FREE AGENCY, SCHULTZ AND BAD LOSERS

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.