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


  • Petrolero

    I think Schultz’s fate with the oilers will largely depend on two factors:
    What the new coach thinks he can get out of the player (one more reason why the new coach needs to be in place asap) and what happens with the rest of the d corps.

    Looking only at Schultz I agree the best options are to either trade him or walk away. In the first case I see it difficult because the other team will face the same conundrums, unless it is a rebuilding team with a ton of cap space. The second case, letting him walk sounds like a waste but if it frees cap to get a better asset then it is worth it.

    If we look at Justin within the context of the whole d corps, chiarelli will first need to decide what to do about nikitin. I assume ference will be counted on to instill the new philosophy given the history bet him and the new poho back in Boston. I think id chiarelli.needs the cap space, he wont hesitate to scratch Schultz off one way or another.

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    Shoot him into the sun

    He won the AHL rookie playing with Hall and Nuge. That hurt him more than help him. Had that not happened, his weakness would have been exposed earlier and he could have had to spend more time in the AHL.

    His own reputation is what hurt him the most.

  • Gordie Wayne

    Jonathon, are you saying a trade of Jultz for Buff would work straight across???

    If this is possible, then Chia should have phoned Winnipeg yesterday to get this deal done.

    Did Buff already gain 30 pounds in the off season or am I missing something here? 🙂

    Just wondering…

  • Tough to say with Schultz. I mean here’s a team playing a developing asset higher up in the batting order than he merits and giving him far more minutes than he could obviously handle. He was set up to fail from the beginning. That’s gotta shatter whatever confidence he had.

    The Jultz was strong with this one but I have to wonder how good he really is with proper on-ice management. I swear to god I saw him almost cry a few times this year he was so afraid to make a mistake (which inevitably leads to making a mistake).

  • Boom76

    Was watching a late-80’s Oilers-Flames game on YouTube at Christmas and we were blown away by our D’s size and ferocity. One multi-player tussle along the boards had Steve Smith grab a Flames’ hair and bash his head against the glass. I want D-men like that. I don’t think you can “teach” that. I want glass-eating defenseman that will make Ferland look over his shoulders for years. Jultzing should be banned in the McJesus era. I say get whatever draft picks or glass-eaters you can.

  • Why would anyone take him in a trade? Unless Winnipeg is stupid and really wants to ditch Byfuglien for an inferior, slightly cheaper guy…

    I say offer him Yakupov’s deal and if he says no, let him hit free agency. I bet he doesn’t get a better deal out there. I also bet that he sees the value of sticking with this team for a little longer and cashing in on the big improvements a little later. Of course if Detroit offered him some money, he may be better off there.

    I want Andrej Sustr. I think he’s gonna be great in a couple years. He’s an RFA and I wonder if Tampa would trade him for inexpensive picks/prospects.

  • Darth Oiler

    If I remember my CBA correctly a team can walk away from the decision of the arbitrator and let him be a UFA then? So would arbitration not buy the team time to explore other options?

  • 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.

  • Trade him if you can or package him in a deal.

    The negatives heavily out weigh the positives on this player.

    He chose us yes, oh well that doesn’t mean he has a free ride. This is a performance based business.

    And yes he wouldn’t be the first young, smaller, puck moving Dman to be dropped in the last few years Right “Michael Del Zotto”

  • 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.

  • TheBirdOfAnger

    Here’s what I think to those who are talking about “suffering under the coach every year syndrome”. Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are suffering from the same syndrome. But they are still producing results. Schultz isn’t.

    • Señor Frijoles

      Are they? Is 40-60ish points a season really a good total for guys of their calibre at this point in their career? I’d suggest they are all much better than that but have not blossomed yet – what’s holding them back? Eakins is answer number one, and 5 different messages in 5 seasons is next.

  • 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.

  • Ready to Win

    Aren’t we going through a culture change? If so than the first part would be to get rid of the old problem(*cough Jultz and Nikitin). Resign Schultz than trade him. The rest of the league will see his value higher as they’ve never been Jultzed

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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

  • TheBirdOfAnger

    Would it be better to sign him to a two year contract at 6 mill (3 mill ) a year and tell him expect 3rd paring min. but first line and second line time on the pp.

  • clrsnldvc81

    Was Jultz even considered for Team Canada? NOPE…

    for good reason… Like many others have stated already, the biggest knock on him is his attitude…

    Just cause he picked the Oilers out of 30 teams, doesn’t mean he can “coast”

    We are trying to be contenders for the playoffs and if you have watched any playoff hockey there can’t be any coasting or else you’re bounced…

    The Jets played balls to the wall and still got swept… What do you think would’ve happened against our team in its current roster state?

    Jultz is crippling our defence and i would gladly walk away from him or trade him for a mid-to-late pick…

  • My first choice is to trade him and get what you can.

    If they decide to keep him, I’d like to see them go to arbitration. I don’t think they should worry about hurting his feelings—far better hockey players have gone through arbitration and they did just fine.

  • This organization has screwed up a lot of young talent. Justin was put in difficult situation. To much was asked of him. I think less minutes with a better core of defense would help to turn him around Like Roy did with Yak. I think he has lost his confidence.

  • Gretzkin

    My thoughts are go full corporate bottom line with this guy. See what you can get in trade. If you can get a better player out of free agency and use his cap hit to pay for that player, then let Schultz go for nothing. I think you could probably pull either Erhoff or Franson out of Free agency for less than 3.675mill. They both really devalued themselves this year. Franson looks like he needs a good left side D pair to be effective, and Erhoff didn’t look like he fit into the Pens system. He also had some injuries. If you could get Franson at 2 years for 2 mill or 2.5 then he’s an upgrade on Schultz in my book.

    Franson was 3.3 mill this year, got 36 points playing behind Weber, Jones, and Josi. He’s 27 at 6″3 and 213.

    Schultz was 3.675 mill, got 31 points in more games, is 24 at 6″2 and 188.

    Let Schultz walk, see if you can’t get 3 D. Martin, Erhoff, Franson. I know that’s a lot, especially with Nikitn on the books. But then you have:

    Martin – Erhoff

    Klefbom – Franson

    Ference – Fayne

    With Nikitn at number 7, and either marincin or Nurse as first call up.

    Might not make sense cap wise, but I still stand by Franson is an upgrade on Schultz in every way.

  • 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.

  • If anyone thinks PC is going to allow his team to play a freewheel style like they’ve been allowed thus far they’re sadly mistaken. Schultz wasn’t able to succeed given the play that suits him best that being zero accountability,can you just imagine Schultz actually required to play defensemen – I can’t. His fate was sealed the moment we got PC, we need the roster spot and $.

  • 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.

  • Johnnydapunk

    Jultz should not have to play 23 minutes a night. He is a 4 or 5 on a team with depth. (Much like Petry, Smid and Gilbert before him.) I’d offer a two year deal at 3.5 million.

    Try to push him down the line up, through free agent signings, and the trade market.( LA, Boston, and San Jose will be retooling, all are near the cap. )