FREE AGENCY, SCHULTZ AND BAD LOSERS

Jason Gregor
July 01 2012 06:00AM

Thanks to DirtyDangle.com for this photo illustrating how shallow the 2012 free agent pool is. After Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, it is slim pickings, and it got slimmer when the Oilers landed Justin Schultz yesterday.

I wonder if the Paul Gaustad four-year, $13 million deal signifies the Preds don't think Suter will return, or if David Poile finally cracked and decided he needed to show his fans that one player wanted to stay. I like Gaustad as a player, but more along the lines of a $1.75 million/year player, not a guy making $3.3 million.

That is what happens in free agency. GMs overpay, and trust me the Oilers would have overpaid Schultz if they had to, but luckily for them and their fans, his contract was pre-determined due to him being a rookie.

I found it hilarious and quite sad how many media, bloggers and fans from outside Edmonton ripped on Schultz. Some even inaccurately claimed he was spoiled and was acting like Lebron James. The only fans that should be bitter are Ducks fans, considering he walked away from them, but the other 28 cities are just sore losers.

No one knows how good Schultz is, but I don't think the kid has been overhyped. Updating your twitter to see which teams he hasn't chosen doesn't mean he was hyped up as the next great player. I tried finding stories claiming he was the next great defender, and I couldn't, so I'm not sure why many were claiming the media was overhyping him.

You could accurately say his signing was overhyped, that's fair, but his abilities and projections as a player were rather tame. I haven't seen many writers claim he's going to be the next great defender.

The best evaluator of his skill might be his former coach at Wisconsin Mike Eaves. I chatted with Eaves in April about Schultz, and here are some of his answers regarding what fans should expect from Schultz.

JG: What is the best skill set Schultz has right now?

ME: You can divide his skill set into two parts. First of all, he's wired as a real competitive young man. When he was a freshman, we were playing North Dakota. There was a little incident at the end of the game, and he wanted to jump off the bench and go get involved and take care of his teammates and such. He has a real fiery kind of competitive edge within him, and that's rare when you combine it with the fact that he is a very skilled hockey player.

His skating ability; his ability with the puck, both puck handing, both shooting the puck; and then his vision of the ice, he has got the whole package in terms of skills. Every day in practice, you can almost bet that he is going to be your hardest working player. So that's a great combination to have; that combination of skills in terms of ability, but then being wired the way he is to work as hard as he does and to be as competitive as he is.

JG: His former teammate, Jake Gardiner, jumped right into the NHL this year and looked good in Toronto. Could you compare those two? Are they similar in style? 


ME: They're similar in some areas. Their skill set in some ways is similar. Jake Gardiner is a very good skater. So is Justin. Their ability to make good passes is there. I think Justin has a little bit more magic offensively. Not that Jake is poor in that, but Justin is just a little bit more gifted in that area in terms of he has got a shot that finds its way through. He knows when to take a little bit off of it to get it through on net, and he can bring it when he has to. And when he gets down around the net, I think that he has the ability and the vision to see a little bit more than Jake. So similar skill sets, but Justin may have just a little bit more magic.

JG: What about his size and strength. Can he take on NHL forwards? 


ME: That's one of the reasons he decided to come back this year. He wanted to get bigger and stronger and be able to compete better in those areas.

It's interesting that you asked that. At the end of last year, Jake (Gardiner) went down and played in the American league after the season. One of the things that he told Justin is that he’d be fine with the skating and the passing, but he said these guys (pro players) are really strong. So coming back this year, Justin wanted to feel like he could kind of control those situations at this level through his strength and body position, and he did that. So he's ready to take that next step now.

JG: If you had to look at a defenseman in the NHL, is there one that you think Schultz is similar to? 


ME: It's hard for me to say that because I don't watch as many games as you do when you're at that level. I'd almost have to go back and into the days when I was coaching or maybe even playing to find a guy, but even that's hard. Somebody else has said that Justin reminds people a little bit of Scott Niedermayer in terms of his ability to play with his skating, and his ability to see the ice and do things, but he's not the biggest of guys as a defenceman. Justin isn't a 6‑foot‑2‑inch, 210. He's a taller, slighter young man, but his ability to do things like Niedermayer did is an awful nice comparison.

JG: How is his defence zone coverage? 


ME: It's probably the area that he's grown the most in terms of body position, in terms of stick position, in terms of understanding where the puck's going defensively and being able to anticipate that. He's done a nice job.

The one thing that's going to jump off the ice is his offensive prowess in terms of jumping in, creating stuff, but as a defensive D-man he really has improved. Billy Butters and I have worked with him on the small things. You look for more detail into his pivots, into his puck position, into how he engages one‑on‑one. Does he keep his stick on the ice and lead with it? Does he blockout at the side of the net when people are trying to get there? These are the kind of areas that he's improved in, and at least at this level he was able to control those areas."

