Was Justin Schultz Leaving the Anaheim Ducks Unfair?

It’s a scene that fans of the Edmonton Oilers know all too well: a general manager shaking his head at the steadfast refusal of a player to either join or stay with his team. This time, however, instead of Kevin Lowe or Steve Tambellini flabbergasted by the departure of a Mike Comrie or the refusal of a Dany Heatley to accept a trade, it was Anaheim Ducks G.M. Bob Murray who was frustrated.

Talking to the media after a busy day in free agency, Murray had the following to say last night:

I’m more confused than ever. I read everything of course. I’ve moved on. I’m confused because, if he had it in his mind that he wanted to play in Canada, then OK. I get that. I’m a Canadian too. But Eric Lindros when he didn’t want to play in Quebec, he went to his team that drafted him and said ‘No, I’m not going to play there.’ He allowed that team to make a move to get something for him. He told us numerous times he wanted to play with us. He needed to just tell us the truth.”

“This is unfair, not only for the organization, but it’s unfair for the Anaheim Duck fans. It’s unfair to other fans, the Phoenix Coyotes with Blake Wheeler. We’re all aware of other players coming along that are in this situation. It’s just wrong. I sure hope the NHL realizes they dropped the ball big time.”

It’s a point of view that isn’t hard to understand. The Oilers have seen an exodus of talent over the years – Pronger and the core of the 2006 team being the biggest example – and have seen other free agents either decline to consider Edmonton or walk away after an initial dalliance with the club.

Murray’s right about the loophole. When a team drafts a player they’re investing in him, and every team expects to receive a certain return on that investment if the player pans out. Justin Schultz is on the verge of starting to pay dividends – and now the Ducks will watch as another club reaps them.

On the other hand, Schultz had every right to do what he did. The fact that the loophole existed enabled him to attain the rookie maximum – something the Ducks almost certainly would not have offered, given the player’s draft position, if he had no other options. Professional hockey players live in a world where they make extreme amounts of money in exchange for playing a game, but on the other hand they also live in a world where they’re treated like commodities and moved halfway across the continent at the drop of the hat. Older free agents can exert a measure of control by negotiating no-move and no-trade clauses, but younger players have no such rights.

In Schultz’s case, he had a rare opportunity to dictate where he would play. The fact that he chose to exercise it has been seen by some as a clear character flaw, but it’s nothing of the sort – he simply made use of the options available to him. It’s the same thing every free agent who bypasses Edmonton chooses to do.

As for Murray, why didn’t he trade Schultz’s rights earlier in the game? When the player chose not to join the Ducks late in the 2011-12 season, it was a signal to the world that he was likely bound for free agency. That’s one of the reasons that this saga seemed to drag out so long – we’ve been fairly confident for months now that Schultz wasn’t going to join the Ducks. The Ducks had an early summer; they could have dealt Schultz’s rights to Edmonton or Ottawa or Calgary or Toronto back in May. Would anyone have blanched had Steve Tambellini swapped, say, a conditional second round pick and Brandon Davidson to Anaheim in exchange for that two-month negotiating window? That window, as we’ve seen in the past, has value to teams. Murray, though, didn’t make a deal in May. Supposedly he swung a deal with Toronto close to the draft, but the difference between a week and two months is sizeable.

The final point here is Murray’s claim that Schultz was dishonest with the club. Perhaps he was, perhaps he wasn’t; we’re really only getting one side of the story here, and it’s coming from a decidedly partial source.

I understand the frustration on Anaheim’s end of things. Any team would be bitter about what just happened. But at this point there’s simply not enough there to condemn Schultz for anything.

This week by Jonathan Willis

  • The signing of this young D-Man is two fold. A most welcomed addition to our Defence as I am sure every Oil fan is aware off. The second point that makes this such a good signing is that the arrogant and incredibly irritating nuck fans have yet another reason to be totally jealous of the Mighty Oil. The Nucks have peaked IMHO and the Oil are going in the opposite direction. This is awesome!

  • Wax Man Riley

    Well, I imagine it’s been said, but hard to feel sorry for the franchise that gave up comparatively little to get Chris Pronger after he virtually held a gun to Lowe’s head to force the deal. That deal brought the Cup to Anaheim, and this non-signing of Shultz is pretty minor by comparison.

  • O.C.

