Philadelphia Flyers 2013-14 Year In Review: Luke Schenn

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

After a solid lockout-shortened season, Luke Schenn, by all accounts, took a pretty evident step back, despite third-pairing minutes and responsibilities. What happened? What can we expect going forward?

Luke Schenn

Age: 24 (November 2, 1989)
Contract Status: $3.6 million per year through 2016

2013-14 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
79 16:32 4 8 12
Corsi For % Corsi Rel % Quality of Comp. (TOI%) Zone Start % PDO
47.7% (7) -3.3% (6) 27.7% (7) 54.4% (3) 101.2% (4)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Flyers players at his position, i.e. one of the team's top eight defensemen or top 13 forwards.)

Most frequent defensive partners

Partner Goals For% Corsi For% OZ/DZ%
Erik Gustafsson 58.6% (+17 / -12) 48.2% 54.0%
Andrej Meszaros 50.0% (+15 / -15) 49.7% 60.5%
Andrew MacDonald 45.5% (+5 / -6) 47.1% 52.6%

Skewed expectations from the start

Luke Schenn.

The mere whisper of his name among discussions concerning the Flyers' defensive corps tends to throw even the most composed observers into a frenzy. He's like the boogeyman.

Schenn's play with the orange and black was placed under a microscope from the very get-go (back on June 23, 2012), no doubt because of the manner in which he became a Flyer -- more importantly -- who the Flyers gave up in order to acquire him. It's almost as if there's an unavoidable, acceptable stigma concerning Luke Schenn from a large portion of the fan base. Is it warranted? Meh, that's up for debate.

On one end, you had those with the perception that Luke Schenn was going to come in and anchor this defense for the foreseeable future. I'm not sure where the 'we traded for a young defenseman, so if he's not a number 1 then it's ultimately disappointing' crowd came from (perhaps it was because of the trading of the player the Flyers' used their second overall pick on, but Schenn himself was fifth overall in 2008), but it seemed like, to them, Schenn was destined to be a train-wreck from the very beginning.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were those that were basically mocking the deal and those that pretty much expected Luke Schenn to come in and become an unmitigated disaster. The Flyers' defensive corps would be in shambles, and Luke Schenn would be at the forefront of it all. 'How great it would be!' they said.

Those perceptions or expectations are both wrong.

After watching him in Toronto for four seasons, our expectations were pretty fair; Luke Schenn addressed a pretty glaring need, but the Flyers defense was still... pretty spotty (that's being generous.) I liked to compare it to a short road with a ton of potholes. Luke Schenn filled one pothole, but the road still looked like a piece of crap.

So -- things were bound to be awful, right?

Eh, not exactly. The entire defensive unit as a whole aside, we were certainly pleasantly surprised at how well Luke Schenn played in his first 47 game stint with the team. In taking a look back, Schenn was a pretty valuable asset:

In essence, what that's saying is that Schenn faced pretty tough opponents and ended up doing a better job of controlling the play than just about any Flyers defenseman not named Kimmo Timonen. While other guys had pretty tough starts, Schenn's were comparable with guys like Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann (the Flyers, as a team, started in the defensive end a lot this year) and his results were better than theirs despite facing tougher opponents. (The only player to face tougher competition, by Corsi Rel QoC, was actually Oliver Lauridsen, who we'll talk more about in a bit.) Those metrics were, by far, the most impressive of any season of his five-year career.

Beyond his play at 5-on-5, Schenn was a key part of the team's largely successful (fifth-best in the NHL) penalty-killing unit. Among the team's top four defensemen on the PK, Schenn was the best among them at preventing goals and shot attempts while on the ice a man down.

For a website that's garnered it's fair share of 'Hey! You guys are always negative!' comments, we pretty much gave reviews in which one could describe as "one step below raving."

That's one thing Laviolette got right over his final (full) season as the Flyers' head coach: he helped Luke Schenn get acclimated and gave him Kimmo Timonen as a defensive partner. Under Laviolette, Schenn had his best season to date. Unfortunately, the entire defensive unit as a whole was a complete disaster. The Timonen and Schenn pairing was pretty damn good, but the unit was decimated by injuries and had no real top pairing. Coburn and Grossmann were the team's top two. Ugh.

But, hey! Once again, we seemed optimistic re: Schenn:

We have some reason to worry, based on the Flyers' struggles in developing defensemen of late. But if the final month of this season was any indication, we can expect to see him get some of the team's tough minutes again next year, and how he'll handle those is anyone's guess at this point.

So that's where things left off at the end of the Flyers' lockout-shortened season. The team missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season, but there were signs that led us all to believe that things could be fixed. After all, the team's biggest weaknesses were fairly noticeable, so at least management would know where to attack first..

A step back

Fast forward to 2013-2014. Of the team's eight defensemen on the roster, Luke Schenn had the second worst shot attempt percentage, and the team had 3.3% more attempts with Luke Schenn off of the ice. In terms of competition, Luke Schenn played the second-lowest quality faced by the 8 Flyers' defensemen. Those are all.. really bad.

