Justin Schultz: No Wonder the Contract Isn’t Done

Justin Schultz

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

$Texas

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.

What Now?

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.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Lots of reaction here.

    My own view:

    • On a two-year deal, the AAV should start with a “2”. It did for Subban and it has for many, many other good defencemen. It’s irrelevant what bonuses Schultz made last year.
    • As some have noted, it’s no surprise that Schultz’s agent seems to be fishing for maximum value; that’s his job. What surprises me is that this late into the offseason it sounds like the dollar ask is so high.
    • vetinari

      @JW — just can’t see Schultz signing for anything less than $3M/season. Notwithstanding that almost everyone agrees that using Subban as a comparison to Schultz is like equating apples to oranges, when Subban signed his deal, the cap was lower so it comprised a higher percentage of the cap hit– that alone would likely get Schultz to top over $3M/season. Add in Petry’s deal (again, I know, imperfect because Petry is only one year away from UFA status), and Nikitin’s obvious overpay (again, I know, an imperfect comparison since Nikitin was a pending UFA) and I think that’s going to drive up Schultz’s asking price. I would love to read that Schultz signed a one or two year bridge deal for $2.5M/season but I just can’t see that happening.

      On a side note, aren’t the Oilers able to start negotiations with Yak on an extension or are they taking a “wait and see” approach with him? Why not try to get him under a 2-4 year extension while his demands are likely low?

  • Chongler

    when you raise the kids together and tell the kids they all means so much to do you, equally, inevitibly the kids think they should all be paid the same. inescapabley this isn’t true.

  • Chongler

    The agent is setting the price for Schultz and getting best deal for his client . That’s what they are paid to do . MacT. and agent have difference of opinions on his worth currently , but that could change , and a compromise could be met at any time . Schultz just doing as his agent says in the interim . Needless to blame Schultz at this time in negotiations .

      • Zarny

        Not entirely correct in your assumption . Agent typically accepts the offer then sends it on to player to accept or reject it . Negotiations can get pretty complex when far apart . Been in several union management negotiations and employees wait almost always for agents recommendations as to whether to accept a contract . Occasionally (seldom) does an employee tell agent he does not accept his recommendation , and thus avoid sending agent back to renegotiate better . Agent almost always in full control and thus avoids having player take a lesser settlement by showing weakness with his agent . Sort of a catch 22 for employee in a lot of way s- your better served backing your agent like it or not . .

        • hankthetank

          A union is EMPLOYED by members who vote. Those votes are the final call.
          An agent is EMPLOYED by a player who makes the final call.

          Not sure how that is an assumption, because it’s entirely correct. I’ve paid union dues in the past.

  • vetinari

    I guess that when you hear your name constantly mentioned with Hall, Eberle and RNH in every press conference as being “untouchable”, you start to expect their pay scale.

    My offer would be 2 years, $3.75M per year– better than Subban’s bridge deal but less than Gardiner (who sold some UFA years on his contract) so use the time to show us what you got, and put up or shut up.

    • Zarny

      $3.75M/yr for 2 yrs is still too high for Schultz IMO.

      If the contract starts with a “3” it needs to be for three years and the first number after the decimal should be lower than a 3.

      3 yr @ $3.1M/yr.

      • vetinari

        I would agree with you but look at our recent history over the past 5 to 7 years. We’re a losing team. We overpay RFAs and UFAs because we have to so add in at least 10-25% per year because of the “loser factor”.

        Sure, I think that the Oilers need to stick to their guns with young RFAs, especially with future bluechippers like Nurse, Klefbom and Draisatl waiting in the wings over the next few years but until we get a few winning seasons under our belts, the alternative to playing on a bottom 5 NHL team is what? Playing in the KHL or Europe for millions until your NHL team trades your rights? Most people could do a year or two overseas for a few million dollars.

        Heck, Schultz played Anaheim right to the end to get UFA status and then join us so why wouldn’t he play us to get a few extra bucks now on his RFA deals?

        A slight overpay today may keep peace in the family and let you ice a competitive team which in turn, would give you options in the future to attract or resign players on bargain contracts.

        Sign a bridge deal. If Schultz does well over the next few years but asks too much– no problem. Trade him at his new value. But in the meantime, he hopefully develops into a 2 way defenceman and he builds his trade value up while you also climb up the standings. If he tanks, it was only a couple of years and you move on (Plante, Teubert).

