Before you start jumping around saying how only stupid, mindless Leaf fans would even entertain the possibility that Steve Stamkos will play next season with anyone except the Lightning, let me agree with you – there’s about a 95% chance that he ends up staying right where he is. A relatively quiet free agency (aside from the July 1 craziness) and a real dearth of talent on the market have left the rumormongers with little more to discuss than the fact that Stamkos, one of just a handful of players that could be in the “best-player-in-the-league” discussion, has yet to come to a new deal with the team that drafted him number one overall just three seasons ago. Steve Yzerman has made it very clear that he’ll match any offer sheet thrown at Stamkos, and the chances that he’s just dying to trade away a player that has scored 95 goals in the past two seasons, despite being unable to legally purchase alcohol until just this past February, are about as good as Tim Hunter’s chances at winning a smallest nose competition.
However, every day that goes by without the announcement of a new contract for Stamkos only adds fuel to the fire that the media has stoked up over the past few months. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were never even considered candidates to leave Pittsburgh or Washington, yet Stamkos finished the 2009-10 season tied with Crosby for the league lead in goals, and has scored just 12 fewer points than Ovechkin in the last two seasons. While it seems unreal that an NHL GM would allow a generational talent slip away, it’s difficult not to speculate about the possibility, especially for fans of a team that has been without a true All-World talent for far too long.
The obvious choice for the less-educated fan is simple: Why don’t we just offer-sheet the hell out of him? The worst that can happen is that Tampa matches and ends up in even worse cap hell than they already are. While you wouldn’t get any argument from me that the compensatory ransom of first round picks Burke would sacrifice in an offer sheet would absolutely be worth it, Burke’s disdain for the offer sheet is well-known, and it’s simply just not as common a means of acquiring a player as it’s been made out to be over the last few weeks. Only six offer sheets have been posted in the last 13 years, with Dustin Penner the only player that changed teams as a result. Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve even allowed myself to think that the offer sheet would be a seeming no-brainer for Burke, but in reality it’s far more likely that, if Yzerman truly felt that negotiations with Stamkos were at such an impasse that a deal was out of the question, he’d want to collect what would probably be one of the biggest trade hauls in recent NHL history.
All of which brings me to the question asked in the title. Over the last few seasons, Leaf fans have watched Luke Schenn with ever-growing expectations. Drafted just four spots after Stamkos in a top-heavy 2008 Entry Draft, Schenn is a rock on the blueline, and he saw his game take some big steps forward this season after a so-so sophomore year in 2009-10. There’s almost no doubt in anyone’s mind that he has top-pairing talent, and he’s only going to continue to get better, as defensemen tend to take a bit longer in their development than forwards. A hit machine, Schenn is the prototypical physical shutdown defender that Brian Burke loves, and it’s no surprise that Burke has said numerous times that he’s the one piece that was absolutely unavailable for discussion during the dismantling and reassembly of the franchise that’s gone on in the past two years.
Let me again reiterate that in no way am I sitting here clamoring for Schenn to be traded. I think he’s a better defensive option than Dion Phaneuf, has an offensive upside that most don’t give him credit for, and will be an All-Star blueliner sooner than later. On paper, with Schenn, Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Keith Aulie and Carl Gunnarsson, not to mention Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker, the Leafs have the potential to ice one of the deepest bluelines in the league in the very near future, assuming all or most of these young men continue to develop at the levels they appear to be. A nasty, smashmouth, shutdown defensive team is something the Leafs have never been in my lifetime, and that style of play is certainly what Brian Burke likes to see from his teams.
However, even the best defensive teams have to score some goals, and the Leafs’ offensive pipeline is a far cry from their future on the blueline. Stamkos would change all of that in a heartbeat, even if you include Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne in any potential trade scenario with Schenn. Adding just 35-40 goals (Stamkos has scored 51 and 45 in the last two seasons) to the Leafs’ offensive totals from last year would put them somewhere in the top 5. The addition of Stamkos would take about four thousand pounds of expectation off Phil Kessel’s shoulders, and while I don’t think it would automatically make them an elite team (it wouldn’t), it’d be hard not to see them making the playoffs.
So, Leaf Nation, what do you think? Would you make Luke Schenn the centerpiece of a deal for Steve Stamkos?