Good News! Luke Schenn Edition


    Since posting the parable of Owen the other day, and most especially since reviewing the commentary appended thereto, it has come to my attention that:

    1. The Tragically Hip suck or else the Tragically Hip are the very Platonic embodiment of the concept of “win”.   It is not at all clear which of these two statements concerning the properties of the Tragically Hip inclines towards truth, yet the truth is said to be obvious, immutable and beyond the realm of debate;
    2. It is a very good idea to proofread what you have frantically typed in a guilty paroxysm of nostalgic reminiscence before hitting the “publish” button.  Failure to do so may have the inattentive rookie blogger combining various teams, their nicknames and game results in a charming but utterly abstract and completely fictional goulash of confusion.  In the unlikely event this is not the effect one is really attempting to achieve, this little pro tip may help you avoid embarrassment;
    3. It is quite possible that I am the first person on earth and in the history of ever to reference both the Three Stooges and Waiting for Godot in the same sentence.  Now I’ve gone and done it in consecutive posts!  Don’t be expecting this level of achievement in every installment, kids, outstanding performances have a way of regressing to the mean;
    4. My theory of road trips, nascent and ill-developed though it may be, is fertile ground for graduate study.  Even more startlingly, the road trip is fertile ground for reality television.  How has there not been a Big Brother style reality show centred around the road trip.  And no, I haven’t forgotten about the Amazing Race; pay attention man, those dudes travel in pairs, not triads.  As an aside, I wonder how many other areas of human endeavour are equally of interest to academics and reality TV producers?
    5. I somehow managed to omit from the story the fact that my buddies and I attended a cocktail mixer at the IMF.  Trust me, you don’t know from fun until you’ve partied with international debt specialists in a brightly-lit impersonal and institutional room in the middle of the afternoon; and
    6. At least some of you are seeing some of the same positive developments in certain Maple Leaf players that I am.

    Before we get to the subject of today’s post, Luke Schenn, a preliminary word if you will about the title of these entries:  a few years ago, I heard about this  guy who ran these ridiculous weekly departmental meetings in his office;  at the beginning of each meeting, each employee in attendance was required to speak a little bit about “Good News” from his or her department.   Those of you too young for the workforce will not have had the pleasure of having your very soul embalmed by flickering fluorescent light at the glacial pace of yet another mind-numbing bureaucratic circle-jerk – consider that little treasure just another among the many precious little gifts life bestows upon you as you age – so you won’t have a point of reference about these “Good News” greetings.  I’m not a religious man, but I am reasonably certain that if there is a hell, it’s not terribly dissimilar from a room full of disinterested co-workers eternally telling each other about recent noteworthy achievements in the exciting field of expense accounting.

    This “Good News” business always got me wondering whether bored, mischievous employees with a healthy sense of rebellion started to take certain liberties with the basic conceit of the format.  You know, stuff like blurting out, “Good News!  As a result of popular demand, the company medical plan now covers ebola,” or “Good News!  Most of the fire is now out in Records.”

    Anyway, like the rebuilding process ahead of our beloved Blue and White, this exercise in identifying and celebrating the little steps on the path to success is a long road.  The mind is clouded by the negative energy of anger, frustration and failure.  So let’s get started with a little exorcism of sorts:  out with the negative, in with the good.

    1. Good News! In 74 days, it will be impossible for anyone to score on Vesa Toskala, even from 194 feet away, because a court-imposed restraining order will keep him a minimum distance of eight hundred yards from any Leaf net.  Coincidentally, that is roughly the same distance from the crease that he currently travels after over-playing the shooter and flopping into the corner;
    2. Good News! There are no immediate plans to cancel transatlantic air travel, so Rickard Wallin will have that going for him when he returns to Sweden this summer, confident that he made the right decision to retire from the NHL – in 2004;
    3. Good News! It is very unlikely that Jason Allison will be attending Maple Leaf training camp in September 2010.  I have no idea whether he’s been invited or not, but if he hasn’t already started moving towards the training camp facility, there’s no way he’ll arrive in time; and
    4. Good News!  Relief is in sight for Leaf fans suffering through repeated ugly penalty killing failures: Leaf broadcasters have agreed, whenever the Blue and White are assessed a minor infraction, to show something less unpleasant to TV viewers.  Currently, they’ve selected some stock footage of a guy beating a baby seal to death with a boat paddle.

