Sharks' most important trades in team history: Acquiring Brent Burns

Sharks' most important trades in team history: Acquiring Brent Burns

Editor's Note: For having only existed as an NHL franchise for 27 seasons, the Sharks sure have been involved in a seemingly inordinate number of headline-stealing trades. Some of the greatest players in San Jose franchise history have been acquired via trade, and each has inevitably played a major role in the successful evolution from expansion team to perennial cup contender. This week, NBC Sports California will look back at the five most important trades in Sharks franchise history, continuing with the trade for Brent Burns.

From the moment he traded for him eight years ago, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson always envisioned Brent Burns as an elite defenseman. 

“There’s such a shortage of defensemen in this league, and guys at that level and that style of play and that size,” Wilson told the Sporting News on June 24, 2011, shortly after acquiring Burns in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on the first day of the 2011 NHL Draft. 

For a while, it looked like Burns was more likely to become an elite power forward than a transcendent blue liner. Following an up-and-down first season in San Jose, he moved to forward -- specifically, to Joe Thornton’s wing -- during lockout-shortened 2013 season.

He remained there the following year, scoring a then-career-high 22 goals in the 2013-14 campaign. In 5-on-5 situations, Burns shot and scored at what remain the highest rates of his career (11.93 shots per hour; 1.14 goals per hour). But after the Sharks parted ways with defenseman Dan Boyle, Burns moved back to the blue line and emerged as one of the NHL’s best. 

Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Burns ranks first among defensemen in goals (101), tied -- with current teammate Erik Karlsson -- for first in assists (260), first in points (361), first in shots on goal (1550) and tied for second in games played (410). This past season, he became the second blue liner this century to record 65 assists in a season and the first Sharks defenseman to score 80-plus points in a single campaign. 

Burns’ emergence spurred the Sharks’ return to the NHL’s upper echelon. They’ve made the postseason each of the last four seasons, a run book-ended by appearances in the Stanley Cup Final (2015-16) and the Western Conference final (2018-19). 

The Sharks acquired Burns, at least in part, to take the torch from veteran leaders like Boyle, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Thornton is the only one still standing -- or will be, when he ultimately re-signs with the Sharks as expected -- and Burns, in many ways, is the bearded face of the team at this point. 

Without his arrival in San Jose, it’s difficult to envision the Sharks finding a second wind of contention in the Thornton era. There was no true No. 1 defensemen in the pipeline capable of eventually filling Boyle’s skates, and who knows whether Wilson could have landed another one via trade, let alone one on the precipice of their prime. 

Wilson recognized Burns’ unique combination of size and skill when the general manager first traded for the defenseman just over eight years ago, and that blend placed him firmly among the NHL’s elite blue liners and helped the Sharks keep their Stanley Cup window open. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Kane strongly calls out racism in hockey in IG post]

How much longer it stays so will partially depend on how gracefully Burns, 34, ages during his last six years under contract. Because of that, Burns’ acquisition has the potential to shape a decade-and-a-half of Sharks history. 

Only one other trade has done the same.

Most important trades in Sharks history

No. 5 -- Owen Nolan
No. 4 -- Doug Wilson
No. 3 -- Erik Karlsson

Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane


Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

Sharks captain Logan Couture thanked Evander Kane and former NHL player Akim Aliu for speaking out against racism in hockey, tweeting a note Saturday that said the sport and society "are only scraping the surface in what desperately needs fixing."

"Racism exists in society, it also exists in hockey," Couture wrote. "That's a fact. Growing up in this game is a privilege. [At times,] I think most of us have been at fault for turning a blind eye when it comes to racism. It cannot continue."

Kane later tweeted his appreciation of Couture's message.

Kane, who is black, has become increasingly vocal speaking out against racism within -- and beyond -- the sport in the past year. In September, Kane told TSN 1040 in Vancouver that hockey lagged behind other professional sports in diversity and addressing racism after fan told him to "stick to basketball" in an Instagram comment. Kane called a story in "The Players Tribune" earlier this month authored by Aliu, whose revelation that Bill Peters directed racial slurs towards him in the AHL led to the Calgary Flames firing their now-former coach late last year, a must-read for everyone involved in hockey.

