June 30 2012 08:49AM
We won't know until later today at the earliest if the Edmonton Oilers have convinced Justin Schultz this is the place to begin his NHL career, but with word Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey were part of the pitch, we know the Oilers have thrown everything, including the kitchen sink, at the kid trying to get him.
The pursuit of the former Wisconsin Badger defenseman on the eve of free agency season included having a contingent of president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, assistant Craig MacTavish, GM Steve Tambellini, coach Ralph Krueger and Taylor Hall camped at the offices of Newport Sports in Toronto.
With the Oilers pitching alongside the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, we got word yesterday from Darren Dreger of TSN that Gretzky and Coffey put in calls to Schultz and agent Wade Arnott. This, via Dreger's Twitter account:
"Wayne Gretzky confirms he called Justin Schultz as part of the Oilers push to sign the young d-man.Paul Coffey also part of the Edmtn pitch."
"Hello, Justin. This is Wayne Gretzky calling . . ."
OLD BOYS CLUB
Say what you want about Lowe, but those phone calls by Gretzky and Coffey to Schultz and Arnott only get made because of the history and relationship he has with his former teammates. That, of course, got me thinking about all of the bitching and moaning from some corners of the Oilers fan base about the ties that bind the Boys On The Bus. I later tweeted:
"Are those Oilers fans who bitch endlessly about Edmonton's old boys network unhappy Gretzky and Coffey called Schultz?" That drew a flurry of responses, including the following:
Colin Bergstrom?@SevenIslandsAg: @Robin_Brownlee Has K Lowe ever played this card before. If not, they must really want this kid ?#Oilers?
Lee Booth?@Easilee27@Robin_Brownlee Probably not but man are Canuck fans pissed off Would it be too much for Harold Snepsts or Tony Tanti to pick up the phone?
Enrico Palazzo?@trevolutions @Robin_Brownlee It's ridiculous and desperate that the Oilers are calling in every big gun imaginable to sign a freaking college player.
Daniel Bessette?@db7db7@Robin_Brownlee @TPS_Guy What would really put us over the top would be a visit from @PaulinaGretzky
Dean Kurpjuweit?@deankurpjuweit @Robin_Brownlee great point. We love the club when its used in a favorable way. We loath it when it smells of narcism
On and on it went.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Schultz and Arnott won't make a decision based solely on a trip down memory lane to the glory days of the Oilers by way of phone calls from No. 99 and Coffey. They'll decide which team to sign a two-year entry level deal with based on the best opportunity – to play, to win and, it follows, to cash in on a second contract down the line.
That said, Gretzky, some 13 years removed from his last NHL game, still has lots of juice and a call from him packs a lot of punch. As somebody said last night, "It's kind of like getting a phone call from God." Yes. Yes, it is.
I'm guessing Gretzky and Coffey drew plenty of parallels to the days when they were kids coming up in Edmonton and to what the Oilers are trying to build now with Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov. Boys On the Bus II? A stretch? Sure. But it can't do anything but help Edmonton's chances when the chips fall.
Let's keep in mind Schultz hasn't played a minute in the NHL and that he's not going to step in and provide all the answers to the questions about the Oilers defensive corps. In the fold or not, Tambellini still has plenty of work to do to bolster a blue line that isn’t good enough or deep enough. Still, getting his name on a contract, landing a highly prized free agent, would be a big box checked off on Tambellini's To-Do List.
If that happens, the Boys On The Bus, the old boys club frustrated fans have diminished and ridiculed as the glory days have faded into the distant past, will have played a hand in it.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.