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Long Summer Is Over For Leafs

Friday, 16.09.2011 / 4:40 PM / News
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Long Summer Is Over For Leafs
  
 
RELATED: Leafs, Schenn Agree To Terms | Media Day Photos | Behind The Scenes Photos
VIDEO: Schenn & Burke | Orr & Burke | Wilson Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
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For Luke Schenn, Ron Wilson, Colton Orr and the rest of the Maple Leafs, the wait is over.

The Leafs returned to the big top of Media Day Friday after a summer that featured some questioning before the quiet.

Schenn was involved in a summer-long contract negotiation that ended with the announcement of a five-year extension on Friday.

Wilson returns for the fourth year of his contract. With expectations heightened and his coaching staff shuffled, he must now ensure his last Leafs’ contract isn’t his last Leafs’ contract.

Orr, sidelined by concussion last season says he is ready to start trading punches in the wake of a summer in which three fighters lost their lives.

The biggest news comes with word Schenn should now be a Leaf until he is 26.

Drafted fifth overall in 2008, Schenn gave plenty of notice last season he was ready to join the ranks of the NHL’s best young defencemen.

“What you see with Luke is a classic, hard-nosed Canadian defenceman,” said Leafs GM Brian Burke.

“He plays hard, he finishes his checks, he has gotten dramatically better in the time he has played here.”

Wilson agrees there is little he wants Schenn to change.

“We want him to be equally as physical,” Wilson said. “He should be able to put up better offensive numbers but he will be playing a lot against the top lines for the other team and that’s where he has got to be comfortable.”

“Most defenceman don’t hit their prime until they are 26, 27 years old,” Schenn said. “I’m looking forward to a lot of improvement.”

Burke has accorded one of his longer contracts.

“We talked about two, three and five-year deals,” he said. “The only deal we did not talk about was a four-year deal where we would walk Luke through to being an unrestricted free agent. Every stone was turned over in this negotiation, I can promise you that."

“For Luke, a player has to feel he has been treated fairly,” Burke said. “For us, we want to pay what’s fair. It’s not easy to agree on that number. Sometimes, you have to go through the process to get to that number.”

Both player and team have long asserted a deal would be finalized but the length of the contract, including a year in which Schenn would have been an unrestricted free agent, is significant. 

That just leaves the season to talk about.

“There is no question, everyone is excited for the year,” Schenn said. “I think we are definitely on the right track to not only becoming a playoff team but to hopefully go above and beyond that.”

Wilson, the league’s winningest active coach, is facing the final year of his contract in an industry where coaches in their last season are considered lame ducks.

Wilson said he sees no more day-to-day pressure in this season than in any other.

“I don’t know how you can put more pressure than you already do,” he said.

“You want to be successful, make the playoffs and ultimately win the Stanley Cup. It’s basically the same every year.”

The contract talk, said Wilson, was just that.

“I never asked for a contract extension. I am not worried about next year,” he said. “I am worried about this year. I don’t know how many times I have been asked when I think I am being fired so what’s the difference?”

Wilson created a stir in his final press conference last season when he said the Leafs were one or two players away from contending for a Stanley Cup. The club has since added two players who can play in the second pair in John Michael Liles and Cody Franson. Tim Connolly has been dropped into the middle of the first line and when Matt Lombardi returns to the lineup he will provide another skilled, fast-skating forward.

Revamping chronically poor special teams, Wilson said, is the biggest challenge and while the changes aren’t foundation-shaking, he sees significant progress being made.

For us the most important thing is to get our penalty killing better. You look at the Bruins having an embarrassing power play through the Stanley Cup Finals, the important thing is the penalty killing. I think personnel-wise, John-Michael Liles at the point on the power play and having Connolly who can play up front or the point of the power play, will help our power play immensely."

In a summer in which three players Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogard lost their lives, Orr returns to the profession they all shared: trading punches.

Orr was knocked out of the lineup, literally, by a George Parros punch last January.  He was cleared to play but he waited until the new season to get back into the lineup.

A concussed fighter, suddenly, ranks as a huge story but Orr said he was comfortable with his decision.

“I am cleared to play. I have been taking part in all the skates that have been held here. I am going to be ready to go in training camp.”

Orr said he knew what he was getting into and added he had received peerless care.

“I think you always know this is a tough job. There is always a concern but this is my job, this is a choice I made. I love being in the NHL and I love sticking up for my teammates.  I am ready to go again.”

His concussion was more about test levels than actual symptoms, he said.

“I was a rare case. A lot of my stuff was MRIs and cognitive testing where I showed some results that had to be looked at. After the rest and the summer they have come back up to where they should be.”

Orr must now beat out Jay Rosehill for a spot on the fourth line.

The Leafs hit the ice for practice, Saturday. They open their preseason Monday with a home date against the Ottawa Senators.
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