Suspended Calgary Flames LW Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond for the final four preseason games and one regular season game (Sep. 22, 2011)
Suspended Philadelphia Flyers LW Jody Shelley for the remainder of the preseason and five regular season games (Sep. 22, 2011)
With the issue of concussions front and center throughout the offseason, an issue exacerbated by the ongoing uncertainty of Sidney Crosby's future, one bit of news that flew relatively under the radar this summer was the ascension of recently retired Brendan Shanahan to the role of NHL Senior Vice President, Player Safety and Hockey Operations. He replaced Colin Campbell, who came under frequent fire due to the seemingly random dispersal of punishments for on-ice actions throughout his long run as the League's chief disciplinarian. Campbell's effectiveness was also called into question by his inability to mete out punishments to players on teams that are connected to his son, Gregory. This was brought into sharp focus last offseason as Gregory's Bruins were involved (both giving and receiving) in several questionable plays during their run to the Stanley Cup last spring.
Considering his focal role in the NHL Development Camp endeavor over the last two seasons, it was hoped that Shanahan would be more progressive in his new position. If today's announced suspensions, accompanied by video explanations, are any hint, the league has entered a welcome new era for discipline.
Earlier this week, in a pre-season tilt between the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks, Flames winger, Letourneau-Leblond (who I will forever more refer to as "The Duke") was given a two-minute boarding minor for a hit from behind on Canucks' LW Matt Clackson. In explaining his decision to keep The Duke out for the remainder of the preseason schedule as well as the Flames' first regular season game, Shanahan referred to his suspension last year for a dirty hit, the amount of time he had to slow down or avoid the hit, as well as the defenselessness of Clackson's position.
On Wednesday, in a separate preseason matchup featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Philadelphia Flyers, in an act worthy of the Broad Street Bullies, Flyers' winger Jody Shelley, a noted goon, took down Leafs forward Darryl Boyce, who was in a similar relative position as that of Clackson. Once again pointing out that Boyce was defenseless and that Shelley had ample time to slow down or change his course, Shanahan decreed that the play was in direct violation of NHL rule 41.1 concerning boarding. Like The Duke, Shelley has a rap sheet, having been suspended twice last season. Furthermore, the new disciplinarian pointedly considered the fact that the victim in blue and white was injured as a result of the play (although he was able to return later in the game) before handing out a suspension of ten games, including five each in the preseason and the regular season.
Meet the new boss. Not the same as the old boss. While neither the Flyers nor the Flames are likely to miss the presence of the two enforcers, players around the league should be applauding the new found transparency of the NHL disciplinary system.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Agreed to a new five-year deal with restricted free agent D Luke Schenn, for $3.6 million per season (Sep. 16, 2011)
Schenn's new $18 million pact to remain in Toronto until his age-26 season (referring to the age at which he will play for most of that season) places his annual salary in a tie with Calgary's Corey Sarich for 53rd among NHL blueliners. The young workhorse has averaged over 21 minutes TOI in two of his three seasons and last year showed a budding offensive component to his game, increasing his offensive GVT from 0.4 to 2.0.
An interesting comparison for Schenn might reasonably be made to Blackhawks' defenseman Brent Seabrook, who typically plays the more rugged role of his team's top pair, a designation that will likely apply to the Leafs' youngster this season, alongside Dion Phaneuf. The former fifth overall pick, who went right from the draft to one of hockey's most fervent hotbeds, Schenn put up a combined 10.7 GVT, 77.6% of which was made up of his defensive contributions, in his age-20 and age-21 seasons. In comparison, Seabrook at the same ages combined for 11.5 GVT, 58.3% of which was defensive. Of course, Seabrook's offensive game has since blossomed, to the point where it has more than doubled his defensive value last season.
Both skaters have moderate size (Seabrook is listed at 6'3", 218 pounds, while Schenn stands 6'2", 215 pounds), are seen as leaders in their respective squads, are known for their ability to shut down the opposition, and play big minutes for their teams. Schenn has the raw tools to contribute offensively, if not to Seabrook's level, then not quite as far off as he has been thus far. The new millionaire is mobile and has displayed a hard, accurate shot; he should get more second-unit power play time this season.
Schenn's contract represents good value in today's NHL, and barring a drastic cut to the salary cap in the next CBA, it should be excellent value down the line, giving the Maple Leafs the remainder of his growth and probable peak before expiring. Even today, there are 15 defensemen (including Seabrook) who are already signed to bigger cap hits in the 2015-16 season, the final year of the new deal. It says here that his next contract will be for a much higher sum.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Signed RW/C R.J. Umberger to a five-year contract extension with a cap number of $4.6 million (Sep. 21, 2011)
Coming off two seasons of consistent production points-wise, Umberger has shown a much better defensive game last year as he contributed a career-high 4.4 defensive GVT for the Jackets, putting him in a position to become the fifth Blue Jacket locked up long term by GM Scott Howson. Already 29 years old, he has averaged over 0.5 points per game in each of his last four seasons and has not missed a game since being traded to the Blue Jackets three years ago. Drafted 16th overall 10 years ago, the Ohio State alum has turned himself into a nice little underrated player, not out of place on a team's second linemaybe not the second line of a team with championship aspirations, but safely as a top-six NHL forward. Hockey Prospectus' Rob Vollman has given us the rule of thumb that 1.80 even strength points per 60 minutes is the cutoff for a top-six forward, and the veteran was at 2.15 ESP/60 last year and 1.90 ESP/60 in 2009-10. The trend has been consistently upwards, as he averaged a mere 1.71 points per 60 even strength minutes in his first season in Columbus. Trending upwards is good, but there is no reason to believe, that past the age of the traditional hockey peak performance (24-27 years old) that the two-way forward will continue to improve his production. It is far more likely that Umberger begins to regress offensively and that his contract ages poorly. As far as this season is concerned, VUKOTA is optimistic that the two-way forward can maintain his level of play, with a very similar point-per-game projection as well as a stable offensive GVT, although projecting a moderate regression in games played. In other words, as he ages, he will lose some of the durability that gives a player of his ilk value. It is understandable that the Jackets want to establish a core identity, but unlike Fedor Tyutin, whose extension was covered last week, it is far more likely that Umberger begins to regress offensively and that his contract ages poorly.
Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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