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.
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.