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

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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


  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • S cottV

    I always taught this guy should have been something closer to a Karlsson.. when he first came on the team! Looks like his development went south and Karlsson the other way,

    They should have had similar styles of play, but like many before him Oilers are not very good a developing players.

    First Schultz was playing way to many minutes , heck he’s not even three years in league..vs Karlssons 6 [ however he did win the NOrris in his 3 rd year ]

    For some reason Schultz cannot pay attention to and work on details of his game. Should be better for a college grad.

    I would sign him @ $threeish for two years., and play him third line minutes and let him run, pair him with a real steady stay at home guy.

    PS get rid of that dam toothpick he calls a hockey stick, and work on your shot…

    Hope he is not just dumb and lazy..

  • 15w40

    Oilers are backed into a corner, overpaid on the last deal and due to the CBA are stuck.

    Sounds like no matter what happens with the arbitration, it will still be an overpay for what he is providing plus there is a huge amount of negativity just inherent to the process.

    Two options really IMHO. 1 year qualifying offer at the lowest amount possible and play him where he belongs in the line up (3rd pairing and PP) or trade him for the best return you can get.

    It makes zero sense to walk away for nothing even if the trade is for a 2nd round pick. If its for Byfuglien then you get that document into the NHL offices for sign off when they open tomorrow morning.

  • 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.

  • vetinari

    My take would be to offer him a Yakupov style bridge deal: 2 years at $2.5M/season. Give him until May 31st. If he rejects it, you shop the hell out of him or package him up for something bigger. If still no takers or reasonable offers, go to arbitration and knock him down if you can. Don’t care about burning goodwill as he will either straighten up, improve his gameplay and earn a better contract next time, or flameout and you walk away in a year. I

  • 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 !

  • 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.

  • Paq Twinn

    Pairing Schultz at reasonable number with vet on 3rd pairing, good. Pairing a 3.5 million dollar Schultz with anyone on 3rd pairing, BAD. JW summed it up best, “His salary exceeds his abilities”. It doesn’t matter who is paired with him, Schultz cannot handle the work load of a 3.5 million dollar defenceman. Trade or walk, after all we paid only dollars to aquire him in the first place.

  • 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…

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • paul wodehouse

    Sure Schultz is overpaid. If you can trade him for a Top D man in a reasonable age range go right ahead. But right now our defence is the laughing stock of the league and unless we can replace him with a better defender, plus add a higher end D man, we should sign him to a one-year deal at the same rate.

  • 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.

  • 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!??

  • Randaman

    Watching the Soo vs Erie game, one thing is clear. Nurse is the only reason it was 7-5 not 12-5. The second I turned on the TV Mcdavid got an assist. Can’t wait to watch both nest season

  • Reg Dunlop

    What a joy to watch Nurse, booed constantly by Erie fans, no Erie players go near him for fear of ‘the slash’. Playing against smaller, younger kids he is a BULLY; I imagine he will bring this skill to the oil in the next couple years.

    What to do with Schultz? Packaging him with Ebs will bring a return LESS than Ebs alone. Keep him on a bridge deal and play him 5/6 minutes with pp time and pray a lot.

  • O.C.

    Stop the Insanity!

    His 3.6 M contract is too rich so the solution is maybe trade for a guy that’s average and grossly overpaid for many, many years?

    If we pretended he was getting 2.6 million and someone else was overpaid by a million, that’s WAY better than screwing your cap for years with a D man that’s (allegedly) overpaid 2 to 2.5 million a year.