...if you want to
It's hard to not be happy with the Wild right now. Between the moves General Manager Chuck Fletcher made, the great "Becoming Wild" series and the fact that in August all thirty teams have a shot at the playoffs, things are looking up in Minnesota after three straight seasons of missing the playoffs. The Wild have Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and multiple top draft picks to gush over. But has much really changed?
A few months ago Jarick posted an article here on the value of defenseman Brent Burns where he felt that Burns would sign a six to eight year deal for on average $6.5 million. Obviously this was before Minnesota traded the defenseman to San Jose for what we considerto be a King's Ransom, but it was a little surprising to see him sign a five-year $28.8 million extension with the Sharks yesterday. That contract, which adds up to a $5.76 million cap hit, means Burns gives up a chance at free agency in which he would have been one of the top available defensemen and is something which shows a lot about how far the Wild truly are from the top echelon of the NHL.
$5.76 million is more than fair for Brent Burns but despite saying all the right things before the trade, it's hard to think that he would have re-signed for the same amount of money in Minnesota. $5.76 million for five seasons is a deal where fans would all be applauding Chuck Fletcher for locking up Burns after being the third-highest scoring defenseman while commenting on how our future looks great. That cap hit makes him starting next season the tenth-highest paid defenseman and for a player entering the prime of his career and who is only getting better San Jose could have picked up a steal; especially with Dan Boyle taking away some of the heat from Burns.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm happy with the haul Minnesota received for Burns. The Wild have historically been abysmal with asset management. After losing three thirty goal scorers for nothing, squandering countless draft picks and heavily relying on overpriced veterans, it's nice to get some talent back coming in while an elite talent leaves. But the fact remains that those elite talents continue to leave the State of Hockey like jobs leave Detroit.
It's easy to forget as nice as things look with the present regime that the two best free agents the team have signed were a player who came here to spite Chicago and a good defenseman who was disappointing because he wasn't great. Compared to the San Joses of the world who handle their assets well, get players to waive no-trade clauses and re-sign their stars that's pretty sad. The only "star" player Minnesota has resigned who had leverage (sorry Marian Gaborik's holdout) was Mikko Koivu and he didn't take a hometown discount despite being captain.
St. Paul is not Edmonton in terms of players wanting to leave but the Wild are not close to being a free agent destination and have a ways to go. It's easy as fans to raise expectations after three consecutive years of missing the playoffs and adding a goal scorer like Dany Heatley (via trade) alongside a new coach always helps. However as good as Setoguchi and Heatley are, they are the only two major additions for this upcoming season while the team lost half of the top-six and their top defenseman. Regardless of Burns' defense, which could be frustrating at times when he made mistakes trying to save others, there is only one defensive prospect in this organization who has a chance to make the same impact a few years from now. Getting prospects and scoring forwards help on one end, but create a new problem on another which will need to be addressed.
Burns will be missed like those stars who came before him and the Wild will need to continue to build and develop the next generation of elite prospects into NHL stars. The trade of an all-star defenseman and his quick re-signing with San Jose doesn't help change Minnesota's perception throughout the league as an organization which can't keep its stars. Despite the good moves and drafting this summer, it's just a start. As great as the fanbase feel right now, real change and perception take time. Fortunately for the Wild, there's plenty of time until we're talking about keeping the Mikael Granlunds and Jonas Brodins of the future rather than losing them to the San Joses of the world.