By now, we all know that this summer’s free agent crop is absolutely loaded with talent. In fact, it might actually be the best group of players to hit the open market at the same time since the NHL implemented the salary cap back in 2005. But what about the 2017 UFA class? While next, next summer’s group doesn’t boast names like Steven Stamkos and Anze Kopitar, there are still a handful of franchise changing players who could possibly become free agents.
Like Brent Burns, for example, who, aside from owning arguably the best beard in hockey, has cemented himself as one of the league’s elite offensive defencemen over the past few seasons. Since the beginning of the 2013 lockout season, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban are the only defencemen in the NHL who have scored more points than Burns has, and this season, nobody in the league has produced more individual shot attempts.
So, what will Burns command if he hits the open market? And are the Sharks going to be able to afford it?
As I mentioned above, Brent Burns has been one of the league’s elite offensive defencemen over the past few years. That said, he doesn’t appear on Hockey Reference’s list of highest scoring defencemen under their season finder tool. That’s because the Sharks were using him as a forward alongside Joe Thornton on their top line, which is something that’s stirred a fair amount of controversy. Many suggest that Burns is more useful to the Sharks as a forward and that he should be returned to Thornton’s wing because the two created a damn near unstoppable force when they played together.
It’s really up in there air whether Burns is more effective as a forward or a defenceman. There’s an argument to both sides of the discussion, as his massive frame and physical style of play makes him a tremendously intriguing power-forward option, but he’s also proven himself to be an excellent defenceman, which is obviously another high sought after commodity. Regardless, this is a very good problem to have, both for Brent Burns and the team who employs him.
On one hand, you have Brent Burns the defenceman who’s producing at an elite offensive level while still maintaining a solid game in his own zone. Through 27 games this season, he has 10 goals and 12 assists, which puts him on pace for a career high of 67 points. He’s also managing a 52.8 Corsi For percentage, which is strong in relation to his teammates on a somewhat underwhelming Sharks squad. Also, unlike a lot of typical offensive defencemen, Burns isn’t spoon fed easy offensive minutes, as he starts just as many even strength shifts in the offensive zone as he does in the defensive zone. Then, of course, on the other hand, you have Brent Burns the forward, who produced the second most shot attempts of any forward other than Alex Ovechkin while playing alongside Thornton in 2013-14.
Regardless, with Burns, you have either an elite offensive defenceman or a dangerous power forward. He’s a versatile player who can not only play both forward and defence, but also excel at them both which is something teams should be getting excited about if he hits the market.
So what will that be worth come 2017?
When Burns hits the free agent market (assuming he makes it that far), he’ll be 32-years old. Obviously his prime years will be behind him, but he’ll still have multiple competitive and productive years left in the tank. Right now, he’s in the second last year of a five-year deal that pays him $5.760 annually. He signed the deal soon after being traded from Minnesota to San Jose back in the summer of 2011. At the time, he was coming off a 17 goal and 46 point season with the Wild.
A pretty reasonable comparison for Burns would be Mark Giordano, who also produces at a high level offensively, and was set to become an unrestricted free agent (at the same age of 32) this summer. Giordano came to terms on a deal with Calgary last summer that would pay him $6.75 million annually over six years. This was considered to be a pretty friendly hometown discount, as some were suggesting that Giordano would make upwards to $8 million per season on the open market. With that considered, there’s no reason Burns couldn’t make at least $7 million per year over five or six years on his next contract. And I say that conservatively, because if the cap takes another spike at this time next year and Burns continues to produce along with the likes of Subban and Karlsson, he could easily become one of the league’s highest paid defencemen — even if it is for a shorter term.
Obviously the Sharks are going to be interested in getting Burns signed, as he’s probably the team’s most valuable asset moving forward. They’ll certainly have the cap space to do it, as both Thornton and Patrick Marleau’s current deals come to an end at the same time, which will free up a combined $13 million in cap space. So if Burns wants to stay in San Jose, and the Sharks don’t decide to completely blow it up, there will be money available to make a new deal happen.
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