Justin Schultz has Norris potential. He also has a bad contract.


In his press availability announcing the news of the Justin Schultz signing, Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish courted controversy by saying that the young defender “has Norris Trophy potential.”

He might be right about that. The ironic thing is that if he is, it just makes the terms of Schultz’s new deal even worse.

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Norris Potential

Craig MAcTavish5

“I go back to when we first signed him during the lockout, when he went to the American Hockey League and led the American Hockey League in scoring as a defenceman in his first year,” MacTavish said. “Things [like that] just don’t happen to average or good players; those things only happen to great players and I feel like Justin is going to be a great player and certainly a great Oiler and I think time will bear that out.”

I don’t think there’s a legitimate argument to be made that Schultz doesn’t have very high-end offensive potential. His defensive game is more subject to debate – MacTavish made a point of saying that he felt Schultz’s defensive play was better than the perception of his play – but it’s the offence that’s worth keying in on here.

The last NHL defenceman to win the Norris with fewer than 50 points (disregarding 2012-13, when P.K. Subban won it with 38 points in 42 games) was Rod Langway 30 years ago. If we omit Langway, we have to go back to 1967-68 when Bobby Orr missed 28 games and won the award after recording 31 points in 46 games.

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In other words, with the lone exception of Langway the Norris Trophy has been an award handed over to exceptional offensive defencemen for the entirety of the post-Original Six era.

Schultz has pretty significant offensive potential. If he realizes it, rounds out his defensive game a little and keeps playing monster minutes, he just might put together the kind of season that voters reward. Offence doesn’t just get paid in the NHL; it wins awards.

That’s the Problem


Justin Schultz’s one-year, $3.675 million contract is significantly more money than a defenceman with his accomplishments and at this point in his career has any right to expect. To a point, that doesn’t matter: there is value in having the guy in camp and rewarding a piece the Oilers believe in and all the rest of it.

The problem is that the benefits are disproportionately short-term. In a year where “questionable” understates the Oilers’ centre depth, a year where the goaltending is uncertain and the whole left side of the defence is patchwork while the team waits for prospects to arrive, the club is spending a pile of money to make sure that Schultz shows up for Day 1. If they were a contending team with cap space, this might be understandable; but they aren’t and consequently it isn’t.

And in exchange for this somewhat irrelevant short-term benefit, the Oilers are surrendering long-term advantage. This is a contract that makes it clear that there will be no hometown discount – Justin Schultz’s camp is going to (understandably) fight for every penny. Negotiating against people like that, is a better situation imaginable than after a year where the player’s offence was mediocre and his pairing got lit up defensively?

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Instead, the Oilers chose to hand leverage to Schultz’s camp.

If Schultz has a poor year, Edmonton will have to decide between qualifying him at an ugly number based on his $3.675 million contract and letting him go for nothing (there is a third, rarely-used option – club-elected arbitration in the hopes of knocking back his salary). In other words, Schultz is guaranteed the choice of significant money or free agency even if he has a garbage year; that’s a nice place to be.

If, on the other hand, Schultz has a great year – the kind of year MacTavish and Schultz’s representation expects – they’re suddenly in the same place as they are now but with the disadvantage of negotiating with a guy coming off a great year rather than a terrible one and in an offseason where the salary cap has spiked significantly thanks to the new Canadian TV deal.

A bridge deal is typically a tradeoff for a team, with two major pros and one significant con:

  • Pro: Team gets more information before making a long-term decision, reducing risk
  • Pro: Team gets a couple of years at a relative bargain price
  • Con: Team will need to pay more money for a proven player a couple of years down the road if all goes well

The Oilers here have managed to get the negatives of a bridge deal without the payoffs. They get the minimum amount of extra information possible – one year’s worth. There’s no bargain here; Schultz is being paid basically the same amount of money that Jake Gardiner took on a long-term deal despite an NHL career that isn’t any better. And a year from now if all goes according to plan the Oilers will be in a lousy bargaining position for a long-term deal.

Looking at the deals handed to guys with similar levels of experience and performance – Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk come to mind – it’s really hard to look at Schultz’s new deal and think that the Oilers did well here. They paid similar money for a player in a very, very similar situation but got one year instead of four or five.

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  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    It’s certainly not a bargain.

    That said, Shultz joined the Oilers in a very odd and unique way: as a free agent. Plus, as MacT said, he did have some insane numbers in the AHL and has posted some very good boxcars in the NHL. His “situation” doesn’t have many comparables.

    • Cam Fowler’s NHL track record when he signed a five-year, $4.0 million per season deal in September 2012:

      • 2010-11: 76 games, 40 points
      • 2011-12: 82 games, 29 points

      Justin Schultz’s track record today:

      • 2012-13: 48 games, 27 points
      • 2013-14: 74 games, 33 points

      Do we value Schultz over Fowler for posting crazy numbers on an AHL power play with Hall, RNH and Eberle? Given that Fowler never played AHL hockey (and that he was younger in those seasons in question) I find it hard to make the case that we should.