George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody Monday outraged Kane, tweeting that video of the incident made his "[f---ing] blood boil." Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, could be heard on video saying "I can't breathe" as former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck while three other officers at the scene looked on. Chauvin and the three officers were fired Tuesday, and Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

[RELATED: Kerr says he, white people have to do more to fight racism]

Kane said Friday in an interview on ESPN's "First Take" that white athletes couldn't leave speaking up against systematic racism to their black peers. While Kane felt supported by his teammates, he told "Writers Bloc" on CJCL in Toronto later that day that hockey's team-first culture often encourages silence on a wide range of issues in the sport and outside of it.

“Is it going to change? I hope," Kane said (H/T Sportsnet's Sonny Sachdeva). "I’m going to try to be a part of the solution and process in creating that change. But … when it comes to social injustices and racism in hockey, it requires change at the top. Because, you know, that’s the only way true change is going to take place. At the top. Because it’s going to have a trickle-down effect.

“And until things change at the top ... until they make the necessary change to condemn these sort of acts and mindsets … and really weed out that type of thought process, we’re going to be stuck in the same position we are today, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often publicly comment, said in a rare statement Friday that the Sharks applauded Kane's "rational and thoughtful response to the terrible tragedy" of Floyd's death. Defenseman Mario Ferraro retweeted the statement, and Couture's note is the first tweeted by one of Kane's San Jose teammates in support.

Evander Kane says white athletes must speak against police brutality


Evander Kane says white athletes must speak against police brutality

Sharks winger Evander Kane called on prominent white professional athletes to speak out against police brutality against African Americans.

Kane, who is black, joined ESPN's "First Take" on Friday morning to discuss George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis earlier this week. The 28-year-old Kane said it can't just fall on black athletes to lend their voices to causes of racial justice, and white players joining their black peers is "the only way" for professional athletes to truly affect change.

"We've been outraged for hundreds of years and nothing has changed," Kane said of black people speaking out against racism (H/T Fear the Fin's Sheng Peng). "It's time for guys like (Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback) Tom Brady and (Pittsburgh Penguins center) Sidney Crosby and those types of figures to speak up about what is right, and clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong. Because that's the only way we're gonna actually create that unified anger to create that necessary change, especially when you talk about systematic racism."

Bystanders in Minneapolis recorded video Monday of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, having a white police officer's knee pressed into his neck for nearly eight minutes as three other officers looked on. Floyd pleaded that he couldn't breathe, but state charging documents alleged that the officer, Derek Chauvin, continued to have his knee on Floyd's neck for almost three minutes after he became non-responsive. Chauvin and the three other officers were fired Tuesday, and he was arrested on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter Friday.

Kane tweeted Tuesday night that the video of Floyd's death made his "[f--king] blood boil." He shared a petition Wednesday night calling for the four former officers to face charges.

The forward has been increasingly outspoken against racism in the last year, particularly in hockey. Kane is one of just 43 NHL players of color, according to WDET, and they account for fewer than 5 percent of the league. He said he hasn't seen "too many" hockey players discuss Floyd's death, but Kane feels supported by his teammates in speaking out.

"In terms of my teammates, they're incredibly supportive of me and what I stand for," Kane said. "I think hockey, unfortunately, has a different culture than some of the other sports in terms of speaking out and using your voice and speaking your mind. I think for me, I'm one of the anomalies when it comes to NHL players doing that. That's another part of the problem, guys being scared to really speak their mind and stand up for what is right."

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often address the media, shared his support of Kane in a rare statement Friday hours after Kane's appearance on "First Take."

"There is no room for racism in society," the statement read. "We applaud Evander for his thoughtful and rational response to the recent terrible tragedy. Events like this occur way too often. We all must find a way to do better."

Kane tweeted he was "proud to be part of" the Sharks in response.

[RELATED: Kap starts fund to pay lawyers for Minneapolis protesters]

Kane said sports have the inclusive potential to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds. In order to live up to it, Kane thinks athletes -- white and black -- need to pull in the same direction off the rink, field and court.

"[When] we talk about our own personal battles outside of sports, there's a lot of people that are silent on issues," he said. "They're important issues. They're issues that have been going on for hundreds of years, and we need that same type of team mentality to be brought to issues outside of our sport."