract, the Sharks jeopardized their chances of success beyond the 2011-12 season.
Once again, the Heatley-Havlat swap changed all that.
The Sharks cleared $2.5 million in cap space annually for the next three seasons by making this move. This gives San Jose over eight million dollars in cap space currently open. This flexibility can be used to lock up Brent Burns for years, making the long-term risk of moving Setoguchi obsolete.
Even signing Burns to a big multi-year deal wouldn't completely handcuff the Sharks financially, and because of that, they will be able to fill holes on their roster year in and year out via free agency. Thus, losing a prospect and a draft pick wasn't nearly as big a blow to the organizational depth as it seemed to be before.
The Sharks have a blend of veterans and youngsters under contract. They can contend for a couple more years with their current core, and down the line, they can replenish their farm system through moving one of their many talented veterans.
As the dust clears, the Sharks have walked away from this six-player double trade a much improved team. Out of every player involved, San Jose currently possesses the two that they would hand-pick to possess, and they have the cap space and maneuverability to keep it that way.
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