PITTSBURGH -- Brayden Schenn was watching the NHL Draft on Friday night in Saskatchewan when he heard the news about Penguins forward Jordan Staal being reunited with his older brother, Eric, in Carolina.
Schenn, 20, said he was “genuinely excited” for the Staal family. But he wondered if he would ever get the same chance to play with his older brother, Luke, in the NHL.
Less than 24 hours later, the Flyers and Maple Leafs took a big step in making that dream become a reality. They completed a straight-up swap in James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn, a mere hours after the Draft was completed in Pittsburgh.
“Since I joined the NHL, I’ve always been asked the question about what it’s like playing against your brother. Now, I’ll get to see what it feels like the play with him,” Brayden Schenn told the Daily News. “I was real surprised when I found out. Luke called me to tell me he was going to be a part of the Flyers. I’m excited and stunned.
“It’s been a dream since we were kids. We always wondered if we would get the chance. We’re just lucky enough to do it so early in our careers.”
Brayden Schenn was on a boat in Lake Shell, Saskatchewan, when he first heard the news.
For the Flyers, the swap ends van Riemsdyk’s tumultuous journey in Philadelphia, one that started with high expectations as the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2007 and never fully materialized. Instead, ‘JVR’ offered just enough brief flashes of brilliance and glory to warrant a gaudy, 6-year, $25.5 million extension last summer - a contract based purely on potential and not actually realized consistency.
They get back a player in Luke Schenn, 22, who also needed a fresh start after being harshly criticized all season long in hockey’s most scrutinized market. Schenn never could really seem to find his way out of Ron Wilson’s doghouse before Randy Carlyle took over. He saw his minutes drop an average of 6:20 per game in just one season, down from a career-high of 22:22.
Luke Schenn is a consistent, hard-nosed defensive defenseman who will fill a big hole for the Flyers. And he’s got the same upside and potential as van Riemsdyk.
With Chris Pronger likely out of the picture, Kimmo Timonen aging, and Matt Carle’s uncertainty heading into free agency, the Flyers couldn’t enter July 1’s free agency period with question marks surrounding all three of their top defensemen. If the Flyers can somehow find a way to re-sign Carle for a reasonable price, they will be set on defense.
The trade actually opens some salary cap space for the Flyers. Van Riemsdyk was set to embark on a 6-year quest at $4.25 million per season. Schenn has 4 years left at $3.6 million.
“I believe it’s a good trade for both teams,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. “It certainly fills a need for us and I think it fills a need for Brian’s team as well in terms of what they’re looking to do.”
Holmgren described Luke Schenn as a “big defenseman that plays physical and gritty, and he can move the puck. To get guys like this you’ve got to be picking high in the draft.” Schenn was a leader in Toronto, an alternate captain as a 20-year-old after playing in the league when he was 18.
Ultimately, Holmgren needed to make a decision as to whether he wanted to take a gamble on van Riemsdyk possibly not living up to his contract, or make a deal while he was still considered a valuable commodity. Having van Riemsdyk’s name circulating through the rumor mill for months, it was clear that there were a line of takers.
“I think I’ve told you enough about how strongly I feel about James becoming a good player, and I believe he will become a very good player in our league,” Holmgren said. “Unfortunately for us, I think it’s going to be for Toronto now.”
In fact, the Columbus Dispatch reported on Saturday that the Blue Jackets viewed van Riemsdyk as a central figure in a deal for star Rick Nash. That’s not happening now.
However, Holmgren left open the possibility that the Flyers will continue to add on July 1.
“I don’t think anything shuts the door on anything else we may look to do to improve the hockey team,” Holmgren said. “We tried to improve our defense over the last few days, we looked for ways to try to improve it, and we think we did today.”
This trade has been months in the making. We first reported in January the possibility of the deal, but a source close to the situation said Holmgren pumped the brakes when Leafs general manager Brian Burke asked about van Riemsdyk.
Holmgren and Burke tabled the talk, but Burke told Holmgren to “let him know when he was serious.” Van Riemsdyk soon went down with a concussion, came back and fractured his foot on March 1, and wasn’t healthy enough for a full playoff run.
There were reports circulating last week that van Riemsdyk put off having surgery on a cam impingement in his hip to avoid being traded, something van Riemsdyk vehemently denied to the Daily News.
“To suggest I’d deliberately try to hold one up is a joke,” van Riemsdyk said. “I love my teammates in Philadelphia. Management has treated me extremely well. Honestly, I'm the type of person that, if a team did not want me here, I would not want to be here. I certainly would not hold anything up.”
Now, both sides will have a long time to evaluate this trade and see how it pans out. It was equally risky for both clubs. And, they meet 4 times each season.
Aside from filling a huge void on defense, Holmgren was asked about the impact Luke Schenn will have on Brayden’s blossoming career. The answer is a no-brainer.
“It’s just surreal right now,” Luke Schenn told reporters in Toronto. “It’s going to be exciting to play with my brother, that’s for sure. I can’t describe how cool this is.”
The two Schenn brothers train together each summer in Kamloops, British Columbia. They vacationed together in the Caribbean during the All-Star break last January. They talk to each other almost every day during the season, even at different ends of the continent at times.
At long last, they are finally together.
“Luke is my best friend,” Brayden Schenn said. “We are very tight, we talk every day. Toronto was really good to him, but he didn’t have the greatest season. He needed a fresh start. I think this will have a huge impact on my career. We push each other, and he knows just what to say to get me going.”
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