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.

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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.

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.

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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

        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.

        • 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.

        • 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

      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

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • Tikkanese

    Barring a trade for another NHL defenseman, arbitration for short term is the best answer. If he turns it around, then he’ll have actual trade value, he will get paid and they’ll still own his rights. If not then they’ll only be stuck with him for a short time.

  • 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.

  • Mason Storm

    Hey Jonathon, any chance of Anaheim moving one of their young d-men? Lindholm, Vatanen, Despres all have one more cheap year left and it looks like they don’t have much coming up on offence besides Ritchie.

  • R U Kidding Me!

    Schultz would be a better asset on a defensively solid team…not the Oilers. What he brings to the table is not what they need right now. The Oilers defence have created the “where goalies come to die” environment and him taking off up the ice ahead of the forwards 5-6 times a game is a major contributing factor there. If they could make some sound acquisitions this summer he could be a viable keeper…but by then it may be too late. Take him to arbitration….if by the fall the platers aren’t in place….trade him. Or package him at the draft with a pick for a usable player.

  • 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.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Sign him for the least you can. I doubt he’ll take low ball contract when the minimum is more plus he could be looking at free agency. He’ll be overpaid but it shouldn’t affect the salary cap that much.

    He’s still young. Put him in a position to succeed. I’m thinking the Jeff Petry factor and that the overall team attitude will be better next season. He’s playing way more minutes than he should.

    I really believe that if management goes into the season planning to win, some of these young guy are going to pick it and it will make showing up for games more fun for the vets like Gordon, Hendricks and even Ferrence.

    If Schultz doesn’t get on board, get rid of him. Trade, waivers, whatever.

  • 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.

  • imo this is a tough desicion or contract to decide on. really its not chiarellis fault or justins that he makes as much as he does. mac t paid him for what he could be worth or maybe should be (??) worth and not what hes actually worth. if schultz would take same pay for 2yrs and chiarelli adds quality d for him to play with and be apart of he might end up being slighty underpaid. its a tough sell on both parties at this point and might just be best to trade him and get what u can.

  • Tony Montana

    Offer him 2 years at 5 million. (Yes I know he can potentially get more on a one year deal if he went to arbitration). However I have serious doubts he can get more than that on the open market, I also don’t know how many teams are going to give him a multi year deal. If he won’t sign the 2 at 5 million deal, trade him for whatever you can get, or let him become a UFA. You can still sign him after he becomes a UFA if you really value him. The risks of qualifying him far out weigh the rewards, and I say the odds of us regretting letting him walk are less than 1 in 10.

  • BobbyCanuck

    I suspect Peter Chiarelli may be thinking of some kind of blockbuster deal with a team that is way under the cap. This could speed up the play-off time line.

    By combining attractive assets with toxic assets, meaning the attractive asset is so attactive, the competing GM may actually think they hacve won the trade.

    Toxic?: Nikki,Jultz,Purcell….others?
    Attractive: Hall, Eberle

    There is a team out there, feeling that a lack of goal scoring cost them an early exit or did not even make the show.

    Or just say F** it, development year here we come, lets try to get a UFA or two and hope it works out, meanwhile in the pipeline we have defense and goalie that may or may not pan out as real NHL’ers.

    Worth waiting or worth a bold move?

    I don’t know

    • WTF2

      Hate to break it to ya but the numbers show that he makes other defense men worse regardless of the type. You can pair him with what every you want, the team wont be better with him on the ice.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Much like Dubnyk and Yakapov under Eakins, Shultz regressed and gave up a ton of five star chances and most came on the power play last year because he was the only D-man on the PP, can anyone say shorthanded goal city, i think we gave up the most Shorthanded goals this year and last year.

  • Consider before making another Dubnyk mistake, Schultz chose Edmonton over a lot of teams that were seeking his services. He is only one year from being recognized as one of the “Core” Oiler players and he is close to two years from his AHL accomplishments – defenceman of the year and leading the AHL in scoring during the NHL strike. Also, he no longer has Eakins or McTavish or Lowe to deal with.

    I feel the best answer is if we do not get a decent return on Schultz than offer him another Bridge contract to show he can improve and reach hios potential that many teams have seen in him.

    • Bucknuck

      While this make perfect sense, my feeling on Schultz is that he lacks heart. He has no hustle retrieving the puck and does not battle hard anywhere. Those aren’t coaching issues and can’t be taught.

      If he would take a pay cut bridge deal to prove us wrong then maybe. But if he doesn’t prove us wrong during his bridge contract, we lose what little trade value he has now.