Back on January 13th, 2012 I wrote this Feature commenting on the rumours of a Luke Schenn for James van Riemsdyk trade. I rarely believe a word that the talking heads over at TSN and Sportsnet bleat in regards to scuttlebutt and trade rumours. Therefore while I was overjoyed and enthused at the thought of this potential transaction occurring, it seemed more like the MSM looking at two teams that had some missing pieces and spun a yarn of a rumour giving them something to talk about.
As word of this trade broke early yesterday evening I have to admit that I was completely floored by the move. At this time last year that Philadelphia Flyers shipped out two cornerstone forwards in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The belief and justification for these moves was that the Flyers believed Claude Giroux (23 years old at the time) and James van Riemsdyk (22) were ready to take the torch from their former all-star teammates and lead the Flyers for the foreseeable future. Philly GM Paul Holmgren proceeded to go the extra mile in furthering his commitment and display of faith in JVR by signing the 2nd overall pick in 2007 to a 6 year $22.5 million dollar ($4.25 aav) contract in late August of 2011. Just over two weeks after the JVR contract signing in Philadelphia, the Toronto Maple Leafs inked the 5th overall selection in the 2008 to a contract of their own. Luke Schenn and the Leafs agreed to a 5 year $18 million dollar deal ($3.5 aav). Less than a year later both organizations have decided to cut bait with their respective cornerstone players and move on. In the end it illustrates how fickle and ruthless the business of hockey really is. One day you’re in Afghanistan with the President and GM of the organization and soon after it’s all just a memory.
Throughout his tenure as a Maple Leaf, the idea of Luke Schenn carried more weight than Schenn himself. Heading into the 2008 entry draft the blue and white were in a total stage of upheaval. Having fired GM John Ferguson Jr. earlier in the campaign the Leafs were under the guidance of “caretaker” Cliff Fletcher as a search committee attempted to locate their next GM (he was in Anaheim the whole time). Following three straight seasons without post season hockey, and heading into their first off season without Captain and franchise player Mats Sundin, the Leafs were in need of a new identity. Fletcher moved up in the draft that night – from 7th to 5th – in order to take the highly thought of Schenn. The draft in 2008 was very similar to the one that just occurred Friday night in Pittsburgh. There was a premier and consensus top forward from the Sarnia Sting of the OHL (Steven Stamkos), followed by a glut of defenseman. Led by Drew Doughty and Zack Bogosian, the 2008 draft had a plethora of prospective blueliners, they were: Alex Pieterangelo, Schenn, Tyler Myers, Jake Gardiner, Erik Karlsson, Luca Sbisa, Michael Del Zotto and John Carlsson. With the exception of Sbisa, the rest of the class of defenseman from that draft year have all surpassed Schenn at the NHL level. Fletcher decided to take the safe, stay at home reliable pick in Schenn. It was a mistake. The Leafs have apparently learned their lesson considering the fact that this season – blessed with the 5th overall selection once again – they bypassed that safe pick and instead took a high reward player in Morgan Rielly.
What plagued Schenn throughout his time in Toronto were unrealistic expectations as to what his capabilities really were. Schenn was always more a Chris Phillips type player than an Adam Foote, and at his absolute best he is a 4th defenseman on a good NHL team. Limited offensive ability and a reluctance to be mean in front of his own net are two staples of Schenn’s game that I will not miss as he leaves. Yes, he was rushed into the NHL as a 19 year old blueliner onto a bad team. And yes, he could develop into a physical force in Philadelphia, but four years and 310 NHL games later Schenn was still being exposed by quicker forwards in addition to making poor decisions with the puck on his stick. More of a mascot than a solution, it was time for Schenn to move on and I am blown away as to the return Burke received for Schenn.
Click here to see Luke Schenn’s career statistics with the Leafs
The Sky is the Limit
The most maligned move that Burke has made during his tenure of GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs was the acquisition of Phil Kessel for two first round picks (Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton) and a second round pick (Jarred Knight). That move has been and will be talked about for a long time. However one feels about that transaction – I’m a huge Kessel supporter – that trade is only as good as the pieces that Burke is able to put around his expensive top player. Other than perhaps Dion Phaneuf, it has been glaringly obvious that Burke has struggled in bringing in high end talent to support his star. In JVR the Leafs have added a significant asset to compliment their speedy sniper. Standing at 6′ 3″ and weighing 200 lbs, the newest Leaf is a mountain of a man blessed with game breaking speed and a scorer’s finish. The combination of size, speed and skill that JVR possesses are ones that are rare in the NHL. While he has definitely been enigmatic and injury prone in his career so far, there is no denying that when on his game van Riemsdyk is a game changing talent. Realistically the Leafs have not only acquired a complimentary piece to Kessel in JVR, they have also perhaps acquired a player who can play on the same level as #81. Despite his inabilities to put up the same numbers Kessel did at his age, JVR has every single tool available to him that Kessel has, and in many ways can perhaps exceed Phil in production moving forward.
The troubling thing may end up being the fanbases expectations of JVR. Of course I am aware that I just compared him to an 40 goal 80 point winger in Kessel, but I’m more concerned with expectations regarding style of play. Many may see the size of JVR and have false ideas as to what he is on the ice. Do not expect a banging, hard nosed power forward. Instead envision an unbelievably big skating winger who is fearless in taking the puck to the net. Similar to what Sundin was in his first couple of seasons with the Leafs when he was a winger. JVR is strong and is capable of putting his shoulder down and blowing by defenders before cutting in on net. What he is not though is aggressive in nature. This is not the replacement for Gary Roberts and Wendel Clark that Leaf fans are begging for.
Click here to see James van Riemsdyk’s career stats with the Flyers
Prior to the completion of this trade my faith in Burke was beginning to wane. Having been a staunch supported of the Irishmen throughout his time with the Leafs, I was becoming frustrated and exhausted at his all talk no action results. With the acquisition of JVR I think Burke purchased a sailboat for a bag of potatoes. One never knows how things will work out, and much like Schenn, JVR has certainly failed to live up to lofty expectations, yet potential wise there is no comparison between the two high draft picks. My faith has been restored, and I’ll be waiting with baited breath to see what rabbit Burke pulls out of his hat next.