VANCOUVER – The only other time Luke Schenn was with the Vancouver Canucks for a trade deadline, he wasn’t worried about getting moved, just whether he would ever play another National Hockey League game.
Rescued from the minors, dumped in the American Hockey League by the Anaheim Ducks and initially left there after the Canucks acquired him, Schenn had been called up by Vancouver but was an extra defenceman getting scratched by coach Travis Green.
When the Canucks traded Erik Gudbranson to the Pittsburgh Penguins for winger Tanner Pearson just ahead of the 2019 deadline, Schenn got a chance to save his NHL career. He logged 18 games, shepherded into the league a college sensation named Quinn Hughes, and then signed a couple of one-year contracts with the Tampa Bay Lightning – one for each Stanley Cup that Schenn won.
Three years later, Schenn has played his way into the Canucks lineup as a regular for coach Bruce Boudreau and is again partnering Hughes on defence. On a two-year contract that includes another season at a bargain cap hit of $850,000, Schenn is now the veteran defenceman who looks like an ideal depth piece for a contending team. As he was in Tampa.
The trade deadline is March 21, but Schenn doesn’t want to go anywhere.
It’s not like the 32-year-old can’t fit another Stanley Cup ring on his hand, but he circled back to the Canucks last summer in free agency because he wanted to settle in Vancouver with his family and be part of what the organization was trying to build.
The regime has changed; the need to build hasn’t.
“I guess you could say I evolved maybe a little bit,” Schenn said Tuesday when asked about the 2019 deadline versus now. “Since then, you know, I've been fortunate to be able to be in Tampa the last two years and win a Cup. There's some experience. Teams obviously want that going into the playoffs. But in terms of my own mindset, I love Vancouver. That's the reason I chose to sign back here -- because I loved it and want to be a part of the culture and help things here.
“What we've all heard about is that they're evaluating everything, right? At the end of the day, the goal is to obviously win a championship. As a player, you're trying to work to just get in the playoffs and anything can happen. We understand that it's still an uphill climb and we've got a ways to go. Management, I guess, they're going to continue to evaluate and have to make decisions. But in terms of players in the room, we're all in the present. We're all believing in one another.”
As they open a seven-game homestand Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens, the Canucks are 20-8-4 since Boudreau replaced Green on Dec. 5. General manager Jim Benning was fired the same night, and Jim Rutherford was hired as president of hockey operations a few days later.
The Canucks started 8-0-1 under Boudreau, lost three straight road games in mid-January against the best three teams of the NHL (after a 10-day layoff and amid a COVID outbreak), and are 12-5-3 since then.
But the backdrop to all this winning has been constant conjecture about whom Rutherford and new GM Patrik Allvin will be trading ahead of the deadline. The roster upheaval has yet to materialize – and may not in the next two weeks.
“It's definitely, for sure, magnified in a Canadian market,” Schenn, who began his career as a fifth-overall pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, said of the trade rumours. “There's no question about that. But in saying that, everyone in the league kind of understands where they're at contract-wise.
“Obviously, there's the family side of it, the human side of it. A lot of that gets overlooked. Everyone just talks contracts and who's on the move and who would be suited in this situation. But a lot of the guys, particularly veteran guys, they’ve got kids in school and families and houses. We all know what we sign up for, but that's just the other side of it that as players you think about but probably gets a little overlooked.”
Schenn noted the best way for the Canucks to stay together is to keep winning and pushing for a playoff spot that, despite the success of the last three months, was still four points beyond Vancouver’s grasp pending the Dallas-Nashville game Tuesday night.
“I'm a pretty loyal guy, and I get attached to players and I never like seeing them go,” Boudreau said after Tuesday’s practice at Rogers Arena. “But, I mean, I do know it's a business. We just keep going. I try not to think of anything. I don't sit down and say, 'Geez, if we could move this guy and get that guy in there.' Basically, whoever's in front of me is the guys we have and hopefully it's the same guys all the time. That way, I get to know them better and they're playing well.”
Asked about the seven-game homestand and a schedule that could finally favour the Canucks, who spent 18 of the last 27 games on the road, Boudreau said: “We can't afford to take our foot off the gas. Everywhere you read, you know, it's still a long shot. But we still believe that we've got that opportunity. The minute we take our foot off the gas is the minute that we're sort of saying that we're not going to make it. I think the guys in that room have got a lot of belief in themselves at this stage. These seven games -- and none of them are easy -- are going to be a real telltale sign.”
The homestand ends the night before the trade deadline.
Hughes said this Vancouver team is better than the one in his rookie season when the 2019-20 Canucks made the pandemic playoff tournament on winning percentage and won two rounds in the Edmonton bubble, the franchise’s only playoff success since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
“If you look back at where we were and the hill we've climbed, we're obviously still not at the top,” Schenn said. “We've still got a ways to go. We've got to continue to push and try to put up some good stretches here and try to inch our way closer. Focus on the present. There's still a hill to climb, but it's been done before.”