During his two-plus years in charge of the Edmonton Oilers organization, Craig MacTavish had more than a few stumbles along the way. While the hiring of Dallas Eakins as his head coach arguably played the biggest role in his eventual dismissal as general manager, there were two comments he made during that time frame that frustrated this fan base until the very end of his tenure.
After taking over from Steve Tambellini late in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, MacT went on at great length about coming in and making “bold moves” in hopes of once again returning this once storied franchise to the glory days of yesteryear. Unfortunately, none of those moves ever came to fruition and that is something the vast majority of this fan base will never forget.
Schultz Hasn’t Lived Up To Expectations
While his inability to produce on that very promise will indirectly land this franchise a generational talent in Connor McDavid, his constant referencing of defenceman Justin Schultz as a potential “Norris Trophy Winner” is the quote which has frustrated Oilers Nation like no other. Now the question becomes, will Peter Chiarelli be as stubborn as his predecessor when it comes to the former University of Wisconsin standout?
After taking advantage of a loophole in the CBA which allowed Schultz’ to declare himself a free agent heading into the summer of 2012, the former second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks became the “Big Fish” on the unrestricted free agent market. At the time, it looked as though Edmonton had added an important piece of the puzzle to their rebuild, but the kid has yet to deliver on that promise after two and a half seasons in the National Hockey League.
While Schultz has been the Oilers highest scoring defenceman during his time in the Alberta capital, he has come nowhere close to producing the sort of offensive numbers most were predicting and at times, been a complete non-factor on the man advantage. After tearing apart the American Hockey League during the aforementioned lockout, (34-GP, 18-G, 30A, 48 PTS), the 24- year old has gone on to post 25 goals and 66 assists in 203 games in Oilers silks.
Is $4 Million Too Much?
Now those numbers are far from terrible but again, they are not exactly eye-popping. Add to that the fact Schultz continues to be an absolute train-wreck in his own end of the rink on an almost nightly basis and many Oiler fans have taken the opportunity to make the young man their new whipping boy. While some of that venom may very well be warranted, much of his struggles can be attributed to the fact the former management team ultimately forced their coaching staff to continual use him in situations he had repeatedly proven to be ill-equipped to deal with.
Schultz was originally signed to a two-year pact worth an annual ticket of $3.775M and because of that, was inked to a similar one-year deal heading into 2014-15, ($3.675M), despite having produced less than what was expected during his first two years in Edmonton. With that being case, the chances of him and the Oilers agreeing to anything less than a $4M cap hit on a multi-year deal, and that is being conservative, are essentially nil.
Not exactly the sort of money you want to be giving to a third pairing defenceman and it becomes an even bigger problem when you come to the realization that both Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin make similar money and are arguably even less effective. One can easily make the argument that Edmonton’s blueline is among the very worst in all of hockey and if the hope is to improve on that in 2015-16, something is going to have to give.
Being Passed On The Depth Chart
From a youth standpoint, one would think both Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse have moved past Schultz on the Oilers long-term depth chart on the backend and considering the other two defencemen who are currently in the mix are Mark Fayne and Martin Marincin, it is not as though this blueline has any sort of real depth. Having said that, the chances of Chiarelli not addressing it before the start of training camp is frankly zero.
One thing in Schultz’ favour is that he shoots right-handed, something which only Fayne can say from the names already listed, but on the flip side of the equation, defenceman who shoot right on the backend are far from common in today’s game and there are very few that are under the age of twenty-five and could possibly be had in a deal. believe it or not, the Kelowna native has trade value and an organization would likely not have to drastically overpay in order to shake him loose from the Oilers.
Should Peter Chiarelli receive a relatively reasonable offer for the once highly sought after puck-mover, something which would make sense for the organization both in the present and in the foreseeable future, the Edmonton Oilers would probably be more than happy to enter into such discussions. At the end of the day, Craig MacTavish was convinced Justin Schultz was a piece of the puzzle this franchise simply had to have in order for this group to take that next step in their development and the player has to show he is capable of being that guy.
Considering his age, inexperience and situation he has been force-fed during his brief time in the NHL, there is still a chance he could turn into such a player. With that said, the chances of his new boss being as enamoured with his potential as the club’s previous general manager are likely not very good. Which means no one should be the least bit surprised if they happen to see Schultz in a different city come next September.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.