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Point/Counterpoint: Luke Schenn

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The Leafs have officially announced that they will keep Luke Schenn past the ninth game of the NHL season Tuesday night against Tampa Bay. This decision will tear Leafs Nation apart at the seams with half of us worried to death that Luke will be ruined in the NHL and the other half worried to death that Luke will be ruined by returning to junior. Basically, we're all a little worried about Our Luke and Saviour. But what are the arguments that each side is making? Why does Chemmy want to see Luke waste his talents in a kid's league? Why do I want to see Schenn take his rightful spot in the NHL as the bedrock of the Leafs' defence?

Well, having those questions answered is why they invented Even Stephven.

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The ultra handsome PPP tries his best to convince the large-nosed Chemmy that Schenn should play in the NHL. 

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PPP

Hello, I'm PPP, Chief Blogging Officer for Pension Plan Puppets. Yesterday afternoon, General Manager Cliff Fletcher announced that the Luke Schenn would remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs past the nine game cut-off for returning rookies to their junior team without burning a year of their entry-level contract. That will be the topic of today's Point-Counterpoint with Chemmy taking the anti-Schenn in the NHL point and I will take the pro-Schenn in the NHL counterpoint.

By the power of extra-sensory perception, and because everyone and The Omen have been harping on it since Schenn was drafted, I already know that Chemmy's first argument will revolve around the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement. Have you ever read the NHL's CBA? Don't bother because the new head of the NHLPA Paull Kelly wants players to have a bigger say in the 'partnership' with the NHL and part of that could involve re-opening the CBA in 2009. As DGB put it:

First of all, it's crazy to make assumptions about what the CBA will be like three or four years from now, let alone seven or eight. We have no idea when Schenn will be a free agent, because we have no idea how the CBA will read in a few years.

Maybe you had a chance to read my awesome interview with my new BFF Pat Quinn in which he outlined the one and only consideration that needs to be taken into account:

In his viewpoint, it's a move that a franchise makes believing that the coach can have a bigger impact on the player's long-term development rather than giving control to another coach. The key is that it could be a good situation for Luke if he plays because if he's just watching then it's not going to do a player that could be an anchor on the team's defence any good.

At the end of the day, the Leafs are not trying to develop the best WHL defenceman possible but the best NHL defenceman possible. Luke is not being sheltered from real competition. He is leading the Leafs in 5 on 5 ice-time and among the regular defence has been playing the toughest competition. On the penalty kill Our Luke and Saviour has led the team in ice-time too. Ron Wilson is teaching him the systems that he wants the team to implement and that is paramount:

What I hear is he could be the captain of a junior team, as if that's more important than what we're trying to do with the Maple Leafs. If he plays in junior hockey, he may not get any better.

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 Chemmy

Unlike PPP who is blinded by Schenn's good looks and large muscles, I'm here to be the voice of reason.

PPP and DGB (a lot of acronyms FYI) think the CBA could change so that invalidates an argument I haven't made yet. While I love and respect DGB (even though he lives in Ottawa), I have to say that his argument about the CBA potentially changing is a little disingenuous.

Granted, the CBA could change in the next three or four years but the CBA would have to be changed with input from the NHL including its general managers who have been laboring under the assumption that bringing their young kids up early starts the RFA clock ticking. I have to imagine that there won't be drastic changes to the way the NHL handles RFAs and UFAs based on the long time frame involved with successfully managing young players under the cap. Even then, how would a change benefit Toronto and Schenn? This argument is basically "The CBA could change" which means in the worst case not playing Schenn is a wash.

No matter how the CBA changes there are still going to be limits on how long a player is an RFA. As long as there's any sort of limit there's no sense burning up a prospect's eligibility for development. Schenn would develop just fine next year as a full time call up after returning to the WHL and he might have a decent teammate to join him.

Look at the Penguins. They stocked their cupboards and then started playing guys when the time was right, ie. when they drafted Crosby. In 05-06, Crosby's first season, the Penguins introduced Ryan Whitney (5th overall 2002), Marc Andre Fleury (1st overall 2003), and Crosby (duh), and backed it up the next season by introducing Evgeni Malkin (2nd overall 2004) and Jordan Staal (2nd overall 2006). Notice how players from five different draft classes made debuts in two seasons? You want to stack those players up, to develop them all at the same time with each other to form a core, and then sign them all at the same time to convince them to take cuts to stay together.

At the end of the day, the Leafs are not trying to develop the best WHL defenceman possible but the best NHL defenceman possible.

The Barilkosphere is already grooming 18 year old Schenn to be the next Captain of the Maple Leafs. Where is Schenn going to pick up this leadership? Toronto's last Captain bailed as a UFA without signing anywhere else or telling anyone his intentions, hardly inspirational leadership, but Sundin was the best we had. Currently Toronto has no Captain. Toronto has no one who can legitimately stand up and lead.

Schenn would be his team's captain in Kelowna if not for the fact that the Leafs aren't returning him. Schenn would be the go to guy for the Kelowna Rockets and then later on he'd be the leader of a dominant Canada U20 team.

We know that Schenn has the skillset to play at a high level in the NHL but there are things he could still learn in the WHL like how to lead and possibly add an offensive side to his game.

The main reason I'd like to see Schenn go down is this though; it's a rebuilding year and the Leafs are going to be rebuilding for a couple more seasons until the cupboards are stocked and some slick UFAs hit the market. What's the point of playing Schenn now? What does it do for the team as a whole, not just Luke Schenn? Schenn might not get better in the WHL but he's probably not going to get worse.

