What should Peter Chiarelli do with Justin Schultz?

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Justin Schultz is a restricted free agent. His last contract paid him $3.675 million on a one-year deal, and he probably isn’t worth the money but it’s awfully difficult to sign him for less now.

The Oilers’ new general manager, Peter Chiarelli, will need to decide how to proceed, and there aren’t any really easy answers.

The Options

Peter Chiarelli2

As always the “I’m not a lawyer” caveat applies here, but after looking through the relevant sections of the collective bargaining agreement I believe Chiarelli essentially has five options:

  • Negotiate a new contract prior to the qualifying offer deadline of June 25.
  • Trade Schultz to another team prior to the qualifying offer deadline of June 25.
  • Issue a qualifying offer of $3.675 million.
  • Take Schultz to club-elected arbitration in lieu of a qualifying offer.
  • Issue no qualifying offer and don’t take Schultz to arbitration, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Before making a decision, we need to get a good read on Schultz’s actual value. Schultz plays heavy minutes at even-strength and on the power play but has virtually no role on the penalty kill. How much value does he bring in those disciplines?

Schultz’s Value: Power Play

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It’s probably necessary to write a multi-piece series to fully evaluate where Schultz ranks among power play defencemen, so this is of necessity a bare bones description.

Schultz has some real strengths. His best attribute is probably his playmaking vision; he generally leads the Oilers’ zone entries and is adept at distributing the puck from the point position. He’s a good skater and has a good wrist shot. He’s a right shot, which matters. His greatest weakness is that he lacks a cannon from the point and as a rule last season teams didn’t worry too much about the point shot when they defended against the Oilers’ power play.

There are a lot of numbers I could dig into, but I’ll focus on one: points per hour. Using War on Ice, I created a list of every defenceman to play at least 150 minutes on the power play since 2012-13 and then ranked them by point production. Schultz has scored 3.75 points/hour over that span, a figure which ranks him No. 41 of 109 options. If we compare him strictly against first unit power play guys (for these purposes, players averaging 2.5 minutes/game or more) his comparables are as follow:

  • Slava Voynov: 3.84 points/hour (2.57 TOI/game)
  • John Klingberg: 3.83 points/hour (2.93 TOI/game)
  • Dion Phaneuf: 3.76 points/hour (3.34 TOI/game)
  • Justin Schultz: 3.75 points/hour (3.13 TOI/game)
  • Alex Goligoski: 3.71 points/hour (2.68 TOI/game)
  • Cam Fowler: 3.64 points/hour (2.78 TOI/game)
  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson: 3.62 points/hour (3.88 TOI/game)

Schultz is also in the range of players like Dan Boyle and Alex Pietrangelo (they rank slightly higher) and Lubomir Visnovsky and Drew Doughty (they rank slightly lower). It’s a good place to be. The Oilers’ power play has had some ups and downs during Schultz’s time in Edmonton but on balance this strikes me as a reasonable ranking. At No. 41 Schultz is a legitimate top power play option or an awesome second unit weapon.

Schultz’s Value: Even Strength

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I’m going to lead with Schultz’s primary strength: offence. All the things that make him a good power play option apply to even-strength as well; there aren’t a lot of defencemen you’d rather see trailing the attacking forwards on an odd-man rush. Among the 192 defencemen who have played 1,500 even-strength minutes since 2012-13, Schultz ranks No. 56 in terms of points/hour (0.82, in the same range as Paul Martin and Brent Seabrook).

That ability also helps him in the defensive zone. Schultz had a nasty campaign in 2014-15 in terms of taking/making a pass, regressing significantly in those areas, but over the bulk of his NHL career he’s been adept at moving pucks out of his own end of the rink and that has significant value.

