You might assume based on the title and the picture above
that this article is about how Justin Schultz is gutless. You would be wrong.
It’s about how I have been gutless. I have been too soft on this issue until
now. It’s time for some truths to be told.
Justin Schultz is not an NHL defenseman. He has no business
being on the ice in any situation. If the Oilers continue to play him they do
so breaking the implicit agreement they have between themselves and their
customers that the club is doing everything in their power to win. Everything
about the way the club has handled Justin Schultz has been a disaster and the
only prudent action moving forward is to walk away.
I have tried on many occasions to provide a fact based
argument as to why Justin Schultz has been a detriment to the team. Not
terribly long ago I wrote about the tangible negative effect he has on the power play. He steps on the ice, Edmonton’s shots for drop like a sack of
hammers, and their shots against rise dramatically. He steps off the ice and
their woes almost instantly alleviate themselves.
This isn’t my opinion. It is a cold hard fact. Whatever else
that gets said, at the heart of what I wrote previously is simply a factual
account of what happens to some basic counting numbers with Justin Schultz
playing hockey for the Oilers.
I was a fool for stopping there.
The reality is that the team has been pushing Justin Schultz
on us ever since they signed him as an unrestricted free agent coming out of
college. He was acquired to much fanfare from the then Oiler brass and we’ve
been paying for it with bad hockey ever since as this franchise doubles down on
The Oilers are either too incompetent or too proud to admit
their error, but I have no problem shining the spotlight on it. Edmonton’s unwavering
support for Justin Schultz’ brand of piss poor hockey has cost them countless
wins, millions of dollars, and forced them into roster decisions that made the
team unquestionably worse.
How the Oilers, a team who throughout their history have
identified themselves as offensive juggernauts or blue collared workers, could
throw their support in the corner of the wimpiest, limp sticked, anti-physical
defenseman in the history of the franchise is beyond me. But they’ve done it at
the cost of anything and everything good NHL teams hold dear.
The Oilers sacrificed their dignity for Justin Schultz. They
anointed him the king and saviour of their blue line and held him to zero
accountability. As others were forced to work through a progression and earn
everything they had, Justin Schultz was gifted top minutes, with the top line,
and the most minutes on the power play by far. What a joke.
Justin Schultz has played a combined 686:34 on the power play over the course of his career. That’s an average of just over three minutes
per game. He has five power play goals to show for it. Five! And to make matters
worse, none of those goals have come in his last 100 games.
Would anybody else receive this kind of preferential
treatment? Would the team play Brandon Davidson that many minutes on the power play if he was similarly ineffective? I surely doubt they would.
How many goals have not been scored because Edmonton
continues to hold out false hope that one day the kid that won the Eddie Shore
award as the AHL’s top defenseman will show up in Edmonton? How many games have
been lost because those goals weren’t scored? And that’s before we discuss what
a complete mess he is in his own zone.
When Justin Schultz is in his own zone, it is in body only,
because his spirit and his mind are elsewhere. That much is obvious. He can’t
read plays, he has no urgency whatsoever, and he has a terrible first pass.
Yes, a terrible first pass. Whoever keeps perpetuating this myth that he is a
great puck mover is dead wrong. He is SUPPOSED to be a great puck mover, but he
couldn’t make a tape to tape pass out of his zone if his life depended on it.
If the puck ends up between the intended target’s feet then he’s having a good
Schultz is, at best, the worst defenseman in the NHL when
the opposition is in his own end. He often finds a spot to the side of the net
out of anybody’s way and waits for someone else to make the bad men stop
touching the puck. If somehow he ever manages to muster the courage to venture
towards the puck carrier he does so, I assume, just so that he can get further
away from the net because he knows the puck will make its way back there
eventually and that’s just too scary to think about.
He makes absolutely no attempt to physically engage the puck
mover, hence the term “Jultzing” was invented. As a reminder “Jultzing” is
the act of retreating while pushing the stick out towards the puck carrier
although not in an actual attempt to separate the puck from the man. It’s the
coward’s way of playing defense, and Justin Schultz has trademarked it. I think
it’s inexcusable that we live in a world where Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan
Eberle are being called soft when this sorry excuse for a defender skates away unscathed
from similar criticism.
But Justin Schultz has been doing this now literally for
years. He isn’t going to change anything about the way he plays. He’s 25 years
old and getting rewarded for playing this way. Why would he change now? He is
who he is and good for him.
It’s not his fault the Oilers have made damning error after
damning error with him. The Oilers abandoned all of their sensibilities with
this kid. You have to think that they truly believe he has Norris Trophy potential considering the minutes he plays for them.
This is a team that had a real right shot defenseman who had
established himself as the best defender on the team and they tossed him aside.
They threw away almost a decade’s worth of development into Jeff Petry for a second
round pick and a conditional late round pick because they went all in on Justin
Schultz. Truly no team would do such a stupid thing if they weren’t zealots in
the Cult of Jultz, right?
And absolutely NOBODY in their right mind would have
actually given Justin Schultz a raise in the summer if they didn’t think that
he was actually a good defenseman, right?
If you take his ridiculous playing time, wage, and the swath
of destruction to the roster left in his wake, you must conclude that the
Oilers actually believe that Justin Schultz is doing something positive for
this club when in reality he is the noose around their neck.The Oilers are in effect throwing games by pushing this player. They have other options. Literally any of Fayne, Reinhart, Petry, or Marincin would be or have been better alternatives if the goal was to win games in the NHL.
And that’s why I have no choice but to conclude that my
analysis of Justin Schultz up to this point has been gutless. How else can we
explain that a below-replacement level player has been given such a push
without the resultant outrage it deserves? When we look in the mirror and ask “How
has it come to this?”, the answer today has to be: “Because I didn’t speak
The Oilers are a worse team with Justin Schultz on the ice.
They have gutted their own roster to make way for his highness. They have kept
him safe from any possible sense of accountability for his play during his
The careless attitude towards defense that Justin Schultz
has come to be known for is just an extension of the same carelessness from
management. He learned it. If the Oilers don’t care then why should he care? If
the fans don’t care then why should the Oilers care?
Justin Schultz doesn’t belong in an Oiler uniform any more
than I do. I’ve lost hope that they should trade him for a warm body. At this
point the team should pack his bags, send him to Bakersfield, and hope that
another Western Conference team signs him in July when he becomes an
unrestricted free agent.
Then they should apologize for making us watch him
play 223 games of Oiler hockey.