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.

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


    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Johnnydapunk

    I would trade him for what I could get or let him go.

    Replace Justin with what is available as a new sign, even Jordan Oesterle, or someone else from the farm.

  • Francois Beauchemin and Cody Franson would be nice free agent signings. Offer Francois Beauchemin term. 3.5m per for 4 years and Franson 5.5 for 6 years buyout NN and help ferrence decide to retire. That will leave some cash to go goalie hunting. The more proven the better.

  • Kevwan

    Trade him , after you pair him with a very stable vet for 20 games
    next year where is value will increase. Trading Justin will NEVER come back to haunt you, E-V-E-R. He is not worth the dough you will need to pay me either. Just kidding. But he will never haunt this organization, of course i said that about Dubie… Yikes !

  • 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

    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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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

    Probably best to sign him for another year and see how he performs under a new GM and coach and system , before casting him off prematurely . Maybe a bridge contract ? If decision is to not go ahead with him then I would suggest letting other clubs put an offer sheet in for his services . If that offer sheet is over 3.364.391 then we would receive a 1st and 2nd round compensation . Chances are the offer sheet would probably be over that amount . If under only a 2nd rounder . Third option is to try and trade him . “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone ?” – song scenario .

  • Johnnydapunk

    Not sure what Chiarelli will do with him, but I suspect he doesn’t view him as a Norris candidate and I’m hoping he isn’t going to overpay him. My guess is that if Chiarelli has to overpay for a d-man, it’ll be for a real guy, not for Schultz.

    Let’s face it, Schultz was a FA acquisition only. The Oilers didn’t invest a draft pick in him, only a roster spot, cash and 3 seasons of ‘development’. If he won’t sign for what he’s worth, the Oilers should be prepared to move on.

  • Jultz doesn’t fit PC model moving forward as per press conference.

    Heavy, Hard, win puck battles, hard stick, Hard to play against..

    Whatever the case maybe, if you trade Schultz something good has to be coming back..

    If T.O eats Deon’s salary to the equivalent of Schultz salary I do that deal now.

    However, no way I trade RFA and UFA years for one year of Buff…

    I’d like to have big Buff too, but trades have to be make sense long term here..

    Buff contract is a short term solution.

  • 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!

  • 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.