Jim Souhan: Hit-or-miss Burns poses dilemma for long run

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 19, 2011 - 11:29 PM

Re-signing the dynamic but erratic star might be less of a priority than scoring help.

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Columbus' Antoine Vermette celebrated with teammates Kris Russell (10) and R.J. Umberger, center after scoring the winning goal in overtime. At far right is Wild defenseman Brent Burns.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Associated Press

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Brent Burns took control of the puck behind the Wild net in the last minute of overtime Saturday.

Suddenly, the puck was sliding in front of the net, Columbus center Antoine Vermette was scoring, Burns was slamming his stick on the ice, then rushing to be the first player down the runway to the locker room.

Moments later, Burns was stuffing his pads into his locker, then turning, sitting in front of the cameras and muttering, "I don't know if I fanned on it or missed it. Just a bad bounce."

On March 8, the Wild beat Colorado at Xcel Energy Center before embarking on the road trip that could determine the fate of the season. After losing 5-4 in overtime to a poor Columbus team Saturday at the X, the Wild has captured one of 10 possible points in its past five games, losing all four games on the trip by a combined 15-4.

The usual shills in the local media praised the Wild's grit and lauded its ability to salvage a point on Saturday, which is even more embarrassing for the shills than it is for the Wild. As veteran center John Madden said: "None of that matters. You need to find a way to get two points, and we didn't."

What matters for the Wild in the short term is that it has eliminated itself from playoff contention, unless you believe those who tell fairy tales on local airwaves.

What matters for the Wild in the long term is that Burns, the talented young defenseman who represented the franchise in the All-Star Game this season, continues to create doubt about his future in Minnesota.

Burns' contract expires after the 2011-12 season. That means this summer will be decision time for the Wild brass. If General Manager Chuck Fletcher thinks Burns is a star player worthy of up to $6 million a year, he will need to try to extend Burns' contract before next season begins. If Fletcher thinks Burns is too erratic or untrustworthy to warrant a long-term deal, Fletcher will have to trade him.

Saturday, Burns provided more evidence suggesting he would be more valuable to the Wild as a tradeable asset than as a player.

Burns earned his All-Star berth this year. At his best, he is a prototype -- big, strong, rangy, athletic and skilled. He's not at his best often enough, though, to justify a massive salary on a team desperate to add a scorer.

Since the All-Star Game, Burns has played horribly for a team desperate for every point. Saturday, Burns displayed both of his personalities, flying all over the ice, creating scoring chances and rushing the net. Your best defenseman and perhaps most talented player can't, though, for whatever reason, toss the puck to the front of his own net in overtime, though, whether he "fanned" or "missed" it.

Your best defenseman and most talented player can't, for whatever reason, fail to show up in March when your team is fighting for a playoff spot.

As of Saturday morning, the Wild had scored 180 goals. Only one team in the Western Conference, Edmonton, had scored fewer. Nearing the end of a season in which the Wild has often forechecked and defended well, it is not difficult to discern the team's greatest need: goal scoring.

The Wild needs a player like Columbus' Rick Nash. For the Wild, every goal feels like writing a novel. For Nash, every goal feels like sending out a Tweet.

Mikko Koivu proved his worth to the Wild as much during his absence as he has since his return. His two-way play is vital for this team.

As good as he is, Koivu can't be the go-to scorer on a good team. He needs to be the Wild's Scottie Pippen, and the Wild needs to find its Michael Jordan this summer.

Zach Parise, who lives in Prior Lake, is a restricted free agent this summer. The Devils may be willing to trade him if they have doubts about signing him to a long-term deal.

Parise would be the go-to scorer the Wild needs.

Burns would be missed, but not always -- not often enough to justify a long-term contract for a talented but erratic defenseman.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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