TAKE IT SLOW, TAKE IT EASY

PP

Back in Oklahoma, Justin Schultz was part of a wicked offensive juggernaut aided by the lockout and a plethora of elite-level help. Since arriving in the NHL, it’s been an up and down three years (well two years and 48 games) and the young man appears to be at a career crossroads. How can the Oilers help?

Justin Schultz is a high event defender, a ‘chaos’ blue as I like to call them. Chances at both ends of the ice, bodies flying everywhere, jailbreak, coach doing eye rolls, fans up in arms either way. Any fool can see the young man has jet skates and does some things extremely well (his quick jump from RH defense to the scoring zone on the back door play is a thing of beauty) but there are significant issues with Schultz as a player.

In his first two seasons, Schultz wasn’t given the majority of offensive zone starts and that was a mistake. Last season, 2014-15, Dallas Eakins and Todd Nelson pumped up the jam and the result was a positive possession number.

justin schultz fancy three trend

The negative on this graph? 22:36. Dallas Eakins appears to have decided (early in the season) to run Schultz when chasing the game (down by a goal or more, that happened a stunning number of times) and there were games when Schultz played 25 minutes a night. You and I can agree that it was too much, but when his job was on the line that was the decision.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Oilers and Schultz have one year to figure this out, and I don’t believe they’ll go long term if things don’t change in a quick hurry. Winning organizations put their young players in a position to succeed. We know this as Oilers fans, because we watched Craig MacTavish play hotshot draft picks in truly insane situations (anyone remember Jani Rita’s big chance coinciding with Scott Ferguson’s position change to LW? Same night, same line!) over the years.

Old Earl Weaver (Baltimore Orioles manages 1960’s to 1980’s) was a helluva guy. He was about four feet tall and grumpy even when sleeping. Earl believed in getting people on base and then getting them in via home run. He also believed in never allowing a pitcher to start until he was ready. Seriously. A Baltimore Orioles prospect would be groomed as a starter, project as a starter, act like a starter, but he was going to get time in the bullpen when Earl Weaver got him and he’d stay there until Earl Weaver felt he was ready. It was incredible, one of the most stubborn and consistent managing techniques in the game. Example: Mike Flanagan.

Hockey defensemen don’t have a bullpen but they do have third pairings and that’s the role Dallas Eakins used Schultz in last season (this was a change from 2013-14, suggesting a new strategy. I wonder if Tyler Dellow helped that along?).

Todd McLellan is the new coach and my guess is he’ll use Justin Schultz in a similar fashion but will also back off those large TOI totals. That much time is a tremendous amount of pressure for a still inexperienced defender and the Oilers should have played Jeff Petry more last season (hindsight being 20/20 and ignoring score effects) in my opinion.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

I go back to Peter Chiarelli’s original press conference and what he said about the kids:

  • Chiarelli: “Here it’s about the next stage of
    their development, there are some young kids that need to be put in
    their proper places, either here or in other leagues.

My guess is third pairing, veteran partner, let Klefbom develop with a veteran too. Look, it isn’t sexy but if NHL teams have spent a century nursing (sorry) young defensemen into the NHL with a veteran mentor alongside, maybe it’s a good idea! Right?

Give Justin Schultz 18 minutes a night with a veteran defender, facing the soft parade with plenty of Ozone starts, and power play time as available, and then see where you are next summer. This relationship may end anyway but at least you’ve given the player a real chance to succeed. Those Orioles pitchers bitched and moaned forever about Earl’s patience but those Baltimore teams brought a lot of good arms to the majors and a high percentage had solid to outstanding careers.

I know he’s not a rookie, I know he’s 25 and I know he’s making $3.9 million in the coming year. We should not expect a transformation defensively, he’s simply not a good player without the puck and lacks many of the tools associated with effective defense. He can improve his coverage and pay closer attention—there were times he was lost and looked disinterested a year ago—and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to add some urgency to his game after making an error. Marc-Andre Bergeron (as an example) worked like a bugger to get back into the play after screwing up, and that’s important to fans (and I’m sure the coach appreciates the attempt even if he’s still fuming about the mistake).

This is not a typical career progression but he’s here for 2015-16 and
putting him in a position to succeed may improve his trade value in the
spring—or maybe Todd McLellan unlocks the player enough for him to stay.  