      • MacT's Neglected Helmet

        “Do we value Schultz over Fowler for posting crazy numbers on an AHL power play with Hall, RNH and Eberle?”

        Fowler picked the Ducks. Shultz didn’t. So we do value Shultz over Fowler 😉

  • R U Kidding Me!

    As the poll suggests, it’s not my money so lets not strain another relationship with someone who could become an elite defenceman.

    Last time I checked we’ve been a tad short on those since Pronger left.

    • Karth

      Agreed. It’s fun to bend someone over during negotiations. But you never do it with someone that you have to keep an ongoing business relationship with and value as high as management does.

      We are not so far removed from nobody wanting to play in that city. Remember how good it felt when one of the most coveted UFA’s of that year chose us?

      If Justin nails it out of the park this year that’s a good problem to have. Clearly the oilers have decided,as stated by Mact, to treat their players differently. Treating them with respect- which they hope translates to more loyalty. We will see if they are right.

      • Spoils

        Remember how every single one of them left? Even the players knew that this nepotistic management team got lucky and blew town. I actually agree with Serious Gord. Media has been way too soft on management. Why has the mass exodus never been explained by the “Braintrust” ?

  • stuball

    I agree with your comments, Willis, but if Shultz’s camp wants the $6mill level now, and says they’d prefer free agency over the $4mill long term offer, what’s your play?

    • Greenlingj

      If you knew for an absolute certainty that Schultz would only sign long term for what you considered to be too much money, it would probably be reasonable to get him for as little as possible for the next 4 years, or to pump his stats to the greatest extent possible and trade him.

      I am not sure what would have happened if MacT had said “We aren’t interested in a short term deal, and are only willing to offer you a 5 year deal like Gardiner’s.”

  • Serious Gord

    Johnathon: EDM defense is so weak that not getting Shultz on the roster was not an option. You likely know the cause for that predicament better than I do.

    I think it most likely that Shultz will not develop into the player MacT apparently thinks he is. There are many many players who lit up the ahl or junior who fall flat offensively at the nhl level. Shultz is not exceptional in the least and MacT – who played against plenty of those guys – show know that. So for me an overpay to plug a hole that doesn’t commit the team to Shultz in subsequent years when the depth in defense prospects today become nhl ready in the next couple years is the only real choice.

  • Greenlingj

    How is this bad?

    If Schultz does poorly well.. we have other prospects…

    If he does well… We pencil him in for more before he becomes a Norris winner.

    Or else we will be like Montreal and be paying out the ass for Subban like contract.

    That being said…

    If he has any hope of becoming a Norris candidate he needs to work on his defensive game offensively he is easily one of the best in the NHL on the blue line.

    The worst thing the Oilers could have done was sign him to a two year deal, become a contender and watch him have a break out season. So we only got a one year deal, who cares. Justin has to go out there and earn his money now if he has a hope in hell of seeing a multi year deal.

  • yawto

    Willis: Keep up the good work of raising pertinent questions about management decisions . Got a feeling there will be plenty more to dissect if we go into season with questionable centers , perhaps goaltending and uncertainty of prospects . Out of curiosity : Do you think Katz might demote Lowe back to GM if MacT. fails to produce good results ?

  • Greenlingj

    I think the signing is great. He has great upside and he doesn’t miss any camp. Who cares what the dollar amount is? We aren’t in cap trouble so why should I care if our billionaire owner spends his money?

    Glad he’s signed and looking forward to watching him play well and shut some of these fools that wanted to run him out of town up!

  • Serious Gord

    I have no problem with the deal, if it is an overpay so what? does not negatively affect any salary structure or the cap for this year and the commitment is small its all in Justins hands now. I hope he has an outstanding year and he earns an even bigger contract moving ahead.

  • Serious Gord

    It is clear the Oilers are going all-in on the Hall-RNH-Eberle-Schultz core. They believe, from the deepest depths of their souls, that this exact core, as is, is the one and only way to go. The notion of swapping even Eberle, a dangling winger, or Schultz, a dangling Dman, is a non-starter.

    You can pretty much book that Draisaitl and Nurse will get similar deals, whether or not they have proven anything or not.

    They are betting the farm on this group.

    It might work out. Not alot of proof at this point, tho.

  • Anton CP

    I disagree JW. I think mact doesn’t really care about paying big money too him. It just needs to be justified. If he is mediocre again he ll get him to sign long term on probably the same amount he was willing to give him now. If he has a great year he ll sign him at what his camp was probably asking for now and he can feel more comfortable with it. I think it’s a win for both sides.

  • Anton CP

    At the end of the day who really cares what he makes? Focusing on salaries takes so much enjoyment out of the game. I wish salaries weren’t even available to the public.

    Our perceptions is so out of whack today. The constant debate of this player makes too much, or that player makes to much – is pure insanity – THEY ALL MAKE TOO MUCH MONEY, SO DEAL WITH IT AND MOVE ON.

