Edmonton - August 29, 2014 - It was the news Edmonton Oilers fans were waiting to hear and yet many seem to be almost disappointed in the money the organization had to cough up in order to ink defenceman Justin Schultz to a one year deal.
While the masses were hoping for some sort of team friendly bridge contract, that was never going to part of the equation when it was all said and done.
If the Oilers and Schultz were going to agree to any sort of extension, it was always going to be at a number north of $4 million. Now is the former University of Wisconsin standout worthy of that sort of salary all of 122 games into his career? In my mind it is too early to tell but the moment the organization ponied up to bring him on board as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2012, it changed any and all future contract negations between the two sides.
That may not sit well with some inside the Oilers fan base but that does not change the reality of the situation. While Schultz may have only made a base salary of $925,000 during his first two years in Orange and Blue, he could also collect up to $2.85 million in bonus money and in turn make him a $3.775 million guy. He fell short of reaching all the bonus triggers in 2013-14 but that essentially means nothing.
With that being the case, this morning’s announcement of the two sides agreeing on a one year deal that is reportedly in the neighbourhood of $3.675 million should surprise absolutely no one. People tend to forget that Schultz is coming off what was his first full NHL season and like most of the better players on Edmonton’s roster, he has been forced into a role he was not ready for and with little to no support around him for good measure.
Is the twenty-four year old a legitimate top four blueliner all of two years removed from playing collegiate hockey? Maybe not but the numbers tell us both he and Jeff Petry have carried the load for this team in each of the previous two seasons. Schultz led all Oilers’ defencemen in average ice-time in 2013-14 with 23:20 minutes a night, including team leading totals of 18:55 at even strength and 3:26 on the man advantage.
Now you may not be a fan of the style of game he brings to the table, the fact of the matter is the organization views him as a cornerstone piece. The kid has warts to his game but the offensive upside he brings to the table is undeniable and if Craig MacTavish could ever find him a veteran partner to help him along the developmental trail, it would likely do wonders for both the player and team. Focusing solely on a player’s shortcomings, when he has been thrown into the eye of a storm without as much as paddle to help him along the way, is downright idiotic.
While his offensive numbers dipped during his second time through the National Hockey League, much of that can and should be attributed to Dallas Eakins and his inability to adapt on the man advantage. He took what was one the league’s premier power play units and transformed it into a shadow of itself, all the while being too pigheaded to divert from his chosen path…no matter how ineffective it was.
Fix the power play and Schultz will return to being a top fifteen scorer among NHL defenceman. Yes he has his shortcomings in his own end of the rink but contrary to what some might have you believe, the former second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks has shown signs of improvement. That said, he was brought on board to be a guy who can drive the Oilers offence from the backend and again, if his GM could get him some actual help, he will continue to get better with each and every game he plays.
Whether fans want to accept it or not, Justin Schultz is the sort of defenceman that would cost a team major cash to acquire on the open market and because of that, the Edmonton Oilers are going to have to pay up to keep him around for the long term…be it this off-season or next. Some will argue this group would be far better off without him being around and in my opinion, those people are off their collective rockers.