MY THOUGHTS

Justin Schultz, third pairing, with a veteran mentor, playing the soft parade. It’s the right thing to do. Unless you can trade him this summer for a more reliable, established NHL defenseman. A team in need of cap relief might find $3.9 million attractive and may also feel they can apply the things we’ve discussed (veteran mentor, fewer minutes, more focus on power play) and find value there.

Edmonton will have chaos without Schultz but could improve dramatically by acquiring a more reliable player. With Schultz, they can improve the chaos by giving him a reliable veteran and reducing exposure to the NHL’s best opponents.

(Barons photo by  Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved)

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    For whatever reason, MacT and Lowe (and their coaches) casted Jultz as a top-pairing dman. Not Jultz’ fault that he isn’t one.

    Let’s see what he does when he’s correctly casts as a bottom-pairing, powerplay specialist. I’m optimistic.

    • bradleypi

      Optimistic or living in an oilersnation weaved dream world? You have to be on glue to think that they would give him a raise to 4mill just to reduce his ice time and not play him with the playmakers. Tell me oilersnation, if jultz isn’t part of the top pairing, then who is? Fayne? Gryba? I can wait to read these theories

  • Double Dees

    I am more prepared to have jultz quarterback the first ppu. I mean that first power play is gonna be sick. So many weapons. …

    First power play unit:

    Hall
    Mcdavid
    Yakapov
    Eberle
    Jultz

    Second unit:

    Pouliot
    Nuge
    Lander
    Purcell
    Sekera

    Many may not agree with all that skill on pp1 but we need goals. Fast goals. Umbrella with mcdavid and yak between jultz up top. One timer one side. Playmaker on the left. Hallsy in front. Eberle the floater.

    • Igor Ulanov 55

      The only problem with this 1PP is there is no one in front of the net. Lander was more than willing to get dirty in there late last season and did quite a good job. I would have him on the first unit and drop Ebs on the second unit. It would balance the two units better and take advantage of the insane chemistry between The Nuge and Ebs.

  • The Soup Fascist

    If there is not a substantial uptick in his overall play – under the tutelage of a veteran coaching staff – likely time to cut bait.

    Based on his interview with Gregor, he is saying all the right things, but c’mom, “going to play with an edge”??

    Love to see it, but not sure you turn a kitty cat into a lion.

  • Arod

    Great post Lowetide.
    Based on some of Justin’s comments after his signing and the belief that McLellan takes a different approach than Eakins did with him, we could be poised to see a very different Schultz experience this year. I get the impression that Justin knows his flaws just as well as anyone. I’m excited to see if he follows through with his comments and shores up the areas of his game that he needs to.

  • Igor Ulanov 55

    So what are the pairings then? Ference and Niki are clearly a 6D, but I think we can safely pair them with Shultz.

    Willis suggests that Klefbom and Jultz will be playing together next year in his Erhoff article. That’s not exactly a veteran presence. The Oilers have too many 6/7 D’s.

    • Lowetide

      I’d be tempted to have an established first pairing (Sekera-Fayne) and then run Klefbom with Gryba and Schultz with a veteran (suggested Jan Hejda this morning).

      The kids will push everyone out of the way eventually (kids: Nurse, Reinhart) but the Schultz signing probably means a year with those two getting recalls for injuries. Ideally you’d run Nikitin or Ference with Schultz but Niki has the bad back and AF struggled with Schultz in their time together.

      http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/showplayer.php?pid=568&withagainst=true&season=2013-15&sit=5v5

      • bradleypi

        Wow!! So you would run a top pairing d out there that had a grand total of 5 goals and 30 points between the TWO Of them???? And leave Schultz on the bench who had more goals and points than the two of them??? I think the last 9 years have driven oilersnation absolutely cookoo. Unbelievable!!!

        • The Soup Fascist

          You do know that first-pairing D is not the same as 1st powerplay unit, right?

          It would be great to have Doughty or Weber but we don’t. One of Schultz’s many issues was playing too many minutes 5 on 5.

          Force feeding him 1st pair minutes is not going to help him or the Oilers. That should be VERY believable.

