What would happen if you asked Toronto Maple Leafs fans the question "So far this season, who has been the Leafs best defenseman?" After the game against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, at least 75 percent of fans would say, Luke Schenn. With the recent injury to underachieving Dion Phaneuf, Schenn was given the opportunity to shut down NHL superstar Alexander Ovechkin.
If most viewers didn't realize, by the middle of the second period, Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau had to keep Ovechkin away from Schenn throughout the second half of the game. This serves as an eye-opener to Leafs nation, that Schenn is turning into a bonafide shut down defenseman in the National Hockey League.
Ovechkin had recently stated that he hates to play against defensemen like Zdeno Chara, an intimidating, physical player who makes it difficult for the top offensive players in the league to operate. Now i'm not saying that Schenn is in the same realm as the 6'9", 260 pound freak Zdeno Chara, but if Schenn can effectively compete against a superstar such as Ovechkin, he is definitely on the right track to becoming a top NHL defender.
Now the question is, what kind of contract will Brian Burke give to Schenn before the start of the next season? Burke has been on record stating that he does not be believe in the lucrative, long-term contracts currently being signed by players such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Roberto Luongo and Marian Hossa. He has stated that any contract over five years in length is a risk due to the uncertainty of long-term player performance, and the willingness to play for the same team for an extended period of time.
If Schenn continues to play on the Leafs top defensive pairing this season, even when Dion Phaneuf returns from injury, would Burke reconsider his stance on long-term contracts? Would it really be a bad thing if Burke locked up Schenn to an eight to ten year contract if the cap hit was a reasonable three to four million a season?
There would obviously be advantages and disadvantage to signing Schenn to such a contract, the disadvantages mainly being the reasons why Burke shies away from such contracts. Although, if you can lock up a future top pairing defenseman for a reasonable cap hit, would it not be a huge advantage to the franchise going forward?
Schenn plays the way Burke wants every Leafs defenseman to play, a hard-nosed, simple game with a decent amount of offensive upside. With Tomas Kaberle acting as his mentor for the past three seasons, you can see elements of Kaberle's game slowly seeping into Schenn's ever evolving skill set. I've never seen Schenn so calm with the puck in his own end, drawing forecheckers in before making a smart first pass out of the defensive zone.
If I was Brian Burke, I would do my best to lock up Luke Schenn to a long-term contract if he is willing to take an annual salary under four million dollars. Schenn will most likely want to sign a five year contract so he can become an unrestricted free agent to have the ability to cash in if his play dramatically improves as he gets older. If he can improve his offensive game by the time he is 26 years of age, he may be able to hit the market for more money, such as four to five million per season.
How do you think Brian Burke should handle Luke Schenn's contract next year? Should he try his best to sign him long-term, or should he go for a short-term contract in hopes of putting more money towards signing more top six forwards?
Richards, Backes, Gagne, Laich and Langenbrunner may be hitting the market next summer.....just sayin'.