The temptation will be enormous and if Cliff Fletcher succumbs to it, he should be run out of Toronto immediately after being found guilty of selling people a bill of goods.
Top prospect Luke Schenn’s play against the St. Louis Blues in a pre-season game Monday night – plus-3 and the shootout winner – will have the deluded fans in the Center of the Hockey Universe™ clamoring for the Leafs to keep the 18-year-old defenseman on the team.
You can already see coach Ron Wilson greasing the skids for the possibility, saying Schenn has “passed every test” so far and touting him as a potentially great player. Of course, all the while he seems content to trash goaltending prospect Justin Pogge. Not sure what, if anything, he hopes to accomplish by doing that.
But if the Leafs keep Schenn on the roster, it will represent a complete 180-degree turn in the philosophy the Leafs, as an organization, have espoused and have entrusted Fletcher with the task of carrying out.
Apparently, Steve Yzerman doesn’t have enough experience to run the Maple Leafs hockey department, so it stands to reason that Schenn doesn’t have enough experience to patrol their blueline this season.
The early returns on Fletcher are not good. He came in repeating the mantra the Leafs were going to be different, that they would build through the draft and place a greater emphasis on developing talent from within the organization. And since then, he has gone about doing the polar opposite of what he promised.
Rebuilding teams generally hoard draft picks, but the Leafs have been giving them away like candy for marginal players. They gave up a third-rounder in the June draft for Jamal Mayers and a fifth-rounder in 2009 for Ryan Hollweg. (On that note, if you guys thought Darcy Tucker was Sideshow Bob, wait until you see this guy.) They gave up prospect Greg Pateryn – who recently merited an invitation to the U.S. World Junior team’s evaluation camp – and a second-rounder in 2010 for Mikhail Grabovski and traded away second and third round picks in 2009 to move up and select Schenn fifth overall.
And let’s not forget the Leafs had no salary cap constraints, but traded Bryan McCabe simply for the purpose of doing so in exchange for an injury-prone, career underachiever in Mike Van Ryn. Because of the way the Leafs front-loaded the contract, if they had waited another year, McCabe would have been much more attractive to another team and the Leafs might have actually received something of value for him. After all, his value could not have possibly been any lower than when they made the deal.
Does this look like a rebuilding organization? Does this look like an organization looking toward the long-term when it comes to Schenn?
Having a deserving 18-year-old play in the NHL rather than be exploited by junior hockey owners, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. With the player on the roster, the NHL team has control over the development of the player and if he can help the cause, that might be the best thing for the player and the team.
But the Maple Leafs are nowhere near being a contender, do not need to work young players into the lineup for salary reasons and have much more to lose by exposing Schenn to all the losing than by sending him back to junior and putting him in a position to dominate and play in the World Junior Championship.
The biggest question is, if the Leafs are so focused on the future, why on earth would they even consider blowing a year of Schenn’s NHL tenure and making him an unrestricted free agent a year earlier to have him play on a team going nowhere?
And let’s face it, this is the pre-season we’re talking about. Anyone who expects Schenn to maintain this level of play for 82 games against legitimate NHL competition is dreaming.
Keeping Luke Schenn in Toronto this season makes no sense, but that’s not exactly this organization’s strong suit.
WATCH FOR NYLANDER
If Chicago Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon thought he was fooling anybody this summer when he said Nikolai Khabibulin had a future in Chicago after signing Cristobal Huet, that sham came to an end Monday when the Hawks put Khabibulin on waivers.
The Blackhawks are trying to clear salary cap space by getting rid of Khabibulin and insiders say the player they’re targeting now is Washington Capitals center Michael Nylander, who has three years left on his contract with a salary cap hit of $4.875 million.
Sources say the Blackhawks have already made two serious offers to the Capitals for Nylander and believe he would be a good candidate to replace Robert Lang and play with oft-injured Martin Havlat.
Losing Nylander would be a blow to the Capitals, but they would still have Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov to anchor their top two lines. Dealing Nylander would also give the Capitals some salary cap breathing room, since they’re currently at about $59.3 million, just more than $2 million over the cap as the regular season approaches, though Brian Pothier’s long-term injury could take his $2.5 million cap hit off the books.
The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, appear to be looking for a scoring forward to play with the Sedin twins this season. There was speculation they were looking at Havlat, but the Hawks don’t seem willing to deal him and the Canucks would almost certainly want to see Havlat have a sustained period without an injury before making a commitment.
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