The San Jose Sharks got out ahead of the free agent market and any speculation that their best defenceman may leave the team next summer.
The 31-year-old is probably best known as the NHL’s version of Chewbacca, but he’s also one of the most exciting players to watch. Burns brings a unique combination of physicality and offence from the blue line that only a converted power forward could do. When he was drafted into the NHL by Minnesota in 2003 (20th overall), Burns was a forward who was quickly converted to a defenceman by the Wild. He’s been back and forth between the two positions a couple times in his career, but has settled in as an elite blue liner and Team Canada staple in recent years.
Burns leads all defencemen in scoring so far this season with 16 points in 19 games. He finished second to Erik Karlsson with 75 points in 2015-16.
No blue liner can truly be compared to Burns, but we can acknowledge where his contract stands up against some of his peers.
Kris Letang (eight years, $58 million, $7.25 million cap hit)
As far as creating offence goes, Letang is the closest comparable to Burns here, but that’s as far as the similarities go. The key of Pittsburgh’s still-thin back end, when Letang is healthy he creates offence and generates quick transition plays at an elite level. He scored 67 points in 71 games last season to finish third among all blue liners and has 11 points in 14 games so far this year. Health is the only thing holding Letang back from universally being recognized as one of the NHL’s top defenceman — he hasn’t missed 10 games or fewer in a season since 2010-11. Letang is in the third year of his eight-year deal.
Mark Giordano (six years, $40.5 million, $6.75 million cap hit)
Had the now-33-year-old Giordano tested free agency, he would have been on the market this past summer and surely would have been able to make more than the $6.75 million he’s locked in for. Making this deal even better for the Flames is that he signed it after the 2014-15 season, in which he was a Norris Trophy front-runner until a late-season injury forced him out for the stretch run. Giordano ended up playing 61 games that season and scored 48 points — he got 21 goals and 56 points over a full 82 games last year. Giordano is still underrated and the leader of Calgary’s blue line, the best part of that roster.
Brent Seabrook (eight years, $55 million, $6.875 million cap hit)
Seabrook is another defenceman who could have been an UFA this past summer if he didn’t re-up in 2015, but he may not have gotten a better deal than he got from the Hawks. The 31-year-old doesn’t come close to bringing the offence Burns does (or Letang or Giordano for that matter), but he is the big, physical defensive defenceman. Seabrook scored a career-high 49 points last season, which was aided somewhat by the fact Duncan Keith missed significant time, providing Seabrook with more extra-man minutes. There is no denying, though, this 31-year-old is in decline and that his contract will be a drag on the Blackhawks’ ability to keep adding to its roster for more Stanley Cup runs as the core ages.
Dustin Byfuglien (five years, $38 million, $7.6 million cap hit)
As far as unique blue liners go, Byfuglien may be the closest comparison to Burns. Byfuglien has extreme size and blows up opposing players from time to time and he’s also a player who’s been moved back and forth between forward and defence through his career. A member of Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup win and then traded to Atlanta, Byfuglien was an important signing for the Jets, as he was the first big-name player to decide to sign and stay, rather than leave for warmer pastures. He logs huge minutes and, although his offensive game doesn’t produce the same amount of points as Burns, Byfuglien is still more than capable of scoring 20 goals and 50 points — and there aren’t a whole lot of defencemen who can do that.
Other cap comparables:
— Ryan Suter, 13 years, $98 million, $7.538 million cap hit
— P.K. Subban, eight years, $72 million, $9 million cap hit
— Drew Doughty, eight years, $56 million, $7 million cap hit
— Victor Hedman, eight years, $63 million, $7.875 million cap hit