Early in the season, the Maple Leafs claimed Richard Panik off of waivers.
He began on the fourth line and took some time to find his groove, but injuries occurred, he moved up the line-up, and not only has his play improved, but he is beginning to help the team win games and contribute regularly.
Today, another potentially useful player hit the waiver wire. Maybe the Arizona Coyotes tried sneaking him through waivers on a Friday afternoon on purpose, but David Schlemko is a reasonably-solid NHL defenseman.
Many observers on the Eastern side are probably unaware of Schlemko. Here is the skinny, as described by GM Don Maloney when he signed him to a two year deal:
[quote_box_center]”David is a skilled defenseman and has developed into a reliable player for us. In today’s game where skating, mobility and puck movement are so important for defensemen, David’s talent makes us a better team.” [/quote_box_center]
So, why are the Coyotes putting him on waivers, then? In order to make space for their young players. They are having a really tough start to the season and it looks like they are beginning to think about committing to a developing year.
Schlemko is a 6’1, 27-year old defenseman who has played in 194 NHL games recording 49 points. He has a career 50.9CF%, which is positive relative to his teammates over his roughly six seasons of NHL hockey. Schlemko does have a career 52% OZ starts; while he isn’t completely sheltered, he most certainly is to some degree, which helps to explain his career 17:07 average time on ice (with a one season high of 18:21, and a low of 16:24).
What Schlemko would represent to the Leafs is depth. Unlike Panik, who is still relatively young with untapped potential, we know Schlemko is a third-pairing defenseman with some puck skills who is able to handle a regular shift, but ultimately is nothing more. He’s never appeared in more than 48 games in an NHL season.
Currently Stuart Percy is the quasi-seventh defenseman as the Leafs have him bouncing and up and down between the minors. The Leafs might consider claiming a depth defenseman like Schlemko in order to allow Percy to string some playing time together and be the Marlies number one defenseman (the Marlies are in 10th in their conference and could definitely use the help). At the NHL level, the top six D are set; reality being that, no matter what he does this season, Percy won’t kick any of the incumbent six D out of a regular spot. Any time they put him in, the team healthy scratches a Jake Gardiner or Morgan Rielly and media frenzies ensue. Schlemko would provide an NHL defenseman they can sit without worry, but can also rely on to handle some minutes if need be.
One concern that might present a problem is that Schlemko does not have a salary the Leafs could completely bury down the road. He’s making $1.1875M and while they could add him in right now just fine under the cap — and still send down depth players and keep him in when the team is healthy — a team that has been financially prudent this season would be adding salary for a guy who wouldn’t play all too much if the D remains healthy. However, the good news is that his contract expires this summer.
The other thing to consider with an addition like Schlemko is that – at least by my count — it would put the team above the 50 contract limit, meaning they’d have to shed a fringe contract now, and another later to add a deadline piece (that, or make player-for-player swaps).
An early season theme so far for the Leafs has been depth and improving at the margins. Schlemko provides depth. While it arguably does not improve the team at the margins because Percy might be better than him right now, it would allow Percy to develop more on the Marlies as their number one defenseman. There are no injuries on the Leafs defense at the moment, and they were relatively healthy last season, but the group is two injuries away from deciding who to call up between options like Petter Granberg and Koribinian Holzer.
Ultimately, I don’t expect the Leafs to claim David Schlemko, but then again I didn’t expect them to claim Richard Panik. There is value in depth, and the early Leafs season has been a testament to that.