Maple Leafs Should Reunite with Luke Schenn to Strengthen Third Pair

If you told me in 2012 that I would be writing this piece 10 years later, I probably would have laughed at you. In 2012, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded former fifth-overall pick Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for forward James van Riemsdyk.

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At one time, Schenn was supposed to save the Maple Leafs’ defensive corps. The team had missed the playoffs for the third season in a row ahead of the 2008 Draft. So, when opportunity came about to draft a 6-foot-2, 225 pound hard-hitting defenseman from Saskatchewan, then-interim general manager Cliff Fletcher and his scouting staff were elated and pounced on it.

Luke Schenn #2 of the Vancouver Canucks
VANCOUVER, BC – APRIL 2: Luke Schenn #2 of the Vancouver Canucks skates up ice during their NHL game against the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena April 2, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

But one thing led to another, and between his lack of development time and the drawback of playing for some terrible Maple Leafs teams, Schenn’s tenure in Toronto didn’t work out. The Maple Leafs pulled the trigger on the van Riemsdyk swap with the Flyers. A former second-overall pick of the Flyers in 2007, van Riemsdyk went on to score at least 25 goals in four of his six seasons in Toronto, and Schenn got the opportunity to play alongside his brother Brayden and start fresh with a new team.

Fast forward 10 years later, and neither player is still with the team that acquired them. Schenn bounced between a few teams, won two Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and currently plays for the Vancouver Canucks. The trade deadline is once again on the horizon, and it just so happens that the Maple Leafs need a stay-at-home, physical defenseman. And guess who fits the mold?

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The Canucks are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture, sitting seventh in the Pacific Division. Assuming they don’t have a Cinderella-style comeback, they’ll more than likely be looking to sell come the trade deadline. This may have seemed like a crazy idea in past years, but right now, a reunion with their former top-five pick isn’t far fetched by any means.

Old Maple Leafs Regime Ruined Schenn’s Development

Coming out of the 2007-08 season, Schenn was the exact type of player the Maple Leafs needed. The Saskatoon native was fresh off his third season with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Kelowna Rockets and has established himself as a physical, defense-first defenseman. But in the end, the Maple Leafs appeared to like Schenn’s game too much, as they brought him to the NHL immediately.

It’s worth noting that Schenn only had 28 points in 57 games in his draft-eligible season. So, he certainly could have used a couple of years to play out his junior career and perhaps even a season or two with the Marlies to round out his game. But, the Maple Leafs’ need for a player of his type was immediate, and he made his NHL debut in the 2008-09 season opener against the Detroit Red Wings.

Luke Schenn Leafs
Luke Schenn with the Maple Leafs in 2009 (Rich Kane/Icon SMI)

Schenn put together some decent seasons for the Maple Leafs, recording his career high of 22 points in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, but overall, he was in a bad situation. He was being relied on too much for such an early stage in his career, and with the Maple Leafs missing the playoffs each season he was there, he was at the forefront of some terrible teams year in and year out.

It’s no secret that Schenn didn’t live up to expectations in Toronto, but his lack of success the first time around shouldn’t deter the Maple Leafs from acquiring him a second time. He was on a completely different team, under a completely different regime and a much different set of circumstances. Ten years later, he once again fits what the Maple Leafs are looking for, but this time, he’s got a much better defensive corps to surround him and, I would think, a much better chance to succeed.

Schenn Fits the Bill of What the Maple Leafs Need

The 2020-21 Maple Leafs were one of the best defensive teams the franchise has seen in the last decade, and I attribute that to two players; T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian. Brodie has done an excellent job of stabilizing the entire defensive corps, meanwhile Bogosian went from a likely seventh defenseman candidate to becoming a crucial stay-at-home force on the bottom pairing.

With Bogosian out of the picture, the Maple Leafs are still better defensively than they have been in the past, but there’s an obvious hole on that bottom pair. If you’re looking for a guy who excels at clearing opposing forwards out of the crease and throwing the body, Schenn is one of your best options without a doubt.

Since 2005, Schenn is eighth in the league in hits, with 2,702 hits over 829 games. He’s been top five in the league in hits in five of his 14 NHL seasons, and sits 13th in the league this season with 135 hits. Not to mention that he’s right-handed, so he would make a perfect complement to a much more mobile Rasmus Sandin on the bottom pair. His 51.8 Corsi-for percentage (CF%) is second among Canucks defensemen, and he can chip in offensively now and then with 10 points in 32 games on the season so far.

With the departure of Bogosian, the Maple Leafs’ most physical defenseman remaining is Jake Muzzin. But this season, his body has taken a bit of a hit and he hasn’t really looked as physically dominant as he has in seasons past. Schenn, meanwhile, would be leading the Maple Leafs in hits and would be fifth on the team in blocked shots. Bringing him in would give them an instant physical threat to use in front of the net and on the penalty kill, something that the Maple Leafs have desperately needed all season long.

Schenn Fits the Bill of Dubas’ Deadline Desires

In a meeting with the media a couple of days ago, general manager Kyle Dubas said that he would prefer to acquire players with term. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Leafs will end up trading for somebody with term vs. a rental (which Dubas clarified), it’s probably a wise decision seeing how last season’s trade deadline move for Nick Foligno panned out.

Luckily for the Maple Leafs, Schenn’s contract would be incredibly easy for the team to fit into their payroll. He’s in the first year of a two-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $850,000. This is a contract that the Maple Leafs would be able to fit by simply making an AHL transaction. Should Schenn either lose his spot on the roster next season or command a trade for whatever other reason, it’s an easy deal to move.

Then you’re left asking yourself what the price would be. As it stands, the Maple Leafs only have three draft picks in 2022; a first, a second, and a seventh. However, they currently have all of their draft picks minus their seventh-round pick in 2023. Based on the type of player he is, he’s a guy I could see going for a mid-round pick at the deadline. Perhaps a third- or a fourth-round pick. If you’re addressing a need for physicality on the bottom pair, I’m making that trade any day of the week.

Dubas said it himself; they only have so many bullets for this year’s deadline and it’s important that they don’t miss. While there are questions to be asked about the Maple Leafs’ approach at this year’s deadline, the now-32-year-old Schenn is about as low-risk of a move as you can get. While I wouldn’t say the potential reward is all that high, he would, at the very least, solve one of their most gaping issues.

Schenn Shouldn’t Be Maple Leafs’ Only Deadline Move

As much as I think Schenn would be a great fit on this defensive corps, I wouldn’t want him to be the only defenseman the Maple Leafs go after this year. As it stands right now, I don’t feel all that comfortable going into the playoffs with either Travis Dermott or Justin Holl in a regular role on the back end.

Dermott has had a down year analytically and while they don’t come often, the defensive mistakes he makes are Jake Gardiner-esque. Holl, meanwhile, has been an incredibly frustrating player to watch for most of the season, and his defensive awareness seems to have taken a huge hit.

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If Dubas wants to improve his back end beyond Schenn while sticking to his desire for term, there are other players out there who could fit the bill. Connor Murphy of the Chicago Blackhawks and Scott Mayfield of the New York Islanders are two players that peak my interest. But as it stands right now, I feel that Schenn is a better option than both Holl and Dermott, and if the Maple Leafs were to acquire him, he would only improve the stability of the team’s defense.

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