Luke Schenn might make sense for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the deadline
Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By James Reeve6 days ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs are bound to be buyers by the time the trade deadline rolls around this season, and defence may be an area that the team looks to address before the final push towards the playoffs.
It’s been a month since veteran blueliner Jake Muzzin left the Leafs’ 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes with a neck injury, with the Toronto Maple Leafs announcing that the 33-year-old is out indefinitely with a cervical spine injury and will be re-evaluated in February. This leaves the Leafs without one of their best defensive players for at the very least a significant chunk of the season, if he even returns at all.
The Leafs have managed fairly well in Muzzin’s absence, with a 6-3-3 record since, but with recent injuries to both Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov, as well as the potential for another significant injury along the blueline, with T.J. Brodie currently also on IR, the team will undoubtedly have one eye on the potential to add another body at some stage.
A situation such as this is likely to throw up all kinds of names, such as the aforementioned Coyotes’ wantaway Jakob Chychrun, who himself is currently sidelined with a wrist injury. Alternatively, a reunion with a former Leaf could be on many people’s mind, and this could very well be the case for Luke Schenn.
Schenn recently appeared on the Nation Network’s Leafs Morning Take ahead of the Vancouver Canucks’ trip to Toronto, where they suffered a 3-2 loss to the Leafs, and the hypothetical situation of the blueliner returning to the team where he began his career was naturally brought up. As with all good professionals under contract, Schenn was coy about the question and simply stated how happy he was in Vancouver, but he did talk about how special it was the be a Leaf early in his career.
With the idea of Schenn making a return to the Toronto, bringing his career full circle, already out there, would it make sense for the Leafs to go down this route and bring the 33-year-old Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native back?
The story of Luke Schenn in Toronto is well known after he was selected fifth overall by the team in the 2008 Draft and immediately billed as the saviour of a franchise that, at the time, was mired in mediocrity and unable to figure out that a serious rebuild was needed to truly get the team heading in the right direction.
Thrust immediately into NHL action in the 2008-09 season, Schenn spent four years with the Leafs and was a decent player through the early stage of his career, putting up big minutes and registering 75 points (14 goals, 61 assists) in 310 regular season games before then-GM Brian Burke reluctantly sent him to the Philadelphia Flyers in a straight swap for James van Riemsdyk.
Had the Flyers wanted any other player on the Leafs at that time, there’s a real chance that Schenn’s career would have played out very differently and he would have had a much longer stint with the Leafs. But, would it make sense for the Leafs to loop back around and bring him back?
Contractually, it does. Schenn is an impending unrestricted free agent and comes in at a very team friendly $850,000. With Muzzin on LTIR, potentially for the rest of the season, the Leafs would have enough space to fit Schenn in under the cap ceiling while also still having room to make other moves to bolster the roster ahead of their playoff push. Once the post-season begins, cap hits mean nothing but if the team can add a player that still allows them room for manoeuvrability, then it should be considered in the plus column.
The loss of Muzzin doesn’t just leave the Leafs without one of their leaders in the locker room, it sees them without a big physical presence on the blueline. At the time of writing, Rasmus Sandin is the team’s leader in hits this season with 38 through the opening 16 games, with Justin Holl second with 31. Schenn, meanwhile, continues to assert his 6-foot-2, 226lbs frame all over the ice and has already racked up 73, including 12 against the Leafs. His 21 blocked shots would also rank third on the team, ahead of Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie.
That kind of sandpaper and willingness to put his body on the line would provide the Toronto Maple Leafs with something they just do not have at their disposal on defence right now. But not only that, Schenn is a strong penalty killer and has a positive xGA/60 at even strength over the past three seasons, even greater than Holl, who is much maligned by the fanbase but regularly deployed in important situations by Sheldon Keefe, as shown in the charts from the good people at Evolving Hockey below.
As a defence-first defenceman, Schenn isn’t expected to put up many points across a season. In fact, his most productive offensive years were when he was with the Leafs in 2010-11 and 2011-12, where he racked up 22 points in both seasons. However, this year has seen Schenn contribute well with the Canucks, where he has seven points (one goal, six assists) through his first 16 games, a tally which would rank joint-sixth on the Leafs alongside David Kämpf. His shot from the point even helped set up the Canucks’ first goal against the Leafs this season, with Bo Horvat tipping in to beat Erik Källgren.
In terms of a fit on the team, the Leafs currently have just two naturally right-handed defencemen at present, Holl and Timothy Liljegren. Rielly, Brodie and Sandin could all shift over to their off-hand in a pinch, with Brodie the only one to play there regularly, but adding a natural right-hander would give Keefe some added flexibility to the line-up he could deploy. Having Sandin play his natural side is something Kyle Dubas has said he would prefer, and having the ability to bring Brodie over to the other side could give the Leafs different looks rather than the predictable pairings the team have had over the past year.
Holl and Schenn would battle for ice time, unless the former is moved at some point, but having both could sure up the team in their own end and allow the forwards in front of them to play a free-flowing style that facilitates their strengths. If Muzzin is expected to be out even beyond February, which could be very likely given the nature of his injury and injury history, then adding a big-bodied defensive blueliner seems to be the most logical approach to filling the gap.
Luke Schenn could be an inexpensive addition, with a very reasonable expiring contract and the likelihood that the Canucks won’t expect too much in return for him if they are out of the playoff picture by the deadline, that would provide the team with something they don’t currently have. The fact that it would be a unique full circle move for the player, giving him a chance to experience playing on a competent team in Toronto, is just another reason why it might make sense by the deadline.
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