As per virtually everybody – including no less an authority than NHL.com – the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers are in negotiations on a trade that would see James van Riemsdyk join the Leafs and Luke Schenn leave for the city of brotherly love.
From the Philadelphia perspective, it’s easy to see why they would consider making such a move. Their franchise defenseman, Chris Pronger, is done for the season. A trio of rookie rearguards – Marc-Andre Bourdon, Kevin Marshall, and Erik Gustafsson – populate the bottom end of their lineup. For a team that always considers itself a Stanley Cup contender, an improvement on the back end ranks right near the top of their list of priorities.
Toronto, in contrast, has health and numbers on their blue line. The battle to stay in the top-six has been a story all season long, with Cody Franson and Mike Komisarek alternating at the bottom of the rotation. Van Riemsdyk is the kind of big, young power forward the Leafs (and 29 other teams) would love to have in their lineup. (He’s also American, which could lead to more delightful grinding of teeth in Toronto.)
Of course there are other considerations. As the Philadelphia Daily News points out, Nashville has some very high-end defenseman that are possibly available, and the Flyers have pulled off massive moves with Nashville in the past – Peter Forsberg and Kimmo Timonen are but two of the players that have changed hands between the clubs in recent memory. Despite the brotherly connection between Leafs’ defenseman Luke and Flyers’ forward Schenn, if Philadelphia can land a guy like Ryan Suter one imagines that they will.
Van Riemsdyk, in the midst of his finest offensive season, has yet to really breakout. The second overall pick behind Patrick Kane in the 2007 Draft, Van Riemsdyk scored 35 points as a rookie, followed that up with a 40-point campaign, and looks poised to score in the mid-40 point range this season. He’s getting cherry minutes in Philadelphia – two out of every three shifts of his start in the offensive zone, after all – and he’s no great shakes as a two-way guy. Still, he’s very young, a lot of those points are goals (unlike most forwards, Van Riemsdyk has picked up goals and assists with roughly equal regularity over his career).
At this stage in his career, any trade involving Van Riemsdyk is even now as much about potential as it is about NHL track record. As it stands, he’s a useful NHL’er but hardly a breathtaking one, but then that’s something people could have said about a host of young power forwards in the past. John LeClair was 25 and in his fourth NHL season when he suddenly transformed from a 40-point man to a 50-goal scorer. Jarome Iginla was 22 and in his fourth NHL season when he hit the 60-point mark for the first time, and 24 before he truly broke out (to the tune of 52 goals and 96 points). Todd Bertuzzi was 24 and in his fifth NHL season before he scored 25 goals, and it would be two more years before he finally surpassed 80 points. The point here is that there are clear examples of truly elite power forwards not emerging until later in their careers – and then transforming seemingly overnight from ‘useful but unspectacular’ to true difference makers.
Is Van Riemsdyk such a player? He could be.
Of course, defensemen aren’t exactly known for hitting the ground running at the NHL level, either, and Luke Schenn was actually drafted the year after Van Riemsdyk. There has been no gifting of soft minutes to Schenn this season, either – he starts in his own end more than any other defenseman on the team not named Mike Komisarek. The 22-year old is 272 games into his NHL career and could take the next step any day now – he’s clearly a useful asset in his own right.
As it stands, I don’t have any compunction in stating that Luke Schenn is a better player today than James van Riemsdyk. I also have very little compunction about saying that in Burke’s shoes, I’d pull the trigger on a Schenn for Van Riemsdyk deal. It’s a risk, certainly, and it involves sending away a very good young player who could be a special NHL’er. That is mitigated, however, by the facts that a) the Leafs are deep on the blue line and much shallower up front, and b) James van Riemsdyk could turn into a true superstar at the NHL level.
If there’s a deal to be had, I think the Leafs will do it.
P.S. For the Flyers perspective on this trade, visit this excellent post at Broad Street Hockey.