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Brent Burns' Contract Extension a Necessary Evil for San Jose Sharks

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistNovember 22, 2016

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 03: Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks looks on during the game against the Calgary Flames at SAP Center on November 3, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)
Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

Brent Burns’ new contract with the San Jose Sharks is not a good deal. He’s certainly worth $8.0 million in the present, but with a term that stretches past his 40th birthday, the amount of risk associated with the pact would make it a nonstarter for a lot of different NHL teams.

For the Sharks, though, there was little choice but to secure Burns' services at whatever cost.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported details of the new contract Tuesday afternoon:

Pierre LeBrun @PierreVLeBrun

Sharks have agreed to eight year deal with Brent Burns believe to be worth around $8 M a year on average

The important item here for San Jose is that Burns is locked down for the next few seasons.

The Sharks have been a good-to-very good team for years now, having made the playoffs in 11 of the last 12 seasons and winning at least one playoff round in eight of those campaigns. Despite last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, however, those days are drawing to a close as the club’s core pieces approach their best-before dates.

Chris Johnston @reporterchris

Full Brent Burns #SJSharks extension breakdown: https://t.co/vYK88HHZ4i

Burns is one of three players with more than 10 points for San Jose this season, and at age 31 he’s also the youngest. Joe Pavelski turned 32 back in July, while Joe Thornton turned 37.

Pavelski and Thornton also happen to be the two most used forwards on the club this season, with Patrick Marleau (37) and Joel Ward (35) also inside the top six.

The defence isn’t in much better shape. Burns’ regular partner, Paul Martin, is 35. Fellow franchise cornerstone Marc-Edouard Vlasic and his partner Justin Braun will both be 30 before the playoffs roll around.

There’s just no way to replace those players once they stop being effective, something Marleau is already showing signs of doing. Logan Couture, who turns 28 this season, isn’t really that young, and with a few exceptions, the up-and-coming players in the system don’t seem like they’ll be able to hold a candle to their predecessors.

This has been a good team for a long time, and it’s one that still has a narrow window to make some noise in the playoffs. Losing Burns, a second-team All-Star last year who averaged nearly 26 minutes per night and scored 75 points from the blue line, would have been disastrous. San Jose did what was necessary to make sure that didn’t happen.

In so doing, it attached itself to a defenceman with an $8.0 million cap hit through his 40th birthday.

Rob Blake remained a useful NHL defenceman through age 40
Rob Blake remained a useful NHL defenceman through age 40David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Some defencemen can play that long. Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris at 40. Rob Blake was still playing north of 20 minutes per game for the Sharks at that age. Another player with San Jose ties, Dan Boyle, was still an NHL defenceman at age 39. These players tend to be exceptions to the rule, though, and all were greatly diminished from their prime years (Lidstrom’s 2010-11 season is certainly the weakest of any Norris winner in the 2000s, though that’s another topic).

Burns is a good defenceman, and even in decline he should be of some use, particularly given his probable ability to play the role of power-play/offensive specialist as other parts of his game go south. Additionally, the Sharks have taken the sensible precaution of front-loading the deal and attaching signing bonuses, as per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:

Chris Johnston @reporterchris

Full Brent Burns #SJSharks extension breakdown: https://t.co/vYK88HHZ4i

Normally thought of as concessions to the player, deals with a lot of front-loading and signing bonuses can actually be a boon to a team with some financial muscle.

If, for example, the Sharks were to trade Burns immediately after paying his signing bonus in the summer of 2022, his actual average salary over the next three seasons would be just $3.33 million while his cap hit would remain steady at $8.0 million. That’s the kind of contract that might be appealing to the Ottawa Senators or some other penny-pinching budget team at that point.  

However, even with Burns’ declining salary and the potential for career longevity, there’s no hiding that this is likely to be a bad deal in the last few years.

Johnston reports that the contract includes a no-trade clause in which Burns can submit a three-team list. This seems foolish, particularly since the Sharks have some experience in the difficulty of moving players with no-trade clauses. It’s effectively a full no-trade, since any agent would quickly be able to scan the league and find three teams incapable of adding $8.0 million to their cap hit.

San Jose can afford that kind of risk, though. The team’s window to win is likely to close either once Thornton exits the roster or very shortly thereafter. There hasn’t been enough investment in the future to prevent a long-term stint in the NHL basement when that seemingly inevitable crash comes. If the Sharks have three more competitive years, after which comes a five-year rebuild, the riskiest years of Burns’ deal aren’t likely to pose a real problem anyway.

The Sharks are a team built to do things now and in the immediate future. Burns helps with those short-term goals. Later on, his contract will be just one more pain point on a team staring down the barrel of irrelevance anyway.

    

Statistical information courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

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