He’s gone now. Traded to Pittsburgh for a third round
pick so long as the Oilers pay 50% of his salary. But looking back on his time
here as an Edmonton Oiler, Justin Schultz represented the complete and total
failure of the organization.
It wasn’t just him as a player, though he was terrible.
Justin Schultz, the way he came in, the way he was handled, the way he
developed – all of it – was this whole forsaken rebuild in one player.
Everything about it was too easy. Too. Damn. Easy.
When Justin Schultz became an Oiler it wasn’t because the
club recognized his talent, staked its claim, drafted him, and developed him
until he was an NHL player. No, the Ducks did that in 2008, taking him in the second
round. Edmonton didn’t have to do anything. They put no time into him. They just
had to wait for Schultz to decide he could dictate the terms of his NHL
employment and they were happy to capitulate to those demands.
At most, the Oilers had to dust off those Danny Heatley DVDs,
do some quick editing, and ask for Paul Coffey and Wayne Gretzky to make a
couple calls. “Hey kid, wanna be an Oiler? Keep this number if you ever need
anything.” Add the promise of playing time and a max entry level deal then you’ve
got a pretty solid chance with absolutely nothing risked.
Getting him was easy.
Then they played him in the AHL. But they didn’t just send
him to the AHL alone. The team convinced its top line from the NHL to join him
during the lockout. Two first overall picks and an NHL All-Star in
Jordan Eberle went down to play with him in the American Hockey League.
Of course they dominated offensively. It was all too easy.
He won the Eddie Shore award as the most outstanding
defenseman in the AHL. He was the first ever rookie to do it and he did it in
34 games. Thanks for showing up. Here’s an award. You’re the greatest!
Edmonton didn’t even bother to see if that offense belonged
to him or those NHL players he got to play with the whole time. The NHL season
started and there wasn’t even a question about him starting on opening night.
He was gifted that spot as a reward for picking Edmonton.
His entrance into the
NHL was too easy.
Did you know it took 12 games for Justin Schultz to play more than 20 minutes? They didn’t even consider easing him into the NHL or
making him learn his trade more than what he already picked up in the NCAA and
34 games in the AHL. He averaged 21:26 as a rookie, 21 minutes a night where at
least he was offensively productive, even if only Nick Schultz, Lennart
Petrell, and Mike Brown had lower Goals For percentages on the entire team.
The goals against were conveniently forgotten. The Oilers
had Justin Schultz and they were happy to take him exactly as he was. When players
make mistakes their ice time can be taken away. When they stop being effective
they can be moved around the lineup.
Not Justin Schultz. Not with the Oilers.
There has been no concerted effort to push Justin Schultz to
improve. They did almost everything to suggest to him that he was perfect as is.
The previous GM even held a press conference professing that Schultz had Norris
They just kept throwing him over the boards. The message
they sent, whether they meant to or not, was that they were happy with him just
the way he was. Bad positioning? No problem. Terrible outlet passing? No
problem. Weak shot? We’re not judging you, Justin.
Not one of the three coaches he’s had (Krueger, Eakins,
Nelson) before McLellan stopped giving him that sweet sugar-time. He averaged
more than three minutes a night on the Power Play (the highest of Edmonton’s
defenders) until this year. Too little, too late.
His development in the NHL was too easy.
And isn’t this kid the story of the rebuild?
He is part of Tambellini’s all-too-simple plan to turn over
the team to talented kids and watch the wins roll in.
He is the classic example of why MacT couldn’t be trusted to
He is the dictionary definition of entitlement in the NHL.
He represents the abandonment of defensive principles plaguing this team for years.
He represents all of the terrible choices this organization
has made that stunted the rebuild. It’s hardly entirely his fault. He didn’t do
enough, develop enough or earn enough, but the team allowed it to be that way. It’s
as much on them for letting all of that promise and potential go sour through
Justin Schultz’ failure in Edmonton was critical. They
needed him to be a top pairing offensive defenseman. They needed him to be a
player worthy of leading the team in ice-time every night. They still need that
player, but they blew whatever chance Schultz had to become that man.
He’s gone now. But truth be told, I’m not sure that player was
ever really here.