    I’m sure you can think of a few pieces of Good News! yourself – drop ’em in the comments if you like.

    With that little bit massive ponderous bulk of negativity banished from our collective consciousness, let’s talk about the most obvious reassuring sign of this otherwise woebegone season:  Luke Schenn.  It was just a little over a month ago, December 12th, that the sophomore defender was held out of a game against the Capitals as a healthy scratch for the first time in his pro career.  Schenn’s play had unmistakably faltered, when compared to his rookie campaign.  In fairness to the young defenseman, he was playing with new partners and often on a different side of the ice, a not insignificant challenge for a young blueliner.  Nevertheless, it was clear that something more than just that was wrong.  Schenn was frequently out of position, pinching down the boards unwisely or – worse still – caught halfway between dropping back conservatively and aggressively attacking, accomplishing neither goal.  It was clear that Schenn wasn’t seeing the game and reacting to game situations with the same natural ease that he had routinely displayed last year.  Among the major casualties of his nascent indecision was his physical play; we just weren’t seeing Luke thunder guys into the boards with the same degree of frequency to which we’d grown accustomed.  Brows were furrowed, and the concern was real and palpable among many of the faithful that Schenn was next to add his name to an ignominious list of fizzled prospects on the Leaf point (let’s call that list the “Gary Nylund Compendium”).

    This was serious business, Schenn stumbling.  To many, he represented (and still may represent) a Leaf Captain of the Future.  In my article about the rebuild in the Maple Leafs Annual, when I tried to envision what a successfully rebuilt Leaf team would look like, Luke Schenn was there with a “C” on his chest, beaming a proud Saskatchewan smile as he raised the Cup over his head.  In many ways, he is a metaphor for the future of the club, and his struggles were a seized upon and examined like an omen of ill-fortune.

    More recently, though, something encouraging has happened:  Luke Schenn has started to not just return to the level at which he played last year, but to surpass it.  He has returned to hitting attackers with authority and may generally be counted on now to conservatively but effectively deflect attackers to the outer portions of the ice.  Offensively, he has exhibited clear signs of growing comfortable and confident with his level of talent.  Last year (and much of the early part of this season), Schenn would invariably direct the puck at the net from the line with a wrist shot;  in these last few weeks, he’s taken a couple of slappers and managed to get them low and on goal.  An NHL defenseman has to be able to do this with confidence, even one that isn’t – and isn’t going to become – an offensive dynamo.  Schenn has also been Johnny on the spot as the late man on a couple of rushes, smartly joining the attack and potting a nice goal as the trailer against Philadelphia a few days ago.

    The point is that Schenn has faced the sophomore swoon and seems to have overcome it;  a lot of you are seeing the same thing, judging by the comments on that first post.  He’s showing some additional dimensions to his game which proves that he’s coachable and which will allow him to continue to survive in the NHL.  He’s hitting and he’s playing reliably and consistently for the most part.  That’s good news for Leaf fans going forward – again, maybe not this year or even the next, but Schenn is showing signs that as the team matures and develops, he will be right there getting better too.  Maybe the best news of all, though, for Leafs fans came after that banishment to the press box in December.  Schenn didn’t offer any excuses to reporters.  Instead, according to the Toronto Star, he said this:

    There’s always going to be controversy and a little bit of adversity playing here but I think guys have to be held accountable.

    Maybe that’s a big reason why we haven’t had success in the last few years or so, maybe the guys haven’t been held accountable. So, hopefully, I’ll be part of things to come here in the future and if I’m held accountable at an early age, it’ll make me stronger down the road.

    Stronger down the road; that’s the way I see Luke’s career going, and I hope it runs a parallel course with the arc of the team.


    As an aside, I’ll be at the game against the Kings Tuesday night.  I am fully expecting the “first home game after a five-game trip beatdown by a superior team” being inflicted on the Leafs.  More than anything, I’m hoping that the Monster plays;  haven’t had a look at him in person yet.  If I remember to charge my iPhone and my hands aren’t full of Burkie dogs, I’ll be tweeting the occasional thought, assuming that those occur.  You can follow along, if you like, here.