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Maple Leafs Watch: Luke Schenn coming of age

Quick, without thinking – who has been the best player on the Toronto Maple Leafs this year?

If your answer was defenceman Luke Schenn, you’re not alone.

The third-year pro’s defensive effort has been as consistent as that of anyone on the roster and he has been far better than he was last season as a slumping sophomore. Schenn never will match Ray Bourque in terms of point production, but the 21-year-old remains on pace for a career year on offense.

In a year that is quickly going pear-shaped for the Buds, Schenn’s continued development must be considered a positive. But there’s a negative to counterbalance that positive – and of course, money is at the root of that negative.

Quick, without thinking – what do you pay Schenn at the end of this season, when his three-year rookie contract expires and he becomes a restricted free agent?

If GM Brian Burke offers a small raise on the $2.975 million Schenn will make this year, the Leafs risk losing his services to a more lucrative offer from another team. Toronto can match any offer, but the point remains: the Leafs, either by their own choice, or through a move forced by the competition, could be paying Schenn a lot of money.

How much? Let’s look at a guy like Atlanta blueliner Ron Hainsey as a comparable. Like Schenn, Hainsey was a first-round draft pick who needed time to develop into a bona fide NHLer. When he finally did – as a 25-year-old member of the Columbus Blue Jackets – Hainsey went on to break the bank: in 2008, he signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract with Atlanta.

That’s $4.5 million a season. That would represent a more than 50 percent raise for Schenn – and with Toronto already committed to more than $16 million for next season’s defence corps, that’s not an insignificant amount.

Maybe they use some of the cap space from soon-to-be-unrestricted-free-agent Tomas Kaberle to adjust. Maybe they trade Francois Beauchemin or Mike Komisarek.

Regardless, the better Schenn plays, the less likely it is the Leafs’ defense stays intact.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.

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