Maple Leafs Get a New Luke Schenn, A Decade Later

It’s rare to see a career come full circle, having worked out for both parties, the way it did for the Toronto Maple Leafs and veteran defenceman Luke Schenn. After a breakup in 2012 that saw Schenn become a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, the two sides have reunited over a decade later.

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This time, they’re each very different and both sides seem to excelling under their new identities — together once again. After all, sometimes all a good relationship needs is a little time and space to really figure things out.

Schenn’s First Go-Around With the Maple Leafs

In 2008, Schenn was selected by the Maple Leafs as the fifth pick overall in the NHL Entry Draft. He was the fourth defenceman to go — behind Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian and Alex Pietrangelo with Steven Stamkos going first overall, of course.

Luke Schenn Toronto Maple Leafs
Luke Schenn, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

At the time, the Maple Leafs were in the midst of a slight overhaul in their front office with Cliff Fletcher as the interim general manager, a position that would later be taken by Brian Burke in November of that year.

Still, Schenn fit the mold of what Fletcher and Burke wanted in Toronto. He was a big defenceman that wasn’t the best skater, but could play a physical role and show the team some truculence.

Schenn was never really known for his offence, with his best junior season coming in 2006-07 with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets when he scored two goals and 29 points in 72 games. But with the high draft pick, the Maple Leafs felt they had a big, shutdown defenceman that could come in right away and help change the culture of the Maple Leafs — a team that really had no identity in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

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That season, he was came in and played 70 games for the Maple Leafs with two goals and 14 points to go along with a minus-12 rating and 71 penalty minutes. The team, under Ron Wilson, finished 34-35-13 with 81 points and missed the playoffs, while Schenn looked mediocre in his new role as the so-called saving grace of the Maple Leafs.

Schenn played three more seasons with the Maple Leafs from 2009 to 2012 playing in nearly every game for the team and finally eclipsing the 20-point plateau in 2010-11 with 22 points, but the young defenceman never saw the playoffs with the Maple Leafs in his first four seasons.

As pressure mounted for the team and for Schenn, changes continued to be made to the entire organization from top to bottom and as part of them Schenn was sent to the Flyers as part of a one-for-one deal that saw James van Riemsdyk come back the other way.

The Schenn, Maple Leafs In-Between

From 2012 to 2019, Schenn played for the Flyers, the Los Angeles Kings, the Arizona Coyotes, the Anaheim Ducks and the Vancouver Canucks and playoffs wasn’t a continuous opportunity for the big defenceman. In fact, over that span he played just 12 playoff games between the Flyers and Kings with very little success.

Not once did he eclipse the 20-point plateau during that time, but it became more evident that offence wasn’t his game. He wasn’t the guy to be leaned on for a 40-point campaign and he certainly wasn’t going to fulfill this idea of him being a top-pairing defenceman.

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Instead, he took on the role of the stay-at-home defenceman with a torrid physical edge. He defended well. He saw time on the penalty kill and he was responsible in his own end. It wasn’t long before he really stepped into his own as the guy they now call the ‘human eraser.’

As for the Maple Leafs, they made the playoffs the following year and lost to the Boston Bruins in devastating fashion in the first-round — a series in which they could’ve used a big, tough defenceman in. They’d follow that up by missing the postseason three times after that at which time there was a major overhaul of the team.

Auston Matthews Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

They landed players like William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews in the draft. Morgan Rielly became their go-to defenceman and guys like John Tavares decided to sign with the team.

Enter Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas, stamp the bench with Sheldon Keefe and the Maple Leafs are a squad looking to get over the hump no and finally play into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 2003-04.

Schenn, Maple Leafs Finally Reunited

While rumours swirled around a possible reuniting of the Maple Leafs and their 2008 first-round pick, it wasn’t until the trade was announced that people started to really discuss the storyline of his return to Toronto.

On Feb. 28, 2023, the Maple Leafs traded their 2023 third-round pick to re-acquire Schenn. Only the Schenn the were getting back was now a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Tampa Bay Lightning and had 918 regular season games under his belt.

The excitement from Schenn might’ve been the most encouraging part of the entire trade.

“When I first played in Toronto, I appreciated what it meant to be a Maple Leaf, but I don’t think to the extent that I do now because you don’t have the same life experience and same maturity,” he said about his return. “It’s a little extra special to come back for sure. There have been times in my career where I’ve been going through free agency and I thought, ‘I wonder if I could ever get back and play with the Leafs.’ It never worked out, but the timing worked out this time. I couldn’t’ be more happy with it.”

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While his return to Toronto doesn’t come with guaranteed playing time with the depth of the Maple Leafs’ blue line, it does bring the team some quality experience when it comes to the playoffs. Schenn’s spot in the Lightning’s back-to-back Cups is irreplaceable in a room looking to get into the second round.

As for what he brings to the team when he is on the ice — pure physicality — and the odd apple doesn’t hurt. Getting through the Atlantic Division will be hard for the Maple Leafs, but with the re-invented Schenn and his role fitting just what the Maple Leafs might need, this could be a different road for both parties, 11 years after he first became a Maple Leaf.