          • bradleypi

            And that’s the problem. It’s YOU and oilersnation that think he played to many minutes. And you only think this cuz you don’t like him. You can’t honestly think that fayne would do a better job than Schultz on a top pairing. His +/- was almost double schultz’.and I completely disagree as usual that if your plan is to make him a top pairing dman then the ideal situation IS to force feed him top pairing minutes. How else is he going to learn what it takes? Burying him on the 3rd pairing is absolutely retarded. The Oilers have 6 guys that are way better suited for that roll. And if the plan is to play him on the 3rd pairing then why not just get rid of him? I guarantee that there are plenty of teams that would take him off Petes hands for sure

        • MacT's Neglected Helmet

          Last night you asked for statistical evidence that Schultz was not a good defenceman. You got it. Yet you still think that he is first pairing? Are you incapable of learning?

          • bradleypi

            So just because his advanced stats weren’t great on a team that rarely possessed the puck I’m supposed to believe he’s just garbage? Here’s a question for you… a little trivia. Who on the oilers defence had the most points and best +/- that played at least 80 games…. see to me those are the stats that matter if you’re an offensive defenceman. I’ll wait for your answer

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Anyone listen to his interview with Gregor yesterday? That was painful to listen to. His answers were incredibly generic.

    Paraphrasing here:

    Gregor: Are you going to try being more physical this year?
    Jultz: Uh… yea. That’s something that I’d like to add to my game.
    Gregor: How are you going to do that?
    Jultz: Well, I look up to a guy like Drew Doughty who has that edge to his game. I think that, um, if the team is more competitive, I’ll try to be more in the game.
    Gregor: Would you ever add a bit of a dirty or nastiness to your game?
    Jultz: That’s something that I would um consider. I’m not the type of guy that uh hits other players, but I’d like to be more in the game. It’s something that I’m working on.

    It was painful listening to him trying to BS his way through the interview. I don’t really blame him; I mean, 95% of NHLers interview in this generic manner. But man… Jultz isn’t even very good at it 😛

  • The three left shot defenseman Oilers have with experience are Ference, Sekera, and Gryba. Let’s say he’s on the third pairing. Do you put him with Gryba or Ference? [I’m ignoring Nikitin btw]

    I can’t see Sekera on the third but ultimately it might be best for Schultz education. That then leaves the top two weak and a third pairing that looks like a first. Gryba is built like a brick poop house which could be good, but I feel Ference is the better defender. Who do you put on that third pairing with Sir Jultz?

  • Spoils

    it would be nice if ::::: Nikitin bounced back. Schultz took a step forward. Klefbom continued to progress. Ference didn’t fade as fast…

    Too many IFs. We need a #1D.

    Sekera -#1D
    Klefbom – Fayne
    Gryba- Schultz
    Ference

    Nikitin bought out or traded eating salary. Nurse and Griff in the AHL all year.

    • fran huckzky

      Yesterday you said that the Oil should be trying to obtain OEL or Seth Jones or Victor Hedman. I think your plan is amore than a little unrealistic/ Are you proposing we trade Nuge and Hall to land your dman?

      • Spoils

        let me ask you this question: who do you think would be the most valuable person on our team after McDavid, IF we had a real deal #1D – a Keith, a Doughty, a McDonaugh…?

        Look at Stanley Cup winning teams. The #1D plays 50% of the game.

        Remember what Pronger brought to the table?

        we have the assets and the mgt to make this trade. it’s the only way to a dynasty.

        Hall plus 1st pick in 2016 for Hedman?
        Nuge and Eberle plus 1st pick in 2016 and 2017 for McDonaugh…

        to be clear – I am not suggesting these are the exact trades, just that a trade of this magnitude is warranted.

        • fran huckzky

          Agree that to win it all you need a stud dman. At this point the Oilers aren’t going to win the Cup even with a stud dman but maybe in 2 or 3 years they wiil be at that point. They can assess their d at that time and if a big move is required, that will be the time. I don’t disagree with what you are saying but I don’t believe it is time yet/

          • Spoils

            i don’t see the point in waiting, but if they do – i’d hope we get another FA for the year, because starting the season with Schultz and Klefbom in your top 4 is pretty weak.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Chia did the best he could with Schultz and like many, believe he has another play up his sleeve coming up.

    Couple more things, some comments mentioned Yak can’t play due to lack of defensive help. Nuge is now a VET and very good defensively. I see no problem throwing Yak with Hall and Nuge. McDavid no, not yet anyways.

