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:

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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.

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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

  • Yakattack

    Bob Murray had 4 years to sign Justin Schultz. He had his rights for 4 years because he went to university, and would have had them for 5 years if Schultz had decided to stay in school, all without putting him on his 50 man roster.

    All CHL and European draftees have to be signed in 2 years or their rights are lost.

    So who exactly has the loophole?

    Bob Murray had 4 years with his draft pick. With most years, you just have 2.

    Yes, eliminate the loophole. Put US colleges on the same footing as CHL and European players. 2 years only.

  • The Loophole is that a college player is no longer eligable to play college hockey after they have signed a contract. This means no college player can be signed until they drop out. To make it fair the 2 yrs should start the day the drop out of school. This would mean he would have to ask for a trade or play for the team that invested in him.

    I hate the loophole and we would be very upset in the Duck’s position. That being said the way the CBA is written it is his right to choose. I don’t blame him for making this decision, and I am very excited to have him joining the Oilers.

    • Yakattack

      A little off topic but can someone explain to me why the Oil don’t go after Bobby Ryan? He’s a 3 time 30 goal scorer, a cap hit of $5.1 M on capgeek (not outrageous at least) and is signed for another 3 years. He plays C/LW (which the Oilers need) and is listed as 6’02” 208 lbs. (TSN website)

      By the time the young studs make serious money, Ryan could be traded or sign accordingly once he’s a UFA in 2015.

  • I no longer care if its right or wrong. There was a time when I might have felt bad, but years of watching my favourite players leave the team for more money or sandy beaches has killed that. I was too young to even have an opinion on the exodus of the dynasty Oilers. The first Oilers superstar I got to watch with regularity and appreciate was Doug Weight. Gone for Marty Reasoner and a smattering of crap. Guerin? Gone. Jesus, we couldnt even hold on to Todd Marchant! A guy who couldnt raise the puck with a hoist!

    Fast forward more years and its a pretty pathetic reoccurring nightmare featuring Comrie, Pronger, Smyth, the entire 2006 team, even Riley F*%£ing Nash didnt want to play here. If our stars werent demanding out (Souray) the Media was fabricating public sentiment to push them out the door before they had the opportunity to do it themselves. Remember the Smid demands a trade rumours? The Ales Hemsky has no heart or talent despite being a ppg when healthy and unafraid of anybody in the league?

    I have been conditioned to expect the Oilers to flush their talent before its ever fully realized. Apparently the MSM has been too (to the point where they start to demand it when it isnt happening). So when somebody bucks the trend and does the EXACT OPPOSITE, I cant say that I feel too bad. Especially so that the people holding the sh*t side of the stick are the Ducks. Those @sshats have had every benefit imaginable at their disposal. Beautiful city and rink? Check. Weather that Edmonton could only dream of? Check. Won the 2nd overall pick in the 2005 draft? Check. Hart trophy winner on the club? Check. Gift wrapped a Norris calibre defenseman in the Pronger defection? Check. Gift wrapped a 2nd Norris calibre defenseman (Niedermayer) because they already employed his crappy brother? Check.

    In short, Screw the Ducks. I dont feel bad for 1 second at their plight.

    • Gerald R. Ford

      Beautifully expressed, sir.

      Murray should probably let it go, but then he might have to explain why one of his star players hates his guts, and how Sheldon Souray just stole eleven million (!) dollars from the Samuelis. Seriously, who did more harm to the Ducks this weekend? Justin Schultz or Bob Murray?

      Screw the Ducks, indeed.

      • Highly unlikely that either those two separate or together are enough for Bobby Ryan. You said it yourself, a 3 time 30 goal scorer with size and a lot of skill, pretty rare asset. Likely they’re asking for one of the big 4 and no way that’s going to happen because it would be somewhat of a lateral move in terms of talent, albeit he’s physically larger.

  • It’s ultimately up to the player were they want to play.

    I tend to think a few factors played into his decision not to play there, I also believe he did tell Murray he wasn’t going to sign there, and was going to UFA market.

    That would have given Murray ample time to make a trade, however no team wanted to trade with him because they all have the same chance to woo said defensemen without the worry of losing a pick or player in return at the off chance he may sign with the team making the trade.

    Not to mention Murray sounded off about tampering charges which most likely scared off a lot of trades that may have come his way in the last hours before he became a UFA.

    After all Schultz never put the loophole in, but he used it to his advantage.

    In the end Murray failed to acquire an asset in return, that falls on the GM. IMO

  • JohnQPublic

    The union, the players, the NHL, and the individual clubs have all used loopholes in the CBA to their advantage.

    You can’t take advantage of it at one time and then cry foul at another. That’s a double standard.

    Anahiem took advantage of a player who walked away from a contract themselves – see Chris Pronger. A different set of circumstances but they still benefited from someone not honouring their contract. How can they cry foul now?

    Call it whatever you want, but I call it justice.

    Karma is a b*tch.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I have no idea what happened in ANA, but it’s odd what is going on there. No Selanne yet, Parros who played most his career there leaves for 50k raise, trade talks about Perry, Ryan and Getzlaf earlier in the year and now again Ryan. Lubo leaves for a 2nd rounder, making me think he too didn’t want to be there. The only thing that makes sense is Brookbank leaving for a nice raise.

  • @Yakattack

    Yep, it is an assumption. I’d guess probably a safer assumption then ANA wanting gags and hemmer.

    Would that be a good trade? Probably.

    Would you trade Gagner, Petry and Klefbom for him? (I wouldnt). My guess is the asking price for some of the games youngest brightest stars is always going to be too high. Unless ANA is being forced into a trade and get backed into a corner (Ala Pronger)

    I just do not think this year is the year to swing for the fences… If you can get Bobby Ryan at a reasonable price then of course you do it.

  • Hey Yak, I too would guess the price is too high, but that certainly would not stop me from asking. If the price was Gagner, Hemsky and a B propect or 2nd round or lower pick I would be interested. It is always great to add a big skilled power forward type to your team.

    I would certainly cann and ask what it would take. I don’t mind our top 6 and would actually more likeley be shopping Hemsky+ for a big tough skilled RW for the bottom 6 or 1 more top 4 Dman.

  • Ya,its fair. ” Show me the money”. Schultz or/and his agent were smart enough to know that becoming a UFA , they could structure a better pay day via .. bonus pkg, which he might not have done by signing ELC with the Ducks.He knew what he was doing, because that model was out there for others ie: Wheeler. On top of that he had the choice of going to a team that would give playing time and probably a style more akin to his offensive style. Sometimes theres more to this game than nice weather, beaches and winter golf.

  • I want to go on record and say I think our D is vastly improved over the last couple of years and think if we add 1 more top 4 type Dman it will be a position of strength. Hell if we did nothing and were able to resign everyone I think once Klefbom or one of our other prospects are ready it will be a position of strength.

    I understand we don’t yet have a proven #1 Dman, but I think we have 5 top 4 Dmen and it is a younger group so there is still room for improvement. One of them could become that true #1, but even if they don’t a defence by committee with all top 4’s looks pretty good!