For most of the summer, both players needed a new contract.
But rather than talk terms or worry about the business side of things, Luke Schenn and Shea Weber were hitting the gym in Kelowna, B.C., together every day, pushing each other through sled pulls, sprints and slide board exercises.
Schenn, the 21-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman heading into his fourth NHL season, said it was an eye-opener watching the Nashville Predators captain and last season’s Norris Trophy runner-up give it his all.
“He’s a little more developed, he’s 25 years old,” Schenn said. “He’s a bit of an animal in the gym, too, he throws around quite a bit of weight. He’s like 240 pounds right now. He’s so gifted and he’s got a great work ethic.”
Weber picked up a big contract this week to match that work ethic, landing a record $7.5-million (all currency U.S.) award from an arbitrator on Wednesday afternoon.
Schenn, meanwhile, is still waiting for his own contract to be settled. With six weeks to go, however, he’s confident there’ll be a deal in place when training camp opens Sept. 16.
“There’s still lots of time until camp,” Schenn said on Thursday, taking a break from skating with some of the top 14- and 15-year-olds in the country as part of a new National Hockey League Players’ Association mentorship camp.
“There’s still a lot of players out there that haven’t signed yet. Obviously it’s going to get done a little bit later, but it’s all going to work out.”
Schenn added that he didn’t yet know whether he will be looking at a long-term deal, leaving the negotiations to his agent, Don Meehan.
“Honestly, I love playing in Toronto,” Schenn said. “I want to be part of the future going forward, be part of the reason things turn around here to get us into the postseason.”
Schenn isn’t alone in not having a deal yet done, as there are 35 other restricted free agents – including Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty and Boston Bruins pest Brad Marchand – still without a contract.
Neither Meehan nor Leafs general manager Brian Burke have tipped their hand as to how negotiations on Schenn’s contract are progressing, but it’s fair to say he’s one of the harder players in Toronto’s lineup to put a dollar figure on.
Drafted fifth overall by the Leafs three years ago, Schenn has become a dependable defensive defender capable of playing second-pair minutes (he averaged more than 22 a game last season), putting him in a small group among players his age.
In terms of comparable stay-at-home types around the league, Braydon Coburn (Philadelphia Flyers), Roman Polak (St. Louis Blues), Jeff Schultz (Washington Capitals) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose Sharks) are all in similar roles and have signed a new contract recently.
Those four are also all 26 or younger and have, like Schenn, averaged between 20 and 23 minutes ice time a night the past three seasons.
Polak begins a five-year deal for $2.75-million a season this fall, while Coburn, Schultz and Vlasic have salary cap hits of $3.2-million, $2.75-million and $3.1-million, respectively, next season.
Depending on the term attached to the deal, Schenn could command slightly more given he’s younger than that group and has some upside. It’s unlikely, however, that he’ll approach the nearly $4-million a season New York Rangers defenceman Marc Staal signed for on the eve of training camp last fall.
For now, Schenn said his focus remains on training, which includes picking up a few tips from fitness guru and retired NHLer Gary Roberts.
Now at a little more than 230 pounds, Schenn feels at some point he can catch up to his training partner back in Kelowna.
“I think over the next few years, I’m probably going to add some weight,” he said. “You spend the whole summer in the gym so I assume I’ll be stronger.”