This morning, on Toronto sports radio, the question came up, “Would you trade Luke Schenn for Joe Pavelski?” I almost drove off the road. Then, to sink the dagger even further, both the boneheads behind the mics said, “Yes, I would.” I had to pull over and take some deep breaths. Schenn for Pavelski? Are they nuts?
Frankly, I don’t even know where to start with this insane notion. Let’s begin with Pavelski. Of course everyone is excited about Joe right now. He had a fantastic Stanley Cup Playoff run last year, scoring nine goals in 15 games. And he popped one in overtime last night v. the Kings to put the Sharks ahead in that series. But Pavelski’s heroics didn’t get the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sharks past the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.
This season, after consecutive 25-goal years, Pavelski scored 20 times for San Jose. Ostensibly, he would come to Toronto as the number one centre for Phil Kessel that the media is craving. Let me re-phrase that, that the media is demanding. Leafs’ GM Brian Burke said, earlier this week, that he was content with Kessel’s efforts late in the season. Then, Phil the Phraud went out and declined an offer to play for his beloved USA at the IIHF World Hockey Championship. Some things will never change.
Pavelski’s presence may very well elevate Kessel’s scoring numbers, but at what cost? This season was Luke Schenn’s coming out party in the NHL. Last season, Schenn averaged just under 17 minutes per game. This season, his TOI ranks him right behind captain Dion Phaneuf. Schenn played under twenty minutes in a game fewer than a dozen times. And, now that Tomas Kaberle has been relegated somewhere (anywhere), Schenn is clearly the Leafs’ number two blueliner. And his confidence is building daily. Ron Wilson has shown Schenn that he has faith in him. Is there anything that makes a defenceman play bigger and better?
But, here’s the rub. Why would Brian Burke give away his defensive strength for a small potential offensive increase? Defence gets teams into the playoffs. Defence wins championships. Offence puts butts in seats – something the Leafs do not need to improve upon. Despite James Reimer’s heroics, the Leafs gave up 251 goals this season. That’s not nearly good enough in the Eastern Conference.
The Washington Capitals, for example, only scored six more goals than the Leafs did. That’s right, six! But the Caps gave up 54 fewer. Defence wins conferences.
Sure, it would be great to have Joe Pavelski wearing blue and white – but not at the cost of a key piece of the defensive puzzle.