The Toronto Maple Leafs are closing in on an extension with their (arguably) biggest asset - Luke Schenn. As I discussed in a recent article, Schenn will be looking for a contract in and around the $3.5M to $4.5M range. Some fans are a bit sceptical of handing out a contract over $4M for a mostly stay at home defenceman, but it's not necessarily all about the performance as negotiations are hitting the point based on Schenn's future UFA eligibility.
Right now, Schenn is 21 years old. In 2008, the NHL changed their age of unrestricted free agency from 31 to 27. In doing so, any player of the age of 27, once their contract expired, would be able to test the free agent waters. The rule also accommodates players who have served seven (7) years of experience in the league. Since Luke Schenn began his career as an 18 year-old, and has played three seasons thus far for the Buds, he will eligible for unrestricted free agency by the age of 25.
Knowing that, the current contract is at an impasse between the Leafs and Schenn. Brian Burke, though not a big fan of long-term contracts, is willing to sign a deal of the 7 year range with the young blue-liner. Last season, Schenn had career highs in goals (5), assists (17), and points (22), and was sixth in the league for most hits. With the entry-level contract bonuses, Schenn earned approximately $3M last season. He'll certainly want a raise from that mark, but the value of years of the contract is where it becomes a question mark.
Should the Leafs want to pursue a contract in the $3.5M to $4M mark, they will have to keep the extension within 4 years, thus providing Schenn the decision on whether or not to sign another extension with the Leafs when he turns 25, or to test the July 1st bidding. If the Leafs want to sign a contract with Schenn that is longer than four NHL seasons, they are purchasing years away from Schenn’s free agency eligibility which will thus cost Toronto more money.
That’s where the real question comes in. Is it worth it to pay a defensive defenceman over $4M per season? Mike Komisarek cashed in on his opportunity a few summers ago, and Schenn could certainly make a case that he deserves at least the amount Komisarek has received (considering his play since arriving in Toronto), and judging by the Leafs cash flow for the summer (approximately $20M to spend) Schenn’s negotiating standpoint is looking pretty solid.
A deal will certainly be reached, but how much would you be willing to commit to Cool Hand Luke? With the opportunity of receiving an offer sheet this summer, is it worth it to keep him, or cash in on likely a pile of draft choices?
The only real positive part of the negotiations is knowing that Luke Schenn will be getting perhaps only a million dollars more than his last contract, which means that he would only cost the Leafs $1M more on their salary cap if he gets the $4M per season contract, and would still leave the Leafs with around $19M to play with this summer.
What would you do?
Also, it looks like Fredrik Sjostrom may be staying in Europe for next season. The penalty kill expert has yet to be contacted by the Maple Leafs regarding an extension and it seems he would prefer to stay home than to return if he’s unable to find a deal with Toronto.