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Burns’ return a reminder of Sharks’ heyday, and how far removed they are from that now

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SAN JOSE – Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brent Burns on Friday reminisced about some of the things he enjoyed most as a member of the San Jose Sharks for 11 seasons.

Seeing Tomas Hertl score four goals in just his third NHL game, playing with and learning from such franchise pillars as Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture. He also mentioned some lighthearted moments, such as being in Pittsburgh in 2016 and walking around on a warm off-day with a shirtless Joe Thornton.

“So many people, so many things that I really feel like I grew up here, on and off the ice,” Burns said Friday at SAP Center before the Hurricanes played the Sharks, “and it’s special to come back.”

Friday’s game, the Sharks’ home opener, marked Burns’ first in San Jose since he was traded to the Hurricanes three months ago. From 2011 to the end of last season, Burns led all Sharks players in games (798) and points (594) and became the first San Jose defenseman to win the Norris Trophy.

Burns had 23 minutes of ice time against the Sharks as the Hurricanes earned a 2-1 win on a late goal by Sebastian Aho.

Before the start of the game, the Sharks took a moment to appreciate Burns’ accomplishments, which may never be duplicated by another defenseman in teal. Marleau, Pavelski, and Thornton all received the same treatment in their initial returns to San Jose.

It was also a reminder of how good the Sharks had it when Burns was surrounded by all of those special players. With Burns in the lineup, the Sharks made to the playoffs seven times in his first eight years, with the team advancing to the conference finals twice and the Stanley Cup Final once in 2016.

There remains no Stanley Cup banner in the rafters of SAP Center, of course, but for most of the 2010s, the Sharks remained aggressive in pursuit.

Changes, though, were inevitable and the reality is the Sharks franchise is in a much different spot now.

Instead of actually trying to win the Cup, the Sharks are taking a step back this season, with new general manager Mike Grier making moves to lay a foundation for what he hopes will be some brighter days ahead.

Burns, 37, is at the stage of his career, though, where waiting two or three years for the pieces to fall into place didn’t make sense.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 14: Former San Jose Shark Brent Burns (8) returns to the SAP Center for the first time since being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 14: Former San Jose Shark Brent Burns (8) returns to the SAP Center for the first time since being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Burns this spring said, “It’s definitely tough when you lose three years not making the playoffs. I think everybody feels that way whether they’re young or older. You’ve got guys that are in their third year going on the fourth year and they haven’t even played in the playoffs.

“At that early stage, they’ve already realized that they’ve lost those years to have a chance at it. At the end of the day, that’s what we all play for.”

Burns had a modified no-trade clause in his contract in which he would only accept a trade to one of three teams. Carolina was not among those first three teams, but Burns likely saw potential after the Hurricanes won the Metropolitan Division each of the last two years under coach Rod Brind’Amour.

Grier spoke with Burns about the direction the Sharks were going to go in, and Burns, with three years left on his contract, couldn’t be blamed for wanting to go to a win-now team.

On July 13, the first day of free agency, Burns and forward Lane Pederson were traded to the Hurricanes for winger Steven Lorentz, goalie Eetu Mäkiniemi and a conditional 2023 third-round draft pick. The Sharks also retained 34 percent of Burns’ salary cap hit, $2.72 million.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 14: Former Shark and now Carolina Hurricanes' Brent Burns (8) acknowledges his introduction before the San Jose Sharks home opener Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 14: Former Shark and now Carolina Hurricanes’ Brent Burns (8) acknowledges his introduction before the San Jose Sharks home opener Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

“We’ve got a lot of depth on defense and we play a little different style,” Brind’Amour said. “We expect a lot out of (Burns) as far as how much he has to skate and all the effort that he’s going to put in.

“Trust me, we’re going get everything out of him.”

The Sharks made some positive additions in the summer, bringing in high-character players like forwards Luke Kunin, Oskar Lindblom, and defensemen Matt Benning. But scoring is still a major issue, partly because of Burns’ absence.

Couture, 33, also talked with Grier about the future, and whether there was interest in playing for a team that has a better chance of contending this season. Couture, now in his fourth season as captain and his 14th with the team, said he wanted to stay in San Jose.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 14: Former San Jose Shark Brent Burns (8), who returns to the SAP Center for the first time since joining the Carolina Hurricanes, tosses a puck to Everett Friedlander, 9, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 14: Former San Jose Shark Brent Burns (8), who returns to the SAP Center for the first time since joining the Carolina Hurricanes, tosses a puck to Everett Friedlander, 9, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

“We’re in different spots in our lives,” Couture said this week of himself and Burns.

“I want to stay here and I want to help this organization get back to where it belongs. I like what Mike’s done and I like the way that we’ve come to work this camp. I’m going to enjoy the season.

“We’re a hard-working group, and we’re going to try and prove people wrong.”

Burns said he had dinner at Thornton’s home Thursday night and said that he wished this wasn’t the start of a long road trip for Carolina, or else he would have loved to take some of La Vic’s orange sauce home with him.

The bottom line, though, is Burns left town with a Cup-contending team, and the Sharks will still be finding their way for the foreseeable future. More and more, those special memories Burns helped create in San Jose get further in the rearview mirror.

“Starting with Doug (Wilson) and Todd (McLellan) at the time, Jumbo, Patty, (Pavelski), (Couture),” Burns said. “These guys really helped in so many ways on and off the ice, just allowing you to be yourself.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 14: San Jose Sharks' Timo Meier (28 battles Carolina Hurricanes' Brent Burns (8) Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 14: San Jose Sharks’ Timo Meier (28 battles Carolina Hurricanes’ Brent Burns (8) Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)