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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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


  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    I would trade for Dustin Buflyugien in a heartbeat. Good for 20G and 50pts. One of the best hitters(11th but missed 13 games) and volume shooters(4th in shots per game) among d-men and can park himself in front of the net on the powerplay. I hope this trade happens but he would need to re-sign here. If anyone of the young guys has attitude problems, Buff will throw their attitude in the shower.

  • R U Kidding Me!

    Can’t let him walk, instead just give him less minutes and less responsibility. He is young, dmen take time.

    3.7 next year won’t break us, but I’d go the extra mile and get that number lower through arbitration, to heck with his feelings, this club has given him enough.

  • beaterson

    Here are some defencemen that make within 200k of what Schultz makes:

    Travis Hamonic
    DEFENSEMAN $3,857,143

    Sergei Gonchar
    DEFENSEMAN $3,759,139

    Erik Johnson
    DEFENSEMAN $3,750,000

    Mark Fayne
    DEFENSEMAN $3,625,000

    Francois Beauchemin
    DEFENSEMAN $3,500,000

    Would you say he’s worth the money?

  • Mason Storm

    Buy out Nikitin, pair Schultz and Marincin as the 5/6 guys, Fayne on the 2nd pair and Klefbom on the 1st. Then Chia has his work cut out for him filling in the blanks. Also Ference as the #7

    • PEBOisONit

      The issue for me is that Brandon Davidson is better than JS. The other issue for me is that Darnell Nurse is better than JS. IMO. I think DN blows our socks off in September and makes this team.

      I’m sorry but if I can get Dion Phaneuf for JS I’d do that in a heartbeat. Paired with DN or Klefbom as a mentor.

      I think Lowetide has the right idea about Ference. I see him being bumped up into some role in the organization.

      If I am going into the summer I am targeting Jay Bouwmeester.There is not a chance St Louis can keep that team together with Tarasenko needing a significant raise.

      I could see a scenario where the Oilers trade MM for JB.

      I also see PC magic wand buyout NN.

      I also see TP being shipped out in a draft day deal.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    MacT chose to pay Nikitin instead of Petry, let the latter walk for nothing, and now the two best options for Schultz are either trading him or letting him walk for nothing as well.

    Holy moly.

  • Bucknuck

    Everyone says Defense take longer to develop. He needs to have four d in front of him so that he is hungry for minutes. So the coach can sit him when he jultz’s. If he buys in the guy has a lot of talent. I think he will be a player… and if they trade him for nothing they will live to regret it.

    I just remember his two points/game in the AHL and I know there is more than we saw this year. The guy just needed his ice time diminished and some real feedback…

  • TheBirdOfAnger

    SOFT physically

    SOFT mentally (even worse!)

    Be tough to lowball him when the word ‘Norris’ has been whispered into his ears

    Addition by subtraction. Entertain offers-cut bait

    Bobby Orr in the AHL – Cam Barker in the NHL

  • Do whatever it takes to get rid of him.

    Its not just his poor defense awareness/ability its the fact that he doesn’t give a damn. How many times has this guy skated away from scrums or neglected to stand up for his teammates? He has no heart. Period.

    I agree JW, I would let him walk too if it comes to that. $3.6 mill can get you better than a 5/6 PP specialist. Its not like we sacrificed anything to get him anyway.

  • as much as I hated Schultz’s game last year I fell it’s unfair to just disregard him as a player unless he fails while being surrounded by good veteran defenceman, like Nashville or Winnepeg did. As much potential klefbom has, he won’t bail Schultz out when he makes a mistake and Schultz isn’t capable of bailing klef out. Id say sign schultz and bring in veteran defenceman to support him.

  • Johnnydapunk

    My goodness a trade for Byfuglien would be a trade of champions! His hitting alone would make players think twice before coming near any of the Oil scorers.

    I still remember his hit on Gazdic (not sure if Gazdic remembers it) and it was clean and stupidly hard, the Oil need more of that, soooo much more of that.

  • Bucknuck

    WHat to do with JS you ask J?

    I would sign him to a similar deal of one year provided he agreed to the following:

    Spend some valuable time in the GYM and lift some weight with Hans and Franz until you look like a NHL player.

    Shoot a hundred pucks ……….slapshots only until you can raise the puck!

    Learn to hit……..it’s not that hard but you have to commit to the process.

    Watch some Don Cherry videos ……..hockey is a violent game so propare accordingly.

    If he can do the above mentioned, sign him other wise the KHL is littered with Justin Schultz type players!

  • freelancer

    I have no problem trading Schultz however it’s important to keep in mind that this team lacks right handed defencemen and is in desperate need of adding at least two top D. If we trade Schultz without any D coming back we’re just digging a deeper hole. If we could bring in two vets who can play a top pairing, possibly pair one of them with Justin. I would be comfortable with that.

  • TheBirdOfAnger

    Hows about we actually handle an asset properly rather than throw him to the wolves then whine and complain how he can’t hack it?

    We need to see what kind of player we have without MacT’s biases and playing with a pairing mate who can skate and clear the crease, and with forwards that help out on D.

    He reminds me of Gilbert, so good in the offensive zone but so weak in the D-zone and every mistake looks bad. And Schultz is still younger than Gilbert when he broke into the league…

    Too soon to throw the baby out with the bath water. How about we dump Ference and Nikitin instead and bring in some veteran help who can defend.

  • Kevwan

    If the Oilers saw a 24 yr old D man that averaged 30pts/yr in 2 1/2 seasons, with the pedigree of Schultz, they would probably try to acquire him.

    Everyone forgets that he came into the league the same time as Yak. 1 1/2 of his 2 1/2 seasons were under the MacT – Eakins reign of error. He was thrown in over his head playing 1D role when he should have been 5/6.
    I thought he showed some improvements under Nelson and he was good with Krueger.

    Sure he’s overpaid. But he needs to be kept and used properly. Let’s see if he can turn things around under a veteran coach. No reason he can’t resurrect his career like Yak and Lander have. If he doesn’t – then let him go

    • I think the issue is a combination of both cap and urgency. Yak turned his game around sure, but his attitude, desire, and work ethic were never really in question. All he needed to do to ‘turn it around’ was find his scoring touch, and not be a complete defensive disaster.

      Schultz, on the other hand, would need to suddenly become a much better defenseman, and also play like he gives a crap. He might be able to produce further offence, and maybe not be so bad if put in the right role, but I think the team has had ample time to see what kind of effort they can expect from Schultz. And at 3.675 mill and 9 years out of the playoffs, the team just doesn’t have the time or money top wait for him to maybe be the player they need. Especially in a summer when so many better and cheaper options look to be available.

      • Kevwan

        I agree 100% that he need to be better and to do that he needs to be used better.

        Schultz spent 1831 minutes total TOI last year. The next closest D was Fayne at 1327. He was ridiculously over used and given the state of the team had an almost zero chance of success.

        I agree that 3.675 is steep but if the Oilers take him to arbitration I’m not convinced he get’s a huge cut. How do you argue that he’s worth less than Fayne (3.625/yr) when he played 37% more -It’s a difficult case for Chiarelli. The best hope is for a contract like Yak’s.

        If the money can get figured out I’d like to keep him.
        I saw a player there under Krueger – I think he’s still there.

  • justin is NOT a young player any more. He has been in the league for over 200 games. He will be over 25 when the new season starts. Any true Norris player at this point in their careers are established. justin’s compete level is only in the o-zone and that is not even close to the top pointer getters in the league especially when he plays the easiest minutes.