Minnesota Wild: Judging the Brent Burns Trade

Former Minnesota Wild defensemen Brent Burns is having an MVP caliber season as he leads the Sharks closer to a Stanley Cup victory.  Wild fans can only sit back, watch, and wonder if trading him to San Jose was the right thing to do.

The 2011 NHL Draft saw the Minnesota Wild make what can perhaps be called the biggest trade to affect the current Wild team.  Wild GM Chuck Fletcher pulled the trigger on a deal that sent defensemen Brent Burns and a second round pick in the 2012 draft to the San Jose Sharks for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and the Sharks’ first round pick in that 2011 draft.  The Wild would parlay that pick into Zack Phillips, and at first glance this looked like a great deal for the Wild who were looking for forward help.

There’s no doubt that the centerpiece of the trade was Burns, and fast-forward to today Burns is proving to be the most productive of that trade group.  Currently he is second on the Sharks in scoring this playoff season with 15 points (4 goals, 11 assists) through two rounds.  Many Wild fans can’t help but watch Burns as he tears up opponents and wonder what could have been if Burns was still in a Wild uniform, and did the Wild make a mistake in trading Burns?

The Burns trade is unlike any other trade really.  Whenever you look back and grade any trade you must first judge the situation and players for what they were at the time of the trade and not what they are now.  Burns had actually had a pretty good year in 2010-11 with 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists) for the Wild which was his best with the team.  Still with a minus 10 in plus minus, many wondered if Burns had the defensive game to continue to fit into the Wild’s defense first system.

Setoguchi was seen as the top player given up by the Sharks, and it can be said he was a comparable player to Burns at the time as he was a 20 goal scorer in three out of four seasons with the Sharks.  It can be argued that his time in Minnesota was a bust, but once again you have to look at Setoguchi as he was at the trade.

Coyle on the other hand at the time was a promising young forward at Boston University.  We all know that Coyle is a key piece of the Wild now, but at the time he simply was a prospect and should be looked at as simply a piece of the trade.  Still as a prospect Coyle sweetened the pot for the Wild to move Burns who was their top D-man at the time.

December 11, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) fights for the puck with San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (88) during the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. The Sharks defeated the Wild 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

December 11, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) fights for the puck with San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (88) during the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. The Sharks defeated the Wild 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Then finally there is the exchange of draft picks that saw the Wild get a current year 1st rounder in 2011, and the Sharks got a next year’s 2nd rounder in 2012 that they eventually traded to Tampa Bay.  That’s clearly advantage to the Wild who were looking trade back into the first round to select Zach Phillips who at the time had scored 38 goals the season previous for St. John in the QMJHL.  Once again don’t grade Phillips on what he is today, grade him on what he was at the time of the trade.

So looking back at this trade, this was a strong trade for the Wild.  There was no way of knowing that Zack Phillips would end up being a career minor leaguer, and Devin Setoguchi would not score over 20 goals in his two seasons with the Wild.

Most of all though when looking at Burns, there is no way to predict that he would have the career season he is having now.  Burns had never scored over 20 goals with the Wild, but since then he’s done it twice in five seasons with the Sharks.  Could he have done that in Minnesota?  The answer is most likely no as the system the defensive first systems of Todd Richards and Mike Yeo would have kept him from that kind of production.

Still for all the looking back at the trade, it’s hard to argue that if Burns’ 27 goals had been in a Wild sweater this season that the team’s fortunes might have been different.  But as the saying goes, what is done is done and the Wild are what they are.  Having Charlie Coyle is a good thing in the end, and freeing up the defensive spot in the line-up allowed Jared Spurgeon to play his first full season in the NHL in 2011-12.  So if you find yourself getting angry and asking why Burns is not with the Wild anymore, just remember it’s a very complicated answer.