Justin Schultz will be a restricted free agent on the other side of this contract, but likely not for long. For the Pittsburgh Penguins to retain Schultz’s rights, it will cost $3.9-million in the form of a qualifying offer. That’s about $4-million that the Penguins don’t have at their disposal. Not for Schultz, anyways.
That means Schultz, who turns 26 in July, is en route to his second taste of unrestricted free agency at the end of his fourth NHL season. I get the sense there’s going to be considerably less interest this time around.
This isn’t the end of the line for Schultz, but he’s getting closer. Schultz came to the NHL as advertised — a high-risk, high-reward defender that struggles from the defensive zone. The hope was that NHL coaching would be enough to iron those wrinkles from his game, but four seasons later and progress has been stagnant.
Now another team has to decide if they have the coach to right the course. Will that team be the Vancouver Canucks?
The Canucks have a glut of defencemen and most of them fit the description as inexperienced. Schultz adds to the one problem, without necessarily addressing the other. That makes it an awkward fit on the surface. There’s not a lot of harmony underneath these appearances, either. Consider for a second that the Canucks surrendered the second most scoring chances in the league last season and adding one of the league’s most permissive defenders would be a curious move.
Schultz isn’t without his strengths, though. He can skate, complete the first pass and is every bit the offensive ace he projected to be out of college. If the Canucks can carve out an appropriate role that highlights those strengths without exposing his deficiencies, they might consider the investment a worthwhile exercise. You can do a lot worse on your third pairing, for a power play specialist.
The Scouting Report:
What Schultz is at this point is well known — a power play specialist that struggles to keep the puck out of his net at even strength. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll always be that defenceman, but it’s more than likely at this stage. So the question becomes whether the offensive and transitional contributions will be enough to make him a net positive at even strength in spite of this.
So far it’s hard to say whether that has been the case, as the Oilers have been wholly porous with Schultz on the ice at even strength for the entirety of his career. Whether by scoring chances, goals, Fenwick or however else you might judge a defenceman, Schultz has struggled immensely.
Some of that might be every bit role related as it is talent. The Oilers didn’t exactly ease Schultz into the professional ranks. They placed Schultz in high leverage situations, against some of the opposition’s best and watched him get feasted upon night after fruitless night. Further to that point, the Oilers had three coaches over the course of Schultz’s four seasons in Edmonton. Young players need continuity, among other things, to find their footing at the professional level.
I would be intrigued by the idea of Schultz as a reclamation project on a third pair for almost any other team than the Canucks. They don’t have the room on their blue line, particularly on the right side after the addition of Erik Gudbranson.
You’d like to think that Schultz, an excellent skater, might work in Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins’ system. Then you remember how the Matt Bartkowski experiment fared.
At the end of the day, it likely takes far more effort to make Schultz work in Vancouver than it’s worth. If the Canucks aim to make the playoffs next season, which they do, then they can’t afford to live with the occasional mistakes a player like Schultz is so often prone to.