He also has major warts. At 6’2”, 196 pounds he has average size but regrettably doesn’t play a remotely physical game; he has a good stick but if the pokecheck doesn’t work he’s next to useless at taking the puck away from an opponent (he’s so infamous for this that Twitter’s Cameron Thomson coined the phrase “to jultz”, meaning to reach awkwardly for the puck with one hand on the stick; the term caught on quickly in Oil Country). He cheats for offence, often getting caught up ice, and his defensive positioning isn’t great even when he’s back. I lost track of the number of times he failed to take the cross-ice lane away on a two-on-one; at some point one would assume he’d figure it out just based on repetition.

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Shift length is an issue, too. Schultz averaged 27.0 shifts per game and played 22:36 per night; for the sake of contrast Mark Fayne averaged 26.6 shifts per game and just 17:56 per night. Some of that relates to usage (power play vs. penalty kill) but Schultz just doesn’t seem good at taking advantage of opportunities to get off the ice.

Numbers-wise, Schultz doesn’t come across well. I did an in-depth comparison to Jeff Petry last season; this year I’ll do the same thing but this time to Mark Fayne. Statstics used here come from the marvelous hockeyanalysis.com

Firstly, it’s important to realize that Schultz has a massive advantage in terms of the teammates he plays with. Schultz spent 42.6 percent of his ice-time this year with the quintet of Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Benoit Pouliot and David Perron. Fayne spent just 35.5 percent of his time with that group. They spent a comparable amount of time with middle-tier forwards, with Schultz having a slight edge there. The difference was made up with fourth-line/fringe NHL types. Schultz spent just 23.7 percent of his ice-time with Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks and the AHL crew; Fayne spent fully 33.4 percent of his time with that group.

Schultz spent a lot of time with good players and Fayne didn’t. Fayne also faced top-pairing opponents while Schultz came in sixth among regular Oilers defencemen, ahead of only Keith Aulie. Given quality of competition/teamamtes effects, if Schultz and Fayne were identical players we’d expect Schultz to out-perform Fayne by a wide margin when paired with the same partner. What actually happened?

4.28.15 Schultz v Fayne

  • Both Nikita Nikitin and Andrew Ference were much better with Fayne than Schultz, despite starting far more frequently in the defensive zone with Fayne.
  • Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin and Keith Aulie all posted better Corsi numbers with Schultz, but under far less trying circumstances. Ignoring the big advantages in quality of opposition and teammates that Schultz enjoyed, that trio averaged an 8.8 percent Corsi bump but also a 20.2 percent zonestart bump.
  • Digression: I’ve never understood why Marincin/Schultz hasn’t been tried for any length of time in the NHL. They were a very good AHL pair in 2012-13 and they’ve been great in cameos together in the majors.

There’s some room for interpretation in those numbers, but as I read them Fayne looks like a much better defenceman than Schultz. Despite playing with less capable forwards, against better opponents and getting buried with shift after shift starting in the defensive zone, Fayne had better results than Schultz with two of five partners.

Mileage is going to vary, but at this point I have difficulty concluding that Schultz is any better than a No. 4 option at even-strength, and frankly I’m skeptical he’s even that. Ideally, I think he’s a third-pairing offensive specialist at evens and a top-unit power play defenceman.

Schultz’s Value & the Oilers’ Options

So, what do the Oilers do?

Schultz isn’t worth $3.675 million, so issuing a qualifying offer would be a non-starter for me. Arbitration is a better answer but still isn’t great because the arbiter can’t knock his contract value down more than 15 percent ($3.124 million), and arbitration not only tends to open up rifts between players and teams but also won’t necessarily result in a salary deduction.

Signing Schultz to a contract prior to arbitration stinks, too, because he knows he’s not getting less than that $3.124 million number and his agents still doubtless dream of a big year on the power play and big dollars in the future.

Walking away is difficult because Schultz is a young player with some upside and a bad defence won’t be made better by losing assets for nothing.

The best option for the team, in my view, is to trade the player. The return won’t necessarily be great, but it can probably help. Options might include a player like Dustin Byfuglien (a year away from free agency with a $5.2 million cap hit and a turbulent history in Winnipeg) or Dion Phaneuf (a good defenceman who has a tough $7.0 million cap hit until 2021). Ideally the Oilers would have moved Schultz last year, but it’s too late to worry about that now.

