Rare is the Minnesota Wild fan who doesn't at least have a soft spot in their heart for lovable, talented Brent Burns. He will be missed as much for his affable, easy going personality as for his upper-echelon (among defensemen) offensive skills on the Minnesota blue line.
That being said, he had to be traded if the Wild was going to try to change the culture of an organization for which mediocrity had become the norm.
You trade from strength. And given both the progress of some of the young defensemen in the system (on display during Houston's run to the Calder Cup Final) and the upper-echelon offensive skills of Marek Zidlicky (not the same flavor as Burns' offensive skills, per se, but still ice cream) already on the team, Burns would have represented a position of strength for the Wild.
But, entering a contract year, and represented by an agent who has had a, shall we say, checkered past with the Minnesota organization, and Fletcher had to at least look. And what he found when he looked was an eager dance partner in Doug Wilson.
That's all history.
What we have today is news of the 5-year extension that Burns agreed to with San Jose that will pay him $28.8M over those five years, for an average cap hit of $5.76M. Burns will make $3.55M this season.
This new deal would make Burns the 10th-highest paid defenseman in the NHL, according to capgeek.com, edging Andrei Markov down from 10th to 11th.
Now we all know Burns has top-ten offensive skills. But his defensive skills, or more accurately his ability to maximize them consistently, would rank decidedly lower than top-ten in the league. Nonetheless, you overpay for offensive defensemen, as the Wild did with Zidlicky for example.
But where this gets interesting is when you start looking at the Wild's financial situation after the '11-12 season, and try to envision Burns and this $5.76M fitting into it.
As of today, on capgeek.com, the Wild has $45.66M committed to 14 players heading into the '12-13 season. That includes the Barker buyout. The salary cap for the '11-12 season is $64.3M. Zanon is also in a UFA contract season in '11-12, so Fletcher has to make a decision on him at some point that could increase our expenditure.
That $45.66M is divided up between 9 forwards, 4 defensemen and 1 goalie. If you add Burns' $5.76M onto that you're at 15 players, including 5 defensemen, and $51.42M committed. Let's assume a modest increase in the salary cap, and use $65M as a nice, round number.
So you've got $13.58M left over to find three forwards, one defenseman and a goalie.
Oh and you also have to re-sign Gui Latendresse who is a RFA after this season. Assuming you at least qualify him, you're adding at least $2.5M (100% of previous contract for a player making $1M or more) right there. So now we're at 10 forwards, 5 defensemen, 1 goalie and $53.92M committed. And that's only if Latendresse signs for exactly the same amount that he will have made this season. If he gets healthy and puts up some numbers (in a contract year) then he could easily command more than $2.5M.
So now we need 2 forwards, 1 defenseman and a goalie, and you have $11.08M left to spend. Brodziak ($1.15M) and Staubitz ($575k) are both UFAs after '11-12 and cheap. Say you sign them to fill out your forwards. That means you're at 12 forwards, 5 defensemen and 1 goalie and $55.645M committed.
But weren't you hoping Granlund at least comes over next season? What's his contract going to look like? And Brodin's already got a contract. Is he ready for NHL blueline duty? Maybe he earns a spot in camp next year. Russo reported that his cap hit would be $1.475M with bonuses.
And figure a million for a backup goalie.
And this is all to fill out to 20. Do they want to carry an extra forward or defenseman? At the start of the '12-13 season Bouchard, Cullen, Nystrom, Zidlicky and Backstrom are all entering UFA contract seasons. Presumably Fletcher will want to sign at least a couple of those guys. And Clutterbuck, Gillies, Scandella and Spurgeon will all be entering RFA contract seasons and likewise some of them will warrant new deals.
AND we still haven't reconciled this with Fletcher's stated desire to be more middle-of-the-pack, cap-wise, until the team is ready to take the next step towards true contention. In other words, they don't want to spend to the cap right now. Will they be that much closer to the expectation of a solid playoff run in the '12-13 season?
The point here is that, while Burns brings undeniable offensive skill to the team (which is something that every team wants), he would have likely been nearly prohibitively expensive for the Wild to re-sign, anyway.
Instead, Fletcher turned Burns into Setoguchi, Coyle and Phillips, significantly upgraded his weakest point (young offensive forwards) and stayed true to his economic vision at the same time.
That, my friends, is how a real GM gets it done.