By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (June 23) – Given his tenure as GM of the Maple Leafs, Brian Burke made a move today that will likely pan out.
Trading has been bold and mostly productive since Burke assumed the managerial reign from Cliff Fletcher, and dispatching Luke Schenn to Philadelphia eliminates one of the few remaining components in place before the November 2008 shift in power; it was Fletcher, you’ll recall, who traded up two spots at the ’08 draft in Ottawa to grab Schenn fifth overall from Kelowna of the Western Hockey League. Sadly for the Leafs, it ends yet another attempt at developing one of their own – a quintessential shortcoming that dates to the club’s last championship in 1967.
Instead, Leafs hope to develop someone else’s prospect. Only Patrick Kane was chosen ahead of James van Riemsdyk at the 2007 draft in Columbus – Philadelphia nabbing the lanky center-man from the United States under-18 hockey program. JVR, as he is mercifully known to writers on deadline, provides Leafs the big, young body they’ve lacked up the middle. Of course, Burke probably felt he had that commodity when he acquired Joe Colborne from Boston in the Tomas Kabrele trade a year ago February. Colborne may still graduate to the big league but his progress has been slow – a fitting appraisal of van Riemsdyk’s development since a torrid playoff showing in 2011, when he scored seven goals in 11 games with Philadelphia.
Leafs have acquired a player among the multitude of NHLers hoping to rebound from a concussion and its accumulative potential. But, there’s a risky element in any trade.
That’s why the Leafs-Flyers swap is promising for both sides. For decades, good hockey players in Toronto have ultimately needed a change of scenery; such movement goes hand-in-hand with constant losing. That has not often been the case in Philadelphia, where the Flyers crafted a winning environment from the outset: placing atop the NHL’s West Division in their inaugural season of 1967-68 and becoming – six years later – the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup. If the Flyers truly felt van Riemsdyk needed a change of address, chances are reasonable he’ll attain much of his promise in Toronto. Philly gets a big, smart blue-liner oozing with character – and a right-handed shooting defenseman, something the club sorely lacked.
PHOTO I SNAPPED OF LUKE SCHENN (ABOVE) AFTER LEAFS MORNING SKATE AT WELLS-FARGO CENTER IN PHILADELPHIA LAST OCT. 24. THAT NIGHT, HE AND HIS BROTHER, BRAYDEN SCHENN, WERE NHL OPPONENTS FOR THE FIRST TIME – AN OCCASION THE NERVOUS SCHENN CLAN FROM SASKATOON (BELOW) WAS ON HAND TO ATTEND: LEFT-TO-RIGHT, FATHER JEFF; MOM RITA; SISTERS MACY AND MADISON.
From the moment I met Luke Schenn – upon departing the Toronto-to-Ottawa flight we shared for the 2008 draft – he was a young man wise beyond his years. Until he acquired Dion Phaneuf from Calgary, Burke often bristled at the notion of trading Schenn, whom he described as “a future captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.” In that regard, the GM wasn’t blowing smoke. And Luke could easily become a candidate to replace Chris Pronger as captain of the Flyers – if, and when, it is determined Pronger will not return from his debilitating battle with concussion.
Through good times and bad – both individually and in regard to the team – Schenn never ducked a media request. While other, more established players cowered in the sanctuary of the Leafs expansive clubhouse at Air Canada Centre, Luke always stood up for himself and his teammates. That isn’t a quality one can teach. Rumors persisted that Schenn had a strained relationship with Phaneuf and, if true, Leafs have eradicated the problem… though it is nearly impossible for me to comprehend that removing Schenn eliminates a “problem”.
Now, we wonder: How do Leafs replace “Luke’s Troops” – the popular initiative sparked by the defenseman in which a member of the Canadian military is honored in the third period of each home game? Maybe Joffrey Lupul assumes proprietorship and it becomes “Loops Troops”. Do we have any votes for “Dion’s Peons?”
Happily for Jeff and Rita Schenn, they’ll be able to spend time among their hockey-playing sons without commuting between cities. Though watching the team that traded him – Los Angeles Kings – win the Stanley Cup this spring had to bite a little, Brayden gets an opportunity to evolve alongside his older brother… a family reunion that should encompass the prime NHL years for both men.
At some point in the future – though it is difficult to predict when – the oft-heard lament that young hockey players cannot develop in Toronto will be a thing of the past. At the moment, Luke Schenn is merely the latest example.
MY PHOTO (ABOVE) OF BRAYDEN SCHENN LINING UP ALONGSIDE CLARKE MacARTHUR DURING PHILADELPHIA AT TORONTO GAME ON MAR. 10, 2012.
Moving forward, Burke has to supplement his generally good work on the trade front with a bit of success in free agency – an unmitigated disaster during his term here. The time, effort and money Leafs have wasted on July 1 and beyond would be sufficient – by itself – to cost a manager his job on a club without financial might. The fact Leafs have been able to absorb Burke’s constant mis-reading of the open market affords him one more opportunity to get it right, with a cast of players – beyond Zach Parise and Ryan Suter – that is far from overwhelming.
Roberto Luongo remains a possible acquisition, though the greater number of people I talk to about the Vancouver goalie, the more I’m convinced Luongo would waive his no-movement clause for the Leafs only if there is no other option. If he has a chance to return to Florida – a sounder, more competitive team than Toronto in a far-more appealing climate during winter months – why wouldn’t he go there?
FORMER LEAFS JONAS GUSTAVSSON AND LUKE SCHENN TRY TO WARD OFF RUSLAN FEDOTENKO OF THE NEW YORK RANGERS DURING GAME AT ACC ON JAN. 14, 2012.
THE BROTHERS SCHENN IN THEIR INAUGURAL NHL JERSEYS: LUKE WITH TORONTO; BRAYDEN WITH L.A.
Facebook: Howard Berger [Thornhill ON]