I don't think many can argue this was a solid signing for the Oilers. The fans will love Schultz because he chose Edmonton over 29 other teams, and that hasn't happened in a long time. He should step in and play at least 20 minutes a night, and give them another weapon on the powerplay.

This was a solid signing for the Oilers, and time will tell if it becomes a great signing.

NOW WHAT

Schultz has to be considered a bit of an "added bonus" type of signing. A year ago he wasn't part of the rebuild plan, but every rebuild needs a few solid trades and signings to make it complete, and on the surface he looks like a solid signing.

Every team that goes through a rebuild eventually fills out their roster with a free agent or two. Schultz isn't proven, and his situation was very unique, but that doesn't discount that he was a free agent signing. In a few years he'll be looked at as either a decent signing or a great one. He only has a two-year deal and because the Oilers have lots of cap space his cap hit isn't an issue.

Schultz hasn't solved all of the Oilers problems though. They are still in the market for a veteran D-man, a top-nine forward with some grit and a top-nine forward with some size. I'm not sure they can find that latter two on the free agent market, but we'll see if Steve Tambellini can improve UFA track record.

RYAN SMYTH

The Oilers and Smyth's camp talked yesterday to try and iron out a new deal. Smyth wants to be here, and I think he still has something to offer. I still believe a one-year deal with bonuses works best for both sides, and if he truly wants to be here then they will get a deal done.

The Oilers can't play all young kids in their top-nine; they will need a few veterans, so they should find a way to sign Smyth. I could see a base salary of $2.5 to $2.85 million with bonuses.

PLAYERS THAT INTRIGUE ME

Suter has said he won't play in Canada, so don't waste time dreaming about signing him.  Parise will either stay in NJ or sign with a playoff team. But there are some guys who I'd look at if the price was respectable.

Bryan Allen - Veteran D-man. He could be a solid #5, and be a top-pairing penalty killer.

Jordin Tootoo - He's a fearless agitator. He proved last year that he can do more than just run around and hit guys, racking up 30 points, and most importantly he should he can be disciplined while still being effective.

P.A Parenteau - He's likely going to get big money coming off of 53 and 67 point seasons in Long Island. I don't see him fitting into Edmonton, but I'm intrigued to see how the rest of the teams perceive him.

CANADA DAY

Enjoy free agency, but get outside and celebrate this wonderful country that we live in. I'm up at this ridiculous time because I'm headed out volunteer at the Great White North Triathlon.

Have a great Canada Day.

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#1 Ambassador humantorch
July 01 2012, 06:33AM
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I'm up at this time of night because it's 2:30 in the afternoon in my time zone.

Also, I've been drinking the sweet delicious bitter tears of jilted Vancouver Canuck fans for the last 12 hours.

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#2 West
July 01 2012, 06:12AM
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Fist on the Fist of July, what are the chances?

Happy Canada Day. Is there some reason Canada Day can't be moved to July 2nd so we can have Free Agent Frenzy Day uninterrupted by fireworks and national holidays and stuff?

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#3 Woodguy
July 01 2012, 06:15AM
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I'm up at this time because I was a judge at a chili cook off at my family reunion last night.

Lordy.

Don"t expect EDM to do much today after a perfect yesterday.

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#4 Robin Brownlee
July 01 2012, 07:48AM
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"Was that before or after he told us that Sutter was the team's new coach?"

That was after. Pay attention.

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#5 sizedoesmatter
July 01 2012, 06:36AM
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Robin Brownlee said the Oilers have a shot at Ryan Suter,So I will be checking Twitter every minute like a did yesterday.I,m always up this early, Bad habit

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#6 striker777
July 01 2012, 06:50AM
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We appear to have too many players on the team. Somebody will get moved. My bet is on Potter and Belanger. Hordichuck should be re-signed. Either Tootoo or Ott would give the team a much needed grit.

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#7 Professor Q
July 01 2012, 07:08AM
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Looking forward to (hopefully) a fun and exciting Canada Day.

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#8 madjam
July 01 2012, 07:22AM
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Oilers have a lot to offer now . UFA"s are bound to realize the tremendous opportunity playing here can /could bring . MADJAM'S PREDICTION - I think we will be active and successful today and fiscally responsible in filling some glaring voids with upgrades .

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#9 book¡e
July 01 2012, 07:26AM
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Did Suter give a reason for his 'no Canadian team' thing?

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#10 rob
July 01 2012, 07:32AM
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after landing schultz yesterday that helps our back end(he is unproven but has to help from what we had)I would like to see them pass on smyth,get doan in here and get us one more defencemanto help round out what we have with whitney,smid,petry schultz and schultz,but dont break the bank for suter he will not be the piece of the puzzle we need,who else is out there that would help?parise would be great to add to our forward group though

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#11 Ducey
July 01 2012, 07:32AM
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Robin Brownlee said the Oilers have a shot at Ryan Suter,So I will be checking Twitter every minute like a did yesterday.I,m always up this early, Bad habit

Was that before or after he told us that Sutter was the team's new coach?