Peter Chiarelli should aggressively shop the player. Failing a trade, all he has are options so bad that just walking away might legitimately be the best of them.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Serious Gord

    I would hope all of our “core players” take the management change to heart. 2 weeks ago Mact comes out and says they are all safe (play like shat)we aren’t moving any of you. Things have changed big time, it’s time to take the knot out of their panties or they will be gone. No more Norris bs, this time it’s real girls!

  • Serious Gord

    If you want to keep him, you have to be able to make him stronger. He loses every net-front battle. He has to, at least, achieve average NHL strength. I imagine that would help with his shot power too…

  • Serious Gord

    why overpay him there are better options for the same dough.

    What’s neauseating is that in arbitration his agent would cite the minutes played and the “Norris potential” cudos.

    I have little doubt that Mact would have signed home to a couple years at the near four mill range. I have much higher hopes that chiarelli will treat him in a more cold-blooded / lest vested way.

  • sportsjunkie007

    “I lost track of the number of times he failed to take the cross-ice lane away on a two-on-one…”

    I’m constantly amazed at how many guys like Schultz make it all the way to the NHL without ever learning basic defensive tactics. I learned how to take the pass away when I was 12 years old. There’s simply no excuse for any player (even forwards) to not know this.

  • hagar

    Kick him to the curb. There is no room for hoping someone so horrible at his job will finally show improvement.

    He might do good somewhere else, but this is pro sports, and if he is as bad as he is now, he is a liability on the new oilers plan.

    It’s not like he is kinda crappy, he is horrible. With a 3.5 mill hit, it’s not like it’s a value bet to keep him around.

    The more weeds that can be removed from this team the better. It will allow the new gm to have money to get a fresh start, and build the team the way he thinks it should be.

  • Zarny

    The Jultz situation will be interesting. “Norris potential” has left the building and the team is not in a good position.

    I wouldn’t let Jultz walk for nothing. His 31 pts was 50th for D scoring. I don’t think I’d let anyone ranked in the top 60 walk for nothing.

    Trade is certainly an option but I’m inclined to believe the Oilers would win in arbitration. Schultz at 3.124M is palatable.

      • Zarny

        Yes, the Oilers do need defense.

        The Oilers also need scoring from the blueline. It’s critical in today’s game. Go check out Calgary if you want to see what offense from the blueline gets you.

        Schultz shows up on the 2nd page (rank 31-60) for D scoring in the league on NHL.com. The page starts with Daley, Hedman and Suter and finishes with Jones, Campbell and Klein.

        I wouldn’t let anyone on that 2nd page walk for nothing. Full stop. The key isn’t to let Schultz walk for nothing. The key is utilize him properly.

        • Bucknuck

          Excellent comment, and one I agree with completely. You can’t teach offense, but they say you can teach positioning. If the guy isn’t playing half the game maybe he will start paying attention to his “lessons”.

  • hagar

    We are talking 8 freaking million dollars in cap space between shultz and nikitin!! 8 million!!

    8 million dollars a year gets you a dman that will be on the ice almost half of the game!!

    I say screw him.. the time of ineptitude is over.

  • hagar

    Zarny, I don’t necessarily agree with you. Sure he had 31 points, but he was still -17! For that kind of money, wouldn’t you hope for a guy who could have positive numbers?

  • I Remember the Orange Jerseys

    Personally, I don’t think Schultz will ever be worth more than $2.5M a year, but here’s hoping he proves me wrong.

    If Schultz is still an Oiler come September, my hope is that Chiarelli has worked enough magic that he’s no higher than number 5/6 on the depth chart, and second power play unit.

    • hagar

      Or that the entire team feeds off the new changes, and turns things up a notch. That is my big hope.

      That goes for everyone that seems to shut down randomly from game to game. I am picturing a glorious revival of everyone’s skills.

      Call it a hunch, but now that this tumor has been lanced, and the players are now accountable for their actions, things will change team wide.

