Justin Schultz Becoming More

Jake Gardiner signed a nice deal with the Leafs this weekend. Five years at roughly four million a season. Not a crazy number for the Leafs to swallow. Gardiner has got some stability contract wise, something NHL players love to have. Now that the deal is done it is time to park it and look at how he can become more.

At times I have such a hard time understanding why fans and media dwell so much on stats. I am talking all stats. The first text I got from a friend in Toronto about Gardiner asked if I think “he can score fifteen goals and thirty assists this season?” I answer back “does it matter if the team doesn’t make the playoffs?”

Gardiner is an extremely talented player. He can skate the puck out of trouble, something that is very hard to do. He has his head up in tight situations which makes it easy for him to find and put the first pass right on the tape. He pushes the play from the back end. This means he jumps into the play to create odd man rushes. It is hard to defend a rush that is a two-on-two and then suddenly turns into a three-on-two.

All good things, good enough to be a second pair defenceman. It shouldn’t be enough for him or the Leafs.

When I think of two top defenceman I played against, I think of Scott Niedermayer and Drew Doughty. These guys were/are great offensive players. Skate like the wind, puck moving ability and offensive instincts second to none. It was fun to play against them. You would never know where they would show up. They were like rovers. The offensive part of the game came to them easily.

The other part of the game, the defensive part, took more time to develop. This did not happen without frustration. There was push back from them to their coaches when they were told to be more selective in their times to jump into the play, or when to take chances with the puck. But slowly, game after game, season after season, they became elite defencemen.

Gardiner is not an elite d-man — very few are. But most top teams have elite d-men. The Leafs need him to fill out his game and become that elite player on the back end. He has to commit to playing both ends of the rink. Yes, at times he will have to sacrifice offensive stats to win a game, but winning is more important.


The Oilers have their very own Jake Gardiner. His name is Justin Schultz: Highly skilled, puck moving and still working on completing his game.

He and the Oilers are working on a new deal. Gardiner is a pretty good comparison to Schultz in many ways. Maybe the deal comes back looking something like Gardiner’s for Schultz. Five-year deal? I could live with it, but I am leaning towards a two-year deal for Schultz. Maybe even a one-year deal.

Once the deal is signed the Oilers need Schultz to have a stronger year on the back end in his own zone. Last year he played a lot of minutes for the Oilers. Even though it was too much for this young guy, that’s the way it went. In a perfect world he is on your second or third pairing. If he brings the rest of his game up I think this guy can be a solid player.

I watch the games as closely as anyone and the battle level of individual players is what I watch. It separates the players I want on my team and the ones that I don’t. The playoffs are always a great example. The teams that thrive are the ones who as a whole never stop — all over the ice — trying to keep or get the puck back.

One issue I have with Schultz is his very relaxed attitude in his own zone. Off a point shot he is often in the right position standing beside his man. He doesn’t battle with the guy to push him out of the shooting lane or to take his stick away. This is a simple correction but one that takes a lot of attention to make happen nightly.

Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith are very aggressive in these areas. It makes such a difference in their own zone. Bringing this part of the game to a higher level made them much better players and lifted both their teams to the ultimate heights.

Once the deal gets done for Schultz, park it and don’t look at it. I would spend that energy praying that in addition to his offensive skill he becomes a much harder and more detailed defender for the Oilers. Just being a going point producer won’t be enough to push the Oilers up the standings.

So to my buddy who asked me if Gardiner can get fifteen goals and thirty assists: Does this answer your question?

  • BC BOY

    I want cup run Pronger back!! That guy was amazing! That in my mind was the perfect prototypical D-man. I hope we sign Shultz and I love the fact he chose to come to Edmonton but it’s tough for me to get excited about him. He is not mean at all.. He’s a skilled guy.. he would have made a great winger. I hope Struds is right and they can make adjustments so he’s a bit tougher to play against.

