Justin Schultz’s contract negotiations have been kept pretty quiet, but the Journal’s Jim Matheson changed that somewhat with an interesting piece on Wednesday.
Almost Certainly Asking for the Moon
Matheson seems to take exceptional care with his phrasing, using words like “almost surely” this and “probably” that rather than making outright assertions, but if the picture he paints is accurate than Schultz and agent Wade Arnott have an unrealistic view of just how good the defenceman actually is at this point in time.
Consider, for instance, both the name used here and the dollar figure mentioned:
Arnott admits there aren’t a lot of clear comparables for Schultz, but you can almost surely put Newport’s client [P.K.] Subban in a small group of possible yardsticks for Schultz, at least in terms of a short contract for now and let’s see what happens down the road. Subban got an average of $2.875 on his two-year deal. It seems unlikely Schutlz’s (sic) people would go for that considering his cap hit (with performance bonuses) was $3.775 million last season. His salary was just $925,000 but his agent may be looking at $4 mil a year as a starting point.
Two really important points here:
- First, Schultz isn’t close to Subban in anything except perhaps offence (though that remains to be seen); he’s not even close to what Subban was two years ago. Even then, the analytics made it clear that Subban was a difference maker for Montreal, a player who substantially boosted both out-shooting and out-scoring. Schultz routinely posts mediocre or worse figures on the analytics side.
- Second, Schultz’s incentive-laden rookie contract came via unrestricted free agency. When all 30 NHL teams (and if it wasn’t that, it was close) are vying for the services of a player, the contract was naturally going to end up being the rookie max. He’s now a restricted free agent, which means he’s negotiating with one team.
Combine the two, and the position that Matheson suggests the Schultz camp is occupying is simply ludicrous. It requires a player less good than Subban at the same age wanting to use him as a comparable but also wanting way more money because of bonuses he hit that were negotiated while he was a UFA.
So Much for Gardiner, Apparently
Arnott probably doesn’t consider the five-year $20.25 million contract for Toronto defenceman Jake Gardiner a comparable, so that’s out.
Left unstated here is why Arnott probably doesn’t consider Gardiner a comparable for Schultz. I assume it’s almost surely related to the reason that Subban is a comparable in terms of upside but not in terms of price.
We’ve previously talked about Gardiner as a comparable for Schultz in some depth. Gardiner’s offence isn’t quite as good but by every other measure he looks like a better player. Schultz’s agent may not like the money, but that doesn’t make it untrue.
Matheson suggests that a two- or three-year deal is likely, and that makes sense given what Schultz’s camp probably thinks his UFA years are worth and the likelihood that Edmonton wants Schultz to be an RFA when this deal ends.
I thought this was particularly interesting, though:
The key will be trying to come up with a fair dollar number for Schultz, their first powerplay point guy who still factors as a top pairing D-man on this team because of his offence. Schultz would seem to have more cards to play than the Oilers because they have nobody to replace his offence in their roster of defencemen.
I’m not convinced that Schultz’s camp has the leverage suggested here, for a couple of different reasons. Schultz is without question the team’s most offensively gifted rearguard, but the blue line has been upgraded from last season and he’s arguably the team’s third-best right-side defenceman at even-strength (after Jeff Petry and Mark Fayne). Schultz likely has a higher ceiling than that duo but in the here-and-now he’s not markedly better.
That leaves his power play offence. The replacement options currently on the Oilers’ blue line (Nikita Nikitin, Martin Marincin) aren’t terribly compelling but Edmonton has some other possibilities here too.
Some are in-house. If Petry and Fayne are logging the lion’s share of minutes at evens and on the PK on the right side, bringing up Brad Hunt for third-pair work and power play time isn’t out of the question; he played top-four minutes in OKC last year and is a dynamo on the man advantage. Darnell Nurse is another interesting possibility.
There are also options in free agency. Jamie McBain is only 26 years old and has offensive ability. Derek Morris and Sami Salo are both long in the tooth but have some scoring touch – in particular Salo, whose per-minute scoring on the power play is pretty comparable to Schultz. Raphael Diaz is *this* close to being a point-per-game defenceman in Europe and has done rather well in limited power play time in North America.
Obviously, it’d be nicer if Schultz and the Oilers could just agree on a reasonable deal; it would be better for the player and the organization to have him happily contributing on Day 1 of training camp.
In the Oilers’ shoes, though, I’d rather spend $600,000 on a one-way deal for a guy like Diaz or McBain and wait for the price on Schultz to come down than pay the unproven defenceman $4.0 million per season on a bridge deal.
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