Is Luke Schenn Trade bait?

July 6th, 2011 No Comments

When you look at the Toronto Maple Leafs defense corps there appears to be a logjam, not only at the NHL level, but on the farm as well.

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has assembled a defense which includes team captain Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Keith Aulie, Mike Komisarek and the newly acquired John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson.

Knocking on the door are a pair of youngsters, who, in many people’s minds, are not far off from being NHL ready.

Originally taken in the first round (17th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Jake Gardiner came over from the Anaheim Ducks in the Francois Beauchemin deal. Known as a smooth skating, offensive defenseman with a high hockey IQ, Gardiner has the ability to be a top defenseman one day.

While it is still very early, Gardiner is said to have impressed at training camp thus far, which gives the Leafs hope that he may be NHL ready sooner, rather than later.

At 6’2”, 173 pounds, Gardiner has some filling out to do. That said, despite his lack of overall size Gardiner is said to be strong on the puck, which, in a limited role, should serve him well.

Jesse Blacker was a second round draft pick (58th overall) of the Leafs at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. At 6’2”, 190 pounds, he too could stand to gain a few pounds, but like Gardiner, his sound game will help him make up for his lack of size.

According to capgeek.com, Gardiner is set to make $1,116,667 at the NHL level, while Blacker is set to make $870,000. That’s good value for both players, especially if they can contribute right away.

With so many defensemen in the system one wonders if Brian Burke would ever consider moving restricted free agent Luke Schenn for help up front where, despite the acquisitions of Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi, the Buds are still a little thin.

Schenn had his best season as a member of the Maple Leafs in 2010-11. In 82 games Schenn scored five goals and added 17 assists for a total of 22 points. Schenn led the NHL in giveaways with 95, which was off-set a little by his 38 takeaways, which ranked him 23rd amongst NHL defensemen.

Known as a stay-at-home defenseman, Schenn’s 168 blocked shots ranked him 12th overall. Schenn also led all NHL defensemen with 251 Hits (he ranked eighth overall) which speaks to his tenacity and grit.

What Schenn lacks is an instinctive mean streak, an attribute that Burke holds in high regard.

Brian Burke failed to land Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of Philadelphia and had to settle for also-ran status in the Brad Richards sweepstakes.

For many Leaf fans, Burke’s failure to land a true number one centre (with apologies to Tim Connolly) has left their team susceptible to yet another season out of the playoffs, which could be disastrous for the career’s of head coach Ron Wilson and Burke, respectively.

While few NHL teams are willing to part with top-flight centremen these days, young defensemen like Schenn do not grow on trees.

With that in mind, could Burke be stockpiling defensemen in anticipation of seeking a deal involving Schenn for a top-notch centre?

Schenn currently sits without a deal and, with little news coming out of either the Maple Leafs and/or Schenn’s camp, the whispers are starting to get louder that Schenn may no longer be in the Maple Leafs long-term plans.

Burke currently has a total of 21 players under contract at a cap hit of $57,165,000, which leaves Burke $7,135,000 to round out his roster.

The biggest cap hit should come in the form of Schenn who is expected to be asking for a 4-5 year deal in the $3.5-$4.5 million per year range. (***to see a full analysis of Schenn’s worth Click HERE***)

If Schenn was to get a $4.0 million deal it would leave Burke with just over $3 million with which to fill out his roster and/or make additional acquisitions during the season and/or at the trade deadline.

Burke’s current crop of top-six defensemen are set to cost the Blue and White a total cap hit of $18,058,333. Is adding Schenn at $3.5-$4.0 million per really a good idea?

Burke may want to keep some monies freed up so he can address his goaltending should the duo of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson falter. Should Burke fail to add another forward, he will need some wiggle room in order to acquire such an asset as well.

With that in mind, Burke may be better off trading Schenn in favor of bringing in one of the younger defensemen, which should see Burke add a valuable asset to his top-six forward corps.

Last season we speculated that Schenn could be Burke’s best bargaining chip. Time will tell if we were right.

Until next time,

Peace!

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