If you take a look at PDO, or the team-level measure of variance/luck/what-have-you through the addition of shooting percentage and save percentage at even-strength, Schenn is third of all Flyers' defensemen with 1012. He could have had a -much worse- season, and he's pretty lucky that this is where he landed (even though.. it's pretty damning).

So what the heck went wrong this season?

For one, Berube stapled Timonen and Coburn back together to give the team at least a definitive number one pairing, which nobody can really fault him for. Like I previously mentioned, the team let Coburn and Grossmann take the reigns in 2012-2013. It's like they were begging to be bounced out of the playoffs for the second time in 18 years.

As a result, the bottom four was a complete mess this year (aside from Mark Streit December-April). Take a look at Schenn's most frequent partners: Gustafsson, Meszaros and MacDonald. Meh. It's almost as if being apart from the team's best defenseman (Kimmo Timonen) is a determent to players' careers. Although, if you remember, Schenn complemented Timonen fairly well when he was on the ice as well:

So the fact that Schenn's percentages dropped precipitously without Timonen isn't encouraging. But there are silver linings/excuses. Namely:

  1. Kimmo's numbers dropped off without Schenn as well. This also shouldn't be too surprising, given that Kimmo spent most of his non-Schenn ice time with Bruno Gervais. So at the very, very least, it's nice to know that Schenn has safely cleared the "borderline sixth defenseman" bar, which is where I know some had him pegged after a rough 2011-12 season.
  2. Schenn spent most of his non-Timonen ice time with Oliver Lauridsen, an NHL rookie, and did so while facing even tougher situations than he had been with Timonen.

And for those of you that ragged on Timonen for the past two seasons, take note: the man was a driving force behind turning Luke Schenn into a serviceable defenseman.

Schenn remained a formidable force on the penalty kill, however. If his minutes at even-strength are going to continue to be cut, then it's imperative Schenn find other ways to contribute; It's laughable for anyone to believe he'll crack the second-unit power play, so the penalty kill it is.

The fact remains, though: Schenn's season can be summed up using the word 'disappointing' -- that's really saying something. BSH was optimistic. 2012-2013 bore signs that Schenn could be a contributing defenseman at the NHL level, but, after a full year of setbacks, we're left to reassess our thoughts. We're left with pretty tough questions.

Preseason expectations

Let's check back on our season preview for Luke Schenn and see what we thought could happen with him this year:

Best case...

Schenn not only holds up his success last season, but improves upon it, as he and Streit perfectly complement one another and are able to control the play fairly nicely. He's able to log a ton of minutes against respectable competition and do fairly well in them, while also being a rock on the penalty kill once again.

Worst case...

Last season's successes for Schenn end up being a bit of a fluke, and the version we get this year looks a lot like the one we saw in Toronto right before he was traded: slow, sloppy, and can't handle the play against weak opponents. All of this puts that much more pressure on Timonen, Coburn and Streit.

It's not exactly fair to call last season's successes a bit of a fluke, but -- after 4 full seasons in Toronto and 2 in Philadelphia -- Schenn's certainly making it easier for us to figure out where he's bound to settle in with regards to the Flyers' future.

He's 24, and he'll be 25 come November -- still, relatively young -- but it's crazy to think about how Schenn's going to enter his 7th pro season in October of 2014, and we're still taking questions re: whether or not he's going to stick as a bottom-pairing defenseman, whether or not he'll be able to stick on the team in general, whether or not he can have long-term success with increased responsibilities.

There's a lot of questions and a lot of 'ifs', and that doesn't bode well.

We here at BSH figured that a lot of things would be ironed out with regards to Schenn's future with the Flyers at the conclusion of his first full season in orange and black, but, because of the setback, we're left with more questions. And that's definitely not a good thing.

Verdict:

Now with two seasons as a Philadelphia Flyer under his belt, Luke Schenn's been the target of quite a bit of ire and discontent -- both deserved and undeserved -- since day one. The circumstances of his arrival created quite a bit of tension and discussion among fans who, for a lack of a better phrase, immediately took sides concerning whether or not Schenn was a welcome addition. Lines were drawn in the sand, and it's proven very, very difficult to change perceptions.

Based on the role that Schenn received in the waning months of last season and based on the fact that he flourished in said role, we thought Schenn would be able to continue developing and taking on responsibility as a staple on the penalty kill and facing tougher competition. That wasn't necessarily the case.

It's not completely out of line to suggest that this year was a bit of a setback for Luke Schenn and his future role with the Flyers. Based on comparing his numbers at the end of the season to the end of this season, Schenn seemed to do worse against easier competition, failed to appropriately drive play despite a much heavier allotment of offensive zone starts from Craig Berube and couldn't really settle down as a result of the constantly juggling of defensive partners.

Where does the team and Luke Schenn go from here? I'm not really sure. Can the team afford to pay a third-pairing guy the amount of money Luke Schenn makes? I don't think so. Can he improve? There's still time, definitely. What role can he play on a successful, strong backend? I think that still remains to be seen.

And that's an issue when he's already played 126 games for the team here in Philadelphia.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Luke Schenn's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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