        • Zarny

          I don’t disagree with you necessarily but here is the reality Schultz has to deal with…the Oilers have the hammer.

          Just like Toronto with Kadri. Just like CBJ with Johansen this year. RFA’s have very little leverage especially when you are a prospect like Schultz who I believe has a high ceiling but still has room to improve in many areas.

          IMO $3.1M/yr for 2-3 yrs is a slight overpay when you look at comparables.

          I have no problem with Schultz or his agent negotiating for as much as possible. It’s a business and I think too many are over-reacting to the fact negotiations are ongoing. That’s business. No one is here to do anyone any favors. This isn’t tiddly winks.

          Schultz could hold-out or jump to the KHL or Europe but that doesn’t benefit him. Holding out only delays his progress and makes him less money in the long run. He would be an RFA when he returned to the NHL if traded and no team is going to open the vault plus he has no say in where he goes. It’s a huge risk for Schultz to risk ending up in a less desirable situation where he is further down the depth chart and/or getting less ice time so he can make a little extra cash.

          I expect a deal will get done.

  • Chongler

    Nothing wrong with trying to max out what you can get…why not compare yourself to the richest contract in NHL Defenseman history (or his prior contract to be clear)…I once asked my boss for $1M…doesn’t mean I got it, but it was worth the ask. Oiler fans are blue collar people I guess – can’t handle the business side of this sport.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    JSchultz built up a LOT of goodwill for picking the Oilers (and kicking ass in the AHL). And we’re very glad and very lucky that he did! But you can only ride that wave of goodwill for so long. His offensive game is good (but not great) and his defensive game is bad, very bad.

    He needs to improve. He shouldn’t be paid like a all-around dman like Subban is now, because he’s not.

    For what it’s worth, I do have faith that he’ll improve and be an amazing core player for us. He hasn’t had much help in his first 2 seasons but should have a lot more support this year.

  • 2004Z06

    Are we not getting carried away? He was in a unique situation when the Oilers signed him. Now he’s back in the unique situation. Schlutz or Arnott are not fueling a fire. Not commenting makes him a whipping boy? This will take a little work and time that’s all.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Justin sounds and acts like a selfish player that feels a sense of entitlement. Well Justin you rank 38th in points as a dmen and 293 in the +/- with a -22. Well your buddy Jake may have gotten on 31 points to your 133 but he is only a -3. Only 9 d-men had a worst +/- then you. Justins possesion is 13 out of 142. Most games 80% of the play is 5×5 so you are untrustworthy. You are not worth more then your buddy Jake.
    I hate to spend money on unproven player that THINKS he has potential. time to trade him to the FLYERS. That is the type of team doesn’t sign players responsibly.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      1st, 2nd and a 3rd. apparently the second round is like a 1st rounder this upcoming draft.

      EDIT: i would rather keep him for now though. hes only played 1 and a half seasons. PLus hes putting up Shea Weber numbers per 60/min on the PP iirc.

  • Not sure why Subbans’ name would even be brought into a conversation in the negotiation. I get that Subban got a bridge deal and yada yada yada but man… they are so far apart on the talent spectrum that it’s not even funny, at least as of right now.

    Schultz made many, many mistakes last year. What good is offensive upside when your offensive scoring chances per 60 are equal to your mistakes leading to scoring chances per 60?

  • Bi-Curious Gord

    Wow. I had originally thought the reason Schultz shook loose from the Ducks in the first place was a personal grievance with the organization. Now it kinda looks like we’ve got a bit of a prima dona on our hands.

    • vetinari

      As long as you have this name…you will get instant cheers from me before I even read your comment. If its stupid then I will trash it but at worst its a wash for you. Well done!

    • Chongler

      That’s a bit quick to judge. If the GM and the Agent are working on a mutual $/term that works for both the team and the player, it takes time. There aren’t a whole lot of comparable players who have recent signings and if this is a bridge contract it is even more complicated. The team hasn’t been throwing out multiple fair offers and getting shot down with insane demands. (We would hear rumors no doubt). There hasn’t been talks of him threatening to hold out or demanding trades.
      Give it time, in the end, both sides want the same thing: JSchultz in Edmonton for training camp. I am confident that we have nothing to worry about.