Don't forget too that Toronto has a glut of defenders riding the pine. A lot of people may have written off Ian White but he and Colaiacovo are riding the pine, and Toronto's sat Stralman too. The desire to ensure Schenn gets ice time means that our other prospects' development is suffering. Schenn could be sent to the WHL and play 30 minutes a game without clearing waivers freeing up Ian White to get into the lineup and possibly be traded or for Carlo Colaicovo to finally show everyone that he's gotten healthy or for Stralman to play consistently and start to develop.

The only upside to Schenn playing is that he's good enough to play. That doesn't help the Toronto Maple Leafs who aren't one good defender away from being a decent team. I love Schenn, I really do, but Toronto is rushing into this and in three years there are going to be tough cap decisions and having Schenn's huge raise deferred a year would look awfully smart.

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PPP

Chemmy you ignorant slut. You would imagine that GMs will not let any change to the CBA make drastic changes to their long-term planning? Well, join me in the imaginary fantasyland I call 2005 when, after the nuclear winter of 2004-2005 the Free Agency age moved from 31 pre-lockout to 28. After 2008-2009 it could change to the detriment of general managers or maybe the league will realize the marketing benefit of homegrown players as the NBA has and they'll institute similar rules to ensure that players can stay with their draft team. The point is just that using a document that could change to predict decisions that will have to be made at least two summers after it could be renegotiated is not reason enough to keep a deserving player out of the league.

As for the Penguins, I'd argue that their path was dictacted more by luck than strategy. Marc Andre-Fleury actually played 21 games the year after he was drafted, was sent back to junior, played in the WJHC, and then in the AHL during the lockout. His second NHL season was so bad that the Penguins were worried that they might have broken him. Would his development path have been different if he stayed? It's tough to tell because that Penguins team with which he played in his first two seasons were so horrifyingly bad. Here's the 2003-2004 team and the 2005-2006 edition. They were so shockingly horrible that the vast majority of those guys wouldn't crack the Leafs' lineup this year. It's tough to discern whether the Penguins actually had a plan with regards to bringing kids into the lineup or whether the lockout and subsequent salary cap forced their hand. Certainly, Whitney and Fleury likely would have played during the 2004-2005 season if not for the lockout and Crosby, Malkin, because of his contract with Magnitorsk might have debuted in 2005-2006 after one more year in Russia rather than 2006-2007.

As for leadership, the Quinnterview made it pretty clear that leadership comes from all over the room. Already we are seeing it develop from a number of corners on the Leafs without benefit of labels or letters. The Leafs might lack in the rah-rah leadership but thus far Schenn is not lacking from teammates whose examples he can emulate.

The glut of defencemen is definitely a problem. A side-effect is that right now the Leafs only have 12 forwards. Why is it a problem? Because Ron Wilson is in the process of instituting a system based on personal responsibility and integrity. As he shuffles the defencemen that dress or the fourth line forwards or benches Jason Blake he sends the message that the Leafs have not been good enough to have anyone think that they have a guaranteed position in the lineup. He has preached that if you do your job you will play. Well, Luke Schenn has more than done what has been asked of him. On a couple of ocassions Wilson has highlighted him as the best defenceman on the night while noting that he seems to be the one that best understands what he is teaching. In the grand scheme of what Fletcher and Wilson are trying to do to overhaul the work ethic, climate, and culture of the club what will be the negative effect of undermining all that you have built just to save a few million dollars?

The other benefit, that I didn't mention above, of not having a glut of kids come through at the same time is that you are able to tackle each one individually rather than having to face them as a group. The Penguins suffered from having to re-sign too many important pieces of their club in one summer. Hell, the assumption is that the Leafs will have a lot of great young kids to re-sign but that's worrying about something else that might not happen.

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Chemmy

I apologize for not being as knowledgeable at the fine art of sluttery as you are PPP but that doesn't change the fact that I'd rather see Schenn in the WHL. The Leafs need the flexibility on their roster and he's the most flexible part.

To be honest though, the Leafs could have worse problems. It's hard to say what would be better for Schenn's development but he's certainly a capable player already. While I agree with MF37's sentiment that the front office is at times clueless,  I have to imagine that Ron Wilson had a large part in keeping Schenn up.

Schenn's definitely an NHL player, I just worry about him being in over his head. He's looked great so far but nine games is a tiny sample size and I'd personally err on the side of caution. Hopefully Ron Wilson makes smarter decisions than you PPP. (I told you weeks in advance that wearing women's underwear to the gym for their superior anti-chafing characteristics wasn't going to work out well and even after you ignored me I was the only person who visited you in the hospital.)

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PPP

That theory made a lot more sense after those bubbling scotch on the rocks. What did you put in that drink to make it fizz? Anyway, why not take this discussion to the ultimate decision maker?

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Chemmy

Uncle Cliff?

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PPP

Of course not. Let's see what Wendel says:

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So there you have it. Blaspheme if you will, go against the Will of Wendel but he has spoken. Enjoy the next 20 years of Luke Schenn Leafs Nation. Like that Christmas present that your parents let you unwrap in November because your neighbour wanted to drive you insane with a present under the tree for four weeks we don't have to wait for Luke Schenn anymore!

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Chemmy

DEVELOP MORE IN JUNIOR!

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PPP

DEVELOP MORE IN THE NHL!

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Chemmy

DEVELOP MORE IN JUNIOR!!

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PPP

DEVELOP MORE IN THE NHL!!

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PPP/CHEMMY

DEVELOP MORE IN THE NHL!!!/DEVELOP MORE IN JUNIOR!!!!

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And that's been Even PPP/Chemmy.