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


  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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

    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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • freelancer

    Toronto is in full rebuild mode, we want more talented vet presence on our blueline. If a deal could be made that results in Schultz going to Toronto for Phaneuf, as well as Toronto retaining some salary that could be a good start. Phaneuf would be great on a second pairing and first PP. One would think Toronto would be interested in the possibilities of Gardiner and Schultz playing together again.

    For me it comes down to if a deal like that is possible, I would rather have Phaneuf at 3.5 mil than Schultz.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • hagar

    Kick him to the curb. There is no room for hoping someone so horrible at his job will finally show improvement.

    He might do good somewhere else, but this is pro sports, and if he is as bad as he is now, he is a liability on the new oilers plan.

    It’s not like he is kinda crappy, he is horrible. With a 3.5 mill hit, it’s not like it’s a value bet to keep him around.

    The more weeds that can be removed from this team the better. It will allow the new gm to have money to get a fresh start, and build the team the way he thinks it should be.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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”

  • 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.

  • 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..

  • 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.

  • Serious Gord

    why overpay him there are better options for the same dough.

    What’s neauseating is that in arbitration his agent would cite the minutes played and the “Norris potential” cudos.

    I have little doubt that Mact would have signed home to a couple years at the near four mill range. I have much higher hopes that chiarelli will treat him in a more cold-blooded / lest vested way.

  • 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.

  • 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.