        • Chongler

          Absolutely, I agree 100%. That is of course, unless they are talking about Subban’s bridge $ which was less than Schultz made in the last 2 years.(Highly unlikely). It’s unfortunate that Schultz has already made 3.75M per for the last 2 seasons. Given his production so far, he isn’t really due for a hefty raise…and there is no way he’ll take a cut. As mentioned already, it’s in his best interest to not get too greedy and garner that kind of a rep around the league and fanbase.

          • DieHard

            3.75M was his cap hit not his salary. 2.85M was primary bonuses. How much of that did he make. A little research showed that 2M would be made if he was top 10 for goals by a defenceman. He did not make it.

      • I agree, I don’t see how a person being a tough negotiator who is trying to maximize his income makes him a prima dona. If that were the case I think many would fit into that category.

        • Sevenseven

          Yes, but Justin Schultz is not a travelling salesmen trying to sell himself here. He is contractually part of a team, and his actions affect the team. When you are part of a team you need to sacrifice yourself for the team while still feeling respected and treated fairly…as this will help everyone work towards the teams goals and achieve individual and team success together. If you are very unrealistic about your worth, such that everyone knows you are not worth what you are asking you this is labelled for disaster. If you don’t get what you want you will be unhappy, but if you do get it others will see it as overly unfair and they will be unhappy People like that need to be replaced asap when identified or leave if they feel this way. This attitude will always cause problems in a team dynamic regardless of what your union says or if you are a hockey player or the manager of a roofing business.

          Create good karma, positive relationships and act in a selfless manner and those around you will help you be more successful that if you try and fight for every last inch. His time as a free agent will come, and then by all means, ask for the moon.

          • Chongler

            I don’t think he has a contract with the Oil at this time, that’s why he is a free agent. Granted a restricted one, but still a free agent and can negotiate with any team that shows an interest.

            I think you are assuming a lot wrt what might unfold over the next few months and what Schultz’s and other player’s outlooks might be when things are resolved. I think a lot of people should take a valium and chill out for a few weeks.

  • piscera.infada

    Good article, but the first thing I thought of when I saw it was this: Doesn’t ON have any other photos of Justin Schultz?

    Wow does that close-up shot get used a lot. How about hitting up Oodle Noodle for some wire-photo money?

  • Randaman

    I think some of us saw this coming two years ago when he pulled the rug out from under the Ducks. I say trade him and be done with it. This will happen again after a bridge contract too

  • Nuggets

    If you want to turn the fan base against you in this town, the fastest way to do it is ask for or sign a unrealistic contract that you can’t possibly live up to.

    Just ask Horcoff.

  • yawto

    MacT has included Schultz as a core member of the team. I hope that doesn’t mean Jultz is expecting a 6mil contract. I like the potential upside of the kid but potential and reality are two very different things.

    • Bi-Curious Gord

      One of MacTs shortcomings has been his tendency to talk too much. Announcing to the world that he didn’t wanted Horcoff or Hemsky helped the Oil in what way? Specifying who he considers his core players are only weakens his negotiating position with Schultz.

      This situation may only be the warm up act if Yak has a reasonable bounce back year, say 55 points which would be comparable to RNH last year. Yak will reasonably be asking for something similar to RNH.

  • yawto

    JW. On another note. The recent invite of the Russian kid to training camp who has very favourable underlying #’s. Is this the first sign of the impact Tyler Dellow is having with the team.

    • socaldave

      Yup, as certain as the sun coming up in the east or finding Wanye staggering out of an Oodle Noodle at 02.45 on a Sunday morning, a couple of BL limes still in his cargo shorts

    • piscera.infada

      You make it sound like Schultz isn’t part of the core, when he is.

      If he were a throwaway D prospect and someone (laughably) like Diaz or McBain can replace him, he would have been moved by now.

      That MacT sees him as a vital player moving forward, and that he was pushed well ahead of the salary, role and playing time curve by the Oilers promising the moon to get him sign here as a UFA is why we’re here now.

      I hope both sides can get something done well before camp, and with a better overall team with a better coaching staff, I suspect he’ll silence all the doubters with his play.

      • Positive Ray of Sunshine

        I’ve been an Oiler fan for a long time and have seen a lot of whipping boys. Coffey, Carson, Klima, Arnott, Corson, Comrie, Horcoff, Hemsky and Gagner to name a few. Most of them were core players.