  • ComeAtMeDog

    Great signing .we didn’t want to lose him , we want players to stay with us ..Now he has the incentive to play great , knows he needs to be better defensively and he’s a gun pp d man , just need another d with a big clapper from the point and we will score some serious pp goals this year .. Nurse is coming soon . Getting excited for the year ..

    • That’s why they call it professional hockey and not “Hockey With My Buddies Just For Funsies”

      It is a BUSINESS where the best in the world get paid a lot of money to play a game lots of other people pay to play or watch for fun and entertainment.Teammates may indeed be friends as well, but first and foremost, they are co-workers.

      Do you think he chose to come to Edmonton because he loved the guys on the team? Maybe it was the lovely weather here? The chance to win right away perhaps?

      He came here because it gave him the chance to play a lot, and get paid a lot… And it worked.

      Are you saying you would do anything different if you were in his shoes? Please.

  • I was actually happy with the contract.

    At this time I don’t like Schultz and was scared they were going to do something stupid like committing big dollars long term.

    They over paid in dollars, but they have the cap space and that is an investment in his potential. If he improves a lot this year it will cost them to sign him long term. If he doesn’t they will either trade him or sign him to a similar one year deal to watch him for another year.

  • Spoils

    I actually like Mac T’s negotiating move. If Shulltz team was “determined” to get Subban dollars and we all agree he has not proven he is there yet why get your self into a long term expensive contract ( Horcoff Gagne) you cant move.

    A year from now if he is worth it you pay him ..If he is not worth it and his agent is still “determined” to get Subban dollars you can look at a trade AND you will have another year of Klefbom ,Marncin. and Nurse to look to for your Schultz heir apparent. I believe one of them may have a lot higher upside then Schultz and we all agree there is not room for them all .

    Maybe Petry and Schultz are going to get the short stick and MAcT is just setting up the table for some trades later in the year. Think of the team line up if you could use these two as trade bait and the other defence prospects reach full potential.

  • My two cents…

    I’m glad to see the contract signed, Shultz is a promising young D-Man with astronomical potential, so the boys paid him handsomely for the year to basically “put his money where his mouth is”… Anyone that’s remotely unhappy with the contract now would be ballistic had the club not signed him, calling for heads to roll had they let him “skate”. We’ve got one of the best financial backers tied to the sport cutting the cheques, if Darryl wants a dynasty, Darrel can pay!

    Have a great day ladies and gents!

  • I’m old enough to remember when we had some kid named Coffey – skate like the wind, offensive genius, but so bad defensively the fans tried to run him out of town. Not saying Schultz is Coffey, but its pretty early to be writing him off as an overpaid one trick pony.

  • Spoils

    If I had to bet one way or the other I would bet that Schultz is going to get much better. With all the stars coming up the oil need some bargain contracts. They should have forced the long term.

  • Spoils

    PLay him with Nitkitin or Fayne and hell easily pop 50 points this year.
    $3.7 mil. is a bargin for someone on defense to get 50=60 points.

    He need some work in his own end, but he will never be a Pronger.

    He has to improve, or he will be Winnipeg bound.

    Ps.. Schultz, please watch Ducan Keith game coverage in your spare time at home. That’s the player you want to be.

  • TheresAlwaysNextYear

    Darnell Nurse is going to be our future Pronger! Get excited for that. Meanwhile, lets just hope Schultz has a break out year. His future contract dollars is on the line this upcoming season so I expect him to produce points like Karlsson…

    • D-Unit

      I agree. The points should increase because the unicorn that will ride to the rink will give him offensive advice. And the tooth fairy can help him with his defence. Future Pronger? Let’s maybe wait on these guys.

  • JohnQPublic

    There is no way that Schultz was signing a 4 or 5 year deal on a bridge contract. The comparison made at the end of the post is not realistic – that’s a bit drama generation. And to sign Schultz to a long term deal based on 122 games is a bit reckless unless you get a hell of deal.

    You are dealing with a player who has already walked out on one team and an agent who isn’t afraid to shake every penny out of the Oilers. It’s a tough negotiation if you really feel that this kid is a core player.

    I would have liked to see a 2 year deal, but I believe MacT is ready to back up the money truck with 82 more games of evidence.

    I think the Oilers have made up their mind on Schultz (see Petry’s 1 year contract). It’s going to be a Hemsky type deal from 2006-7. Hemsky had about 200 games in the NHL when that was signed and so will Schultz when the next deal is signed. The Hemsky deal turned out to be one of the best deals the Oilers executed. I think the Oilers will be looking at a similar strategy in this case.

    … and to be honest, if Schultz performs badly with every approaching year, the defence heavy prospect list takes a little leverage away from Schultz – i.e. Klefbom, Nurse, Marincin. If he performs well, the Oilers are ready to do the long term deal.

  • D-Unit

    Anyone know what the minimum qualifying offer will be for him next year?
    That is the biggest problem with the current over pay. Should have never been a 3 at the start of this contract.