Is Schenn Komisarek's Kryptonite?
Upon drafting defensive stalwart Luke Schenn fifth-overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs had hoped they obtained a young defender capable of anchoring the blueline for years to come.
Advertised to deliver menacing hits and possess exceptional defensive awareness, it didn't take long for Schenn to crack the Leafs' roster. As an 18-year-old defenseman he donned the Blue and White for 70 games, rarely looking out of place---a rarity for young defensemen in the NHL. He had fans salivating for more, but he regressed in his second campaign, enduring the dreaded sophomore slump.
With plenty of questions surrounding the Leafs' defense heading into the 2010-11 season, Schenn seemed like an afterthought as most analysts were concerned if Mike Komisarek and Francois Beachemin would rebound, or if Dion Phaneuf could handle the responsibility bestowed with the captaincy.
Perhaps the reduced pressure helped or, the likelier scenario, Schenn is developing as a 20-year-old defenseman should be, but the rearguard has been an integral part of the Leafs' 4-0-1 start, which is good for first overall in the league.
To put it in perspective, here are some statistics you may find interesting:
- Schenn leads all Maple Leafs defensemen in shorthanded ice-time with an average of 3:21 per game.
- Ranked second for even-strength ice-time with an average of 18:14 per game; 16 seconds less than leader Tomas Kaberle.
- Ranked second on the team with 18 hits, one less than leader Phaneuf and tied for 7th in the NHL.
Consequently, Komisarek has had little opportunity to redeem his mediocre efforts last season. His ice-time has dropped to a mere 13:28 per game, which is about six and a half minutes less than he played last season. While Komisarek hasn't been awful by any stretch, he hasn't been the defensive force he once was in Montreal. However, the 28-year-old rearguard has made the most of his limited playing time. He's recorded 11 hits (eight less than Phaneuf who nearly doubles his ice-time) and eight block shots, ranking him second on the team. Ron Wilson's attempt to ease Komisarek into the game after two injury-riddled seasons may prove successful, but it's hard to imagine the rearguard stealing a spot in the top four with the emergence of Schenn and the chemistry established between Beauchemin and Phaneuf. Considering his lucrative $4.5 million cap-hit, Komisarek is no bottom-pairing defenseman. Thus, both the Leafs and Komisarek are in a dilemma.
Thankfully, Komisarek is not complaining about the reduced ice-time and instead is attempting to fight his way back. However, unless an injury sidelines one of the Leafs' top four defensemen, Komisarek has a difficult uphill climb. For now, Schenn is the king of the defensive defenseman hill and kicking dirt in Komisarek's face every step he takes. There's just not enough ice-time to go around, and unfortunately for the Leafs, that means they're stuck committing around $28 million (including Jeff Finger) to the blueline for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, the contracts of Beauchemin ($3.8 million) and Komisarek are immovable, and unless the Leafs part ways with Kaberle this summer, leaving a hole on the powerplay, the defense corps will remain the same until at least the summer of 2012, when Beauchemin's contract expires. Until then, Komisarek's role with the Leafs could remain limited. And unless John Ferguson Jr. takes the helm as Leafs GM, Schenn is an untouchable.
The question, however, is whether both Komisarek and Schenn can coexist on the Leafs' blueline.
Logjam is an understatement.