    Also, I believe the Oilers one year will flip and become a real juggernaut in the league. I think it will happen like a switch and the wins will just hit all of us like an awesome hurricane!

    These aren’t kid anymore. I believe if the oil don’t make the playoffs this year they will be very close. Of course average goaltending would be nice as well.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    I really hope he and several others have a bounce back year. It’s about time. I think the one year deal was perfectly adequate, time for him to earn his spot. Let’s face it, if he had not left the Ducks organization he would have still been in the AHL or on waivers and long gone. Patience can only last so long, specially when there are millions of dollars and a team’s reputation at stake.

  • Igor Ulanov 55

    Chia pete still needs one more offensive right shot d. Would love to see seabrook but Franson or erhoff would be nice fit too. Assuming nikitin is bought out I still think ference needs to go to. Don’t think it needs to be a vet with schultz just right player type. 8 d might be the way to go, or send nurse or reinhart down.

    Klefbom Seabrook
    Sekera fayne
    Reinhart schultz
    Nurse gryba

  • socaldave

    LT, mate, I think you should’ve stayed away from the MAB “hustle back after you goof and end up getting Roloson’s knee destroyed in the process” analogy. Just sayin’ =(

  • socaldave

    Sekera Fayne
    Klefbom Schultz
    Ference Reinhart
    Gryba

    AHL
    Nurse Hunt
    Davidson Laleggia
    Musil Oesterle

    Really looks like we could let Nikitin go (buy out or IR…)

    As per comment #15 from J – I listened to the interview and never heard Justin say that. Sounds like he is working hard in the gym, will be on the ice daily for the rest of the summer and has gained some good muscle weight so far.

  • BDH

    Ice time last season was completely based on the fact that the Oilers were often playing from behind and Schultz was the only defenceman who could consistently provide any offence. This year we see Klef coming into his own, Sekera taking over a lot of those minutes, and another offensive player to add to the power play. All this will eat at a lot of Schultz’ minutes, not showcase his defensive impotence so brightly and maybe force him to perform for ice time.

    I would expect TMac to run less set in stone pairings and play more situational hockey. Schultz and Klefbom in the offensive zone, Sekera and Klefbom in the defensive zone, Schultz and Sekera in the offensive zone when down a goal, Sekera and Fayne in the defensive zone when up a goal. Things like that.

  • fran huckzky

    You are exactly right. Something that needs to be said is JS is not fully to blame for either his performance or his salary. He was set up to fail by Oil management. Further, he has made well above what he should have – so he took the money, wouldn’t you? Finally, arbitration was not his idea.

    At the end of the day he was responsible for his play which was not good but not unexpected for a young, inexperienced D put into a position to fail. Hopefully we can salvage a mismanaged career.

  • 916oiler

    Definitely need to lower his ES TOI, and his quality of competition. I could see the amount of Jults’ cut in half next year if he’s used appropriately!

  • 916oiler

    Let it flow, let yourself go
    Slow and low that is the tempo.

    As a Flames fan I would just like to say good signing Edmonton. I appreciate the opportunity to see Schultz getting turnstiled for at least one more season in the BOA. Thankyou!! Let the good times carry on..

    • The Soup Fascist

      Zzzz. Was there an ESPY award last night for Most Predictable Sports Board troll – EVER? If so, Congrats.

      God, eventually you would think you would bore yourself with the same schtick – day in and day out. I thought the hippy lettuce was supposed to promote creativity.

      Guess not.

      YAWN.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    “Remember what Pronger brought to the table?”

    Chris Pronger is a 1st ballot Hall of Fame’r. His 1 year here was arguably the peak of his career. You’re not going to find many guys like that. Ever. There’s only a few in the NHL right now: Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara (not in his peak anymore), and Erik Karlsson come to mind. Not sure if there are any others. Even Subban, Hedman, OEL, Letang, Weber, Suter, etc. are excellent, but not yet HOF-calibre.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Justin Schultz has just hit the 200 game mark,that so many use,when talking about young D. Let’s not forget how many of those were under Dallas Eakins. He has shown the ability to put up 40+ points,which is hard to find in a young defenseman. I’m curious to see how this player grows under the new coaching staff,and without having to be the number one guy,before he is ready. Not willing to write him off just yet. Something tells me this will be a big year,for him,and many other players on the team.