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#12 TonyT
July 01 2012, 07:38AM
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I can't sleep, too busy thinking about what Tambo will (probably not) do...

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#13 TonyT
July 01 2012, 07:41AM
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Dear UFA Santa please bring the Oilers one Doan and a Tootoo. Milk and cookies are on the table.

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#14 Jonathan Willis
July 01 2012, 07:46AM
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My perfect world wishlist?

- Another good defenseman - A 1B goalie to play behind Devan Dubnyk - Some help up the middle - Ryan Smyth

I'd be happy with 1 and 4. I'd settle for 1.

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#15 Robin Brownlee
July 01 2012, 07:47AM
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"Robin Brownlee said the Oilers have a shot at Ryan Suter,So I will be checking Twitter every minute like a did yesterday.I,m always up this early, Bad habit"

Didn't say that. I said the Oilers will make a big push for Suter. Significant difference. I don't know if he's interested and he has a ton of options. His call.

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#16 revingev
July 01 2012, 08:00AM
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JG, Where and when did you hear that, "Suter has said he won't play in Canada"?

While several are indicating, that has not been fact has it? His camp is being called today, the question is....tire kicking or serious interest. Either way, I can't see Suter coming our way, was just curious if their was a documented statement about not playing in Canada.

Happy Canada Day!

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#17 rob
July 01 2012, 08:01AM
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hey mr.brownlee,what is you feeling that the oilers will do today?or do you think they do nothing?what defenceman other than suter would you like to see them get?

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#18 eastcoastoil
July 01 2012, 08:03AM
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Happy canada day everyone, Question on rookie training camp- how good is Klefblom and fedin looking?

Are we going to get Ryan Smyth done before noon?

Why Shayne Doan, isn't he a right winger?

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#19 Bob Loblaw
July 01 2012, 08:26AM
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As it is Canada's birthday, I've decided to give it taxes for its gift. Gave the same thing last year and didn't hear any complaints.

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#20 Dino
July 01 2012, 08:32AM
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Hi Gregor, I've read somewhere in Twitterverse that Steve Ott is available. Have you heard anything regarding that? What would it take to get him?

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#21 Romulus' Apotheosis
July 01 2012, 08:56AM
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"Billy Butters"

Thanks for that. Great name!

On Schultz:

"but his abilities and projections as a player were rather tame. I haven't seen many writers claim he's going to be the next great defender."

I think that is right: Staples had piece calling him "good" not "great"

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/sports/Staples+Schultz+projects+good+great+player/6866443/story.html

see also this scout's report, which is a bit sunnier:

http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/06/29/how-good-is-justin-schultz-draft-expert-corey-pronman-weighs-in/

He definitely looks to be both an Actual NHLer and one with top 4 potential who scores with lots of upside and youth...

that is a dream package. Not a Pronger, Weber package... but a damn good package...

no need to over or underestimate it. I completely agree with you

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#22 Stack Pad Save
July 01 2012, 09:21AM
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@ Jason Gregor,

Hey Jason, did you identify PA Parentaue and Jordin Tootoo because they are right wingers that would fit in nicely in a 3rd line and be able to move up and down the line up? I was looking at the Oilers depth and it looks like our top 6 is solid with Nuge - Hall - Eberle and Ganger - Yak - Hemsky. However our bottom 6 could use some work on the wing as the only guys we have signed at the NHL level are Eager, Jones and Petrell (arguably all 4th line guys). Do you envision the Oilers giving the 3rd line winger jobs to someone like Paajarvi and Hartikinen or do you see them going after Tootoo or other free agents to fill in those spots?

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#23 Walter Sobchak
July 01 2012, 09:32AM
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I hope the Oilers can get a few good players today.

Wish list would include

Bishop

Bouwmeester- I think the Oilers could get him on the cheap from Calgary.

Tootoo

Doan & Smyth that would be a sweet 3rd line!

latendresse would be nice

I would also take a flyer on Armstrong.

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#24 Clyde Frog
July 01 2012, 09:52AM
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Well you can tick Smyth off that list!

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#25 Copperblueandwhite
July 01 2012, 10:02AM
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Tootoo is mentioned by many here; on CB you get run out of town for the mere mention. Personally I think the team is going to need some toughness, whether it's a deterrent against other mugs is debatable.

One solid D man (Carle comes to mind) and Smytty would make my weekend...they sure had their knickers in a knot at CanucksArmy over the Schultz signing...it's starting to feel alright being an Oiler fan....after decades.

Happy Canada Day to all.

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#26 Walter Sobchak
July 01 2012, 10:05AM
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Steve Ott's available, that would be a sweet pick up for the Oilers!

Didn’t he do radio piece for 1260 during the season?

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