Leafs lock-up Luke Schenn for 5 years

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The restricted free agent signing frenzy continued late Thursday night/early Friday as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Luke Schenn agreed on a five-year contract. TSN’s Bob McKenzie broke the news and subsequently sent all of Leafs Nation into celebration. This is all it took:

“Luke Schenn has agreed to terms with the Toronto Maple Leafs. No further details at this point but he will report to camp Friday.”

With the former 6th overall pick in the mix, the Leafs will feature a top 4 with Schenn, captain Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles, and Mike Komisarek. Newly acquired Cody Franson, Keith Aulie, and Carl Gunnarsson will compete over the final two spots—with the loser getting an all expense paid trip to the press box. Oh, hypothetically speaking, there’s Jeff Finger in the mix as well.

Schenn’s stats are never going to blow anyone over. The stay-at-home defenseman only has 12 goals and 53 points in 231 career games. But that’s not Schenn’s job in Toronto. He’s paid (and paid well nowadays), to prevent the other team from scoring, get under the opponents’ skin, and protect his teammates. This is a guy who was compared to Adam Foote when he was a first round draft pick in 2008. Colorado (or Columbus) never paid Foote for the points he was going to put on the board, right?

An important point to factor into the financial terms of the contract is that the five-year deal accounts for one of Schenn’s unrestricted free agent years. The good news for Leafs fans is that he won’t hit the open market after his seventh season in the league. However, the bad news is that he’ll hit the open market when his contract expires after his eighth NHL season.

The extra year on the contract undoubtedly bumped up the average salary per season. Even without solid contract figures, the boys over at Pension Plan Puppets wasted no time figuring out Schenn’s new contract comparables.

“A cap hit between $3.4M and $3.6M puts Schenn among the following company: Rob Scuderi, Johnny Oduya, Kris Letang, Ryan Suter, Roman Hamrlik, Nick Schultz,Willie Mitchell, Cory Sarich, Brent Burns, Matt Carle, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Viktor Hedman.

Now the Leafs (and their fans) can stop worrying about contract negotiations and start worrying about their team next season. With the likes of Schenn, Phaneuf, and James Reimer trying to keep the puck out of their own net, newcomers Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi will attempt to help Toronto improve upon the 2.60 goals per game. If both can stay healthy, they should provide a boost to the team that was in the bottom third in the league in scoring.

Scoring woes are a different problem for a different day though. The continued maturation of Luke Schenn will be imperative for the Leafs to improve next season. As much as their offense struggled at times last season, the defense was the weaker part of their overall game. The only teams with worse goals against averages were the Blue Jackets, Islanders, Oilers, Thrashers, and Avalanche. Needless to say, those aren’t exactly perennial Stanley Cup contenders.

It’s Schenn’s job to turn those numbers around—he’ll have five years to figure it out.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.