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?

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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:

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  • 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).

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


    • bradleypi

      Lol that’s a joke right? Oilersnation HATES Schultz! I’m on the fence about him. I think with a good partner he would be ok. I definitely wouldn’t qualify him. I’d throw a low ball offer at him. If he doesn’t sign before the season starts I’d try to move him. 2 mill/year for 2 years is all I’d offer. I’m sure oilersnation would be happy to get “magic beans” for him. Or just let him walk as the 1st commenter said. Which imo is pretty bad for business letting 24 year old hockey players walk for nothing, but welcome to the armchair gms of oilersnation.

      • furious_tiberius

        you cant pay him less than he is already making. unless we go arbitration and they cut his salary by 15%. he either stays the same or gets a raise, and nobody with a brain gives him a raise

      • Dwayne Roloson 35

        Can he get better though? I wouldn’t mind overpaying him on a bridge contract to see if he can. He’s only at game number 203 of his career.

        I would prefer to overpay jultz than to pay Nikitin. Only if there are no decent trades available.

        • Been overpaid since he arrived which I am sure his agent orchestrated, information has not been released, but I would imagine it was something like this.
          I want 1st line minutes, I want #1PP time, I want to be paid higher than the amount I contribute. Don’t kid yourself, his agent picked Edmonton for several reasons, all of which Mac-t bent over and succumbed to his demands. If we had had a REAL NHL GM at the time, his agent would have been told to pound salt.At this point in time he had not even signed or worn the jersey.

        • toprightcorner

          That’s what MacT did last year and look where it got us. The only bridge Schultz should get is a short one and he can take a long walk. Or trade him for another bad contract on a cap team but can fill a hole. Phaneuf maybe if we add a late pick. Would have to add quite a bit to get Bufuglien I would guess.

        • bradleypi

          But nikitin is already overpaid according to oilersnation and yourself, so you’re solution is to just overpay everybody? Justin has to know his value has declined. There’s no way he should get paid more than yak imo. If he doesn’t want to take 2-2.5mill/2 years then you look at moving him. Pete isn’t going to overpay a struggling young defenceman. I’m sure of that.

          • CMG30

            The Oilers can’t offer Schultz $2-2.5m.

            According to the CBA the minimum offer the Oilers can make Schultz is what they gave him this year. That would be $3.675m… Unless they drag him to arbitration. Even then the arbitrator can only reduce that by 15%, leaving him making ~$3.2m.

            I do agree with you that trade makes the most sense. Better that the team gets a bag of pucks for him than nothing.

          • Joe Mamma

            No, technically they can offer him an extension at any value prior to July 1. When he becomes an RFA, he must be given a qualifying offer as per the CBA. If he refuses the extension and is not qualified, he becomes a UFA.

    • Serious Gord

      He has negative value. And due to contract renewal issues he has more negative value for the oilers than any other team.

      I agree, trade him for what ever you can get, but that can’t be much a late, late pick perhaps.

  • 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.

  • Señor Frijoles

    I think this is a poor article when you consider that Shultz was used in a horrible swarm style defence. Had a brutal coach. And no real 1-2 defencemen to learn from. Yes his signing may look poor. But I rather sign him to the qualifying offer and see if “new NHL coach” can develop his skills. This kid was not sought after by the ducks for no reason. There are potential up sides that are not scene. I say give a 1 yr pass on the player and see what happens. Eakins coached Shultz is not enough to write off the player.

      • R U Kidding Me!

        i agree completley and dubnyk is a great example of this, just gonna be a tough sell on both sides of negotiations. the problem started with mact paying him for potential then not providing him with the best chance to succeed. eakins played a big part in that too!!

    • No less an authority than Todd Nelson told me the hue and cry over the swarm was overblown. The swarm is one component of defensive zone coverage and while it didn’t work it’s not like Eakins stuck with it for the entirety of his tenure or that it explains everything that ails the Oilers.

      Do coaching and mentoring deserve blame? Quite possibly. But people forget that Schultz was lousy at evens under Krueger and Nelson, too, and that the veterans he’s played with (Nick Schultz, Andrew Ference) have had success since with other partners.

  • Señor Frijoles

    I get that you don’t like Shultz and I definitely get that he needs to take a pay cut to be considered a valuable asset, but he’s 24(!) years old and has shown some real flashes of excellence. He’s also suffered under the new-coach-every-year syndrome since he went pro and since we’ve been firing those coaches regularly, it seems at least possible that some of the blame for Shultz’s slow development could rest with them, no? He’s 24!

    The article loses all credibility when it’s suggested that trading Justin for Phaneuf might be a good idea. Phaneuf with his – anchor around the Leafs neck – contract, is a better option than a still developing Shultz. I like reading your stuff Mr Willis, but the anti-Schultz bias on this one is blinding you to reason.

  • Paq Twinn

    How about a 2-way contract?

    If he doesn’t perform, put him waivers. He’d be a good player in wherever the Barons are next year. Or someone else will pick him up. Either way, not a financial burden.

  • Bloodsweatandoil

    I think Shultz is a keeper, he just needs a bit more seasoning.

    My old boss took me out for dinner when I was in Vancouver working for another company. I was all proud to tell him about my quick advancement at the new place I was at. As I looked to him and asked what he thought if me he said that I needed some seasoning. So I asked him what he meant..

    ” look at these salt and pepper shakers. You are like that seafood pasta in front of you. The only thing missing is the salt and pepper. The seasoning.And the only way you get seasoning is over time. So your on the right track, your meal is made, but you still need a bit of seasoning”

    Of course like a jackass I half jokingly said , what you mean is I need grey hair!??

  • 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.

  • paul wodehouse

    Now that our pond hockey days are over. Time to get rid of the softies and acquire some character. Six rings knew a thing or two about winning- right !…..lol. I can assure you Chiarelli knows a thing or two about character.
    Shultz will be gone and packaged with Eberle to get help on D. How about both to Boston for D. Hamilton and A. Mcquaid.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Ready to Win

    I don’t think you can answer what the right thing to do with Schultz is without also answering what is being done with Ference and Nikitin as ideally the Oilers will only have one of those three in the line up come October.

    My first choice would be that the Oilers keep Schultz, because there is more hope that he will improve. I would offer him two years at 2.5 mil/year and if he turns it down then file for arbitration.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • utarded

    With McDavid coming in do really need jultz? He is a scarey offensive defenceman at best, but he hasn’t been at his best enough. Sell him down stream for a solid stay at home D. McDavid can handle the offence

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • A-Mc

    I would never let him walk. If i couldnt sign him to something lower then i’d Sign him for 2-3 years at qualifying offer, then trade him for something better for the team, eating part of the salary overpay.

    Any player on a 1 year deal or in the final year of their contract, is not going to get you much in terms of return. It’ll be 2-5th round picks. So i would look to trade him with atleast 2+ years under contract; knowing that i’d likely need to eat some of the salary (500-800k/yr) to bring the contract down to something of value.

    The goal is to flip schultz for a guy you actually want or need.

  • 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.