    • The Last Big Bear

      Pronger was awesome and that kind of “tough to play against” isn’t measured accurately yet by advanced stats…but does not mean it isn’t one the most if not penultimate factors in hoisting a cup.
      And Strudsy speaks to that here so props to him. We can armchair quarterback all we want but he played the NHL game and knows what it takes. I think it’s why we’ve never been able to swallow the vanilla defenders here. A guy like Gilbert is a perfect example. Great talent and statistically speaking not terrible. But he was a lame duck when push came to shove and the guy would not be a smart choice for a playoff team.

      • Actually, Pronger’s brand of “tough to play against” showed up very nicely in his advanced statistics because it led to results.

        The problem is when you have players with supposedly great “intangibles” who have bad results but people think they are great because “BIG HITZ!!11!”.

        If a player makes your team better because of his so called intangible qualities then it will show up in their results, and therefore will show up in the statistics.

        • The Last Big Bear

          This is valid, but with a catch. I’ll illustrate by way of example.

          When the Flames had Iginla, they always carried a heavyweight on the team, so that Iginla wouldn’t have to fight every numbskull who needed an ***-kicking.

          Andre Roy never won a fight as a Flame (that I remember). I’m sure his Corsi numbers were brutal, and I bet that the Flames didn’t score more goals in the shifts after his fights, etc.

          But his results did show up in the statistics, namely:

          Jarome Iginla: Games Played – 82

          Roy’s job was to fight guys so that Iginla didn’t have to, and there no amount of Corsi or +/- that was going to make up for Iginla being injured for 10 games with a broken hand. Sometimes a player’s success is hard to see, but if they are contributing it will show up in the statistics.

          The catch is that you need to know where to look.

          • Coppperhead

            Now they have Brian MCGRATTAN , Engelland, and Bollig. We only have GAZDIC to respond to these SUPER HEAVIES!!! Aulie , Hendricks et al cant go with these MONSTERS!!! OH NO!!! Any chance the SHARKS will trade BIG,JOHN SCOTT to the OIL! Can we sign WESTGARTH or trade for ORR, McLAREN or ROSEHILL? JUSTIN JOHN SON or TREVOR GILLIES would be great AHL signings? Maybe STRUDWICK will come out of retirement?Can George’s LARAQUE still stand up on skates long enough to destroy someone? HELP!!!!!!!!!!!

          • Iginla still fought multiple times, twice in Games where Roy was dressed. They even both fought in the same game once.

            The benefit you have perceived is imaginary. Roy was never going to fight anybody who would be on the ice at the same time as Iginla.

          • The Last Big Bear

            Too bad you weren’t there to explain that to Iginla when he specifically asked Flames management to always have a goon on hand so he wouldn’t have to fight so much.

            I’m sure you would have convinced him that the benefit he perceived was completely imaginary. I mean, what would he know, right?

  • BC BOY

    But Jason,

    Do you think that compete level is something a player can just develop. Or is it something they have to be born with?

    I think as Justin gets bigger, stronger, more mature he will gain confidence in those battles and start winning more. But I’m not sure if he will ever develop that nastiness that Keith or Doughty have.

  • hallsyoilerforever5

    I dont know what the hold up is. If Schutlz signed an identical deal to Gardiner, we would all be happy!

    Deal “might” not be worth it this year, but over the term it would be anywhere from good value to fantastic value.

    • BlazingSaitls

      If you do a 5 x $4M for him and 2 years in the O is there but the D and complete level is still lacking you’d still be able to move him in a heartbeat and get a nice return

    • hallsyoilerforever5

      Raschaug claims that Schultz is looking for 5M per year for a longer term contract. I assume that means more than 4 years where he would be selling some UFA years. If this is correct, we will likely see a 2 year bridge contract. Might be the best outcome in any event.

    • BC BOY

      Not quite “happy” – half of Oiler fans would be mad at the term, the other half would be mad at the price…you’re not an Oiler fan unless you hate on half the players.