  • hagar

    Without MacT making press conferences 100 percent guaranteeing everyone’s jobs no matter how bad they are, it has to change.

    Mact has ruined lots of these guys’ servival instinct saying they have a job no matter what they do. You can’t have a motivation based job like a hockey player, and think you are untouchable.

    • Gretzkin

      That’s my point exactly. Why try harder when you have been told your job is safe no matter your performance. I hope “the core” realizes that if they want to be a part of the “Conner era” they need to earn it or else. Next years developmental year is out the window. Now is the time to prove you have what it takes. The lazy back check/line change better be a thing of the past!!

  • S cottV

    Buyout or Bury Nikitin and Ference. Then go all out for 2 x 2nd pairing D men. (Sekera/Martin come to mind. pair up Klefbom and Fayne with Sekera and Martin. And then play Schultz with Marincin on the 3rd pairing. Cut Schultz’s min’s back to avg 3rd pairing min’s with primo PP time. PUMP AND DUMP after that. Because we got Nurse all seasoned up in the AHL by then.

  • Gretzkin

    I often wonder why they don’t make players like Jultz wingers.
    He’d make a near lethal 3rd line sniper and could still play the point on the 1st or 2nd PP Unit.
    That deployment would do wonders to his value.
    I could be wrong.

  • S cottV

    Trade him – he is a MacT mirage of Coffey and it isn’t going to work out.

    Oilers need to start playing for real, instead of this nitro glycerin crap that Shultz embodies so unfortunately well.

    I know – I get it – d men take longer to develop and the whole bit, but no – Shultz doesn’t have it.

    There are 29 other teams, so 1 or 2 of them – probably believe in the mirage. So – trade him.

    And we blew off Petry for Nikitin and Shultz? Omg.

  • Anton CP

    I still think that Oilers can sign Schultz to one year qualifying offer. It will not hurt the cap room for one year, trading away Schultz will not get any return whatsoever at his current value. If he can be able to perform better than this year with new coach and new teammates or even a new position then his trade value will go up.

  • PEBOisONit

    Letting him walk isnt an option so sure try and trade him. The problem is he plays the right side so if we lose him we’re really getting short on that side. We absolutely need several d-men to fix our blueline and it might be tough to get many this summer.

    The back up option is keep him for a year, let him get some easy points passing the puck up to McDavid and trade him at the deadline.

  • freelancer

    Toronto is in full rebuild mode, we want more talented vet presence on our blueline. If a deal could be made that results in Schultz going to Toronto for Phaneuf, as well as Toronto retaining some salary that could be a good start. Phaneuf would be great on a second pairing and first PP. One would think Toronto would be interested in the possibilities of Gardiner and Schultz playing together again.

    For me it comes down to if a deal like that is possible, I would rather have Phaneuf at 3.5 mil than Schultz.

  • AJ88

    Many teams were interested in JS before he came to the Oilers, he lit it up in the AHL, he has struggled in the NHL to date under a team that has been dysfunctional to say the least.

    With new management and a new direction I say qualify him and see if he turns things around. I don’t think there is any question he is a much better player than most on ON agree on. You are not going to get much for him via trade at this time anyways.

    • BigMcD

      He should not be the number one go to guy. Get someone else on this team and let him follow and learn the game , be it from a top rank dman or a coach that knows how to work with a guy of his talents.

  • Oilcounty88

    I don’t believe that trading this player for a bad contract is a good idea. I’d compare Schultz to Mike Green in Washington who for years people talked about what a terrible defenceman he was because he was forced to play big minutes against top lines. Washington brought in Orpik/Niskanen to handle the tough minutes and allowed Green to take more offensive starts and power play time. Green has had his best season in years because of this. We need to start using players in positions where they can succeed instead of throwing them to the wolves. Part of being a good GM is signing players to good contracts and this is a big test off the hop for the new GM.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    Sign the kid for 5 years at 3 million per. There is a player there but he is not a first line D-man. Over time 3 mil per will be wonderful if the cap stays strong. I would like to offer 2 Mil per but we have that issue of a contract at present.