Why the Luke Schenn Contract is Important.
Both the mornings and evenings have begun to get cooler, and with that slight change in tempearture, hockey seems to be getting closer and closer to returning. The back half of August is upon us, and maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs’ most important player for both this and future seasons remains unsigned.
Luke Schenn has developed into a cornerstone member of the Leafs. He is valuable on the ice, having led the league in hits by a defenceman last season with 251. As well as off the ice, being the longest serving Leaf (along with Kulemin and Grabovski) a strong character like Schenn’s is necessary in one of the youngest dressing rooms in the NHL. These abilities, both on and off the ice, are essential to the future of the organization. As has been stated many times, there is no rush to get the deal completed, but this contract may very well be Burke’s most important one since he became Leafs GM.
Regardless of where hockey fans allegiance lies, people around the league agree that the Leafs are definitely on the upswing. It may not be this year (although I think it will), but the playoff drought will end soon, and Leaf fans are desperate for results. This season is undoubtedly the most significant season in Burke’s tenure with the club. With these expectations Burke is looking at what he has in a soon to be 23 year old, former 5th overall selection. However, Burke is not the only one with expectations heading into this season. Schenn will be entering his fourth full year in the NHL, and it is time for him to become a consistent force in his own zone. If the Leafs are planning on taking that next step Schenn must be one of the leaders pulling the rope.
An emerging team, with significant cap flexibility in the future, must be very carefull to what money they commit long term. The Leafs have only five players signed through the 2012-2013 season (18.9 million combined). An offseason in which Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow (one of my favourite players), Jordan Staal and to a lesser extent Derek Roy and Stephen Weiss are all UFA’s. By the time that that free agent group is available (of course most, hopefully not all, will be resigned by their teams) the emerging Leafs should be on the verge of contending for the Eastern Conference. Burke and his army of front office executives have built a young and developing squad without hindering their future financialy flexibility. Eventually the Leafs will need to spend big to get over the hump, and that is why Schenn’s piece of the pie needs to be reasonable.
Of course Burke is aware of Schenn’s value to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has said many times that he is an untouchable, and views him as a future captain. Of course that was before the Leafs acquired current captain Dion Phaneuf. Will Burke’s plans for Schenn eventually make Phaneuf expendable?
Schenn succeeding Phaneuf
Although I am a huge Phaneuf supporter, and I believe his value to the current team is significant, he is still a 6.5 million dollar cap hit through the 2013-2014 season. As stated above, I think that the Leafs have set themselves up very nicely to spend money and acquire players in the future. When Dion’s contract runs out should the Leafs resign him, or take that 6.5 million dollars of salary cap space and supplement their forward group with one of Evgeny Malkin, Paul Stastny, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrice Bergeron, Tomas Vanek or Pavel Datsyuk? Keep in mind at that time the Leafs defence should consist of Luke Schenn (25) , Keith Aulie (25), Carl Gunnarsson (28), Jake Gardiner (25), Jesse Blacker (23) and Stuart Percy (21).
Personally I think Phaneuf at 29 years of age will be instrumental in leading the charge for the both the Leafs, and the young defence corps. But am I the only person who finds it odd when Burke says the Calgary trade may end being known as the Aulie trade? Is he implying that Aulie will have a longer Leaf career than Phaneuf? Of course who’s to say that two or three of those young blueliners don’t develop as expected? What’s important though is that Burke has given himself options in the future. If the Leafs feel Phaneuf’s cap space is better spent on somebody else, then Luke Schenn, 25 year old veteran of seven NHL seasons, would be the natural successor to the captaincy.
So, although people are saying to just give Schenn whatever he wants, keep in mind that this contract is not important in year one and two, but years 3 through whenever. Eventually I see this ending with Schenn signing a similar deal to Marc Staal, around 6 years at 4 million. Making it beneficial for both sides. Burke has successfully re-signed Kulemin, Reimer and MaCarthur to reasonable numbers in the past couple of seasons, and I think Schenn falls in line as well.
I’m aware that most elite players do not reach free agency and many who I named above will never become available. What I am saying, though, is that their contracts expire at the conclusion of those seasons and Burke has prepared himself to pursue if available. Those players may all re-sign and the Leafs will have to make a trade. Either way the noted seasons are when the Leafs will strike, and with their developing stable of prospects Burke may need to trade to acquire one of those elite players. Having the cap flexibility will allow Burke to make that trade and sign his player.
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