    (First time able to get online since the Schultz signing… Smyth for $4.5M over two? Nice… this GM stuff isn’t so hard… That’s the exact contract I suggested 6 weeks ago.)

    Apparently Mr. Murray is a doorknob. You weren’t going to sign him… Let all teams talk to him and see if he can do a sign and trade scheme then… By alienating the teams, now they weren’t going to make a trade if they didn’t know if he would sign.

    Murray could have reaped at least a late first or early second.

    Unfair? No. If you don’t do your homework, then you shouldn’t be drafting. Murray should have ensured he would sign or plan for this.

  • paul wodehouse

    …i hate this Schultz signing …

    it ‘appears’ to have our GM front&centre and attached to it…

    to a man woman and child we all know who’s responsible for getting this kid…

    99

  • book¡e

    Wow, 26+ props for Arch – the highest I have ever seen was something like 12.

    The rule needs to change

    Justin did nothing wrong as the rules are the rules. Just like when someone scores on a bad call by the ref, you take it when you can get it.

  • vetinari

    Is there any concern that one of the 5 young prospects, may refuse to sign their RFA contracts, or ask for truckloads of money to stay? Or go the way of Jordan Staal, and ask for a bigger role on the team? With 4 legit snipers there is only so much top power play time ?

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    at post #3, and with 32 props including me, Arch hit the nail right on the head!! could NOT have said things any better! i don’t care about how sad other teams are because they got screwed, life’s not always fair is it? Justin didn’t break any rules and neither did the Oilers….so bring on the hate, i really don’t care, and i don’t care about other team’s perceptions of him or the Oilers…just win baby!!

  • Crispy

    Fair? Even without the new loop hole it’s always the team’s problem to sign the guy or trade the asset to someone who can.

    Tim Erixon and Riley Nash were both first rounders so the teams would have been entitle to 2nd round picks as compensation. Both teams found trades. The Oilers moved 5 spots higher in the 2nd the Flames got a pair of 2nd rounders and a prospect.

    Then there is the Patrick White who played for EHC Klostersee this year. He was drafted by the Canucks in the 2007 first round. The Sharks picked him up in a trade but chose not to sign him and used the compensation to pick Chris Tierney from the Knights in the 2012 2nd round.

    Is it fair that the Sharks got Tiernay and the Ducks got nothing? Actually yes. Unsigned 2nd rounders never get compensation. First round picks on the other hand are future-proofed to limit the down side for the teams. If there was a loop hole that robbed the ducks of compensation on a 1st rounder, they would deserve some redress. Not in this case.

  • Crispy

    I think Murray is just blowing crap to hide the fact that he screwed up…He could have dealt this guy earlier for something but instead chose to sit on his A and hope the free rides at Disneyland would make Justin resign. What a goof

  • vetinari

    Fairness and legality are two different things. Fairness is about general moral standards but legality is about what is permitted by the consentual standards of a specified group (in this case, the 30 NHL teams and the NHLPA). Fairness has nothing to do with “Schultz’s Choice” (future tm)– the rules say Schutz can do what he did and he exercised his right to do it.

    Anaheim had their window to sign Schultz or trade his rights away and they blew it. I don’t care if the player hired a skywriter to write “sign me up Ducks” in 40 foot letters over downtown Anaheim. As Oiler fans know, nothing is finalized until a contract is actually signed. Murray gambled and took his chances and it backfired in his face. Too bad. If Anaheim doesn’t like it, convince enough GM’s to have it added to the current CBA discussions.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Is it fair that a player can sign a contract … let’s just pick a number out of the air … 5 years @ $6.25M per in 2006 with a team, and then publicly ask for a trade after going to the cup final?

    Is that fair?

    I say F#@k fair. My #1 wish list for a new CBA is that if a player can have a NMC or NTC, then the team can have one too.

    You sign for millions, then opt out??….FU Pron…umm… I mean.. Laur….umm…. just… ya…

    Schultz used the options available to him. Oilers seem to have benefited (for once {HHHAAAAAAALEELUAAAAA! HAAALLEELUUJJAAAAA!!})

  • Wax Man Riley

    Schultz using his rights and not telling Anaheim he’s leaving them is in no way more unfair then Parise not telling NJ he’s planning on leaving them.. They both get NOTHING for their players