Following another disappointing season in 2014-15, the writing appeared to be on the wall when it came to the Edmonton Oilers and Justin Schultz. Coming off a year in which the club failed to make any inroads in the Western Conference Standings and the player continued to struggle to find his way as an NHL defenceman, there was only two ways this situation was going to play out.
The Oilers were either going to trade away the 2008 second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks or sign him to another one-year deal. While Schultz would have gladly inked a multi-year extension, such a deal would have cost the organization north of $5 million a season. With his resume being what is, that was never going to happen.
With that being the case, no one should have been surprised by yesterday’s announcement that the two sides had agreed on a one-year contract for the second consecutive off-season. While there were those who felt Craig MacTavish was nuts to have handed him $3.675 million last summer, it was actually a decrease in pay from his first two years in Edmonton.
MacTavish Had No Choice But to Pony Up
It is true that a good chunk of his $3.775 million price tag during those first two years came in the form of incentives, it had no real bearing on the number the two sides agreed on. While still on an “entry-level” style deal, Schultz signed with the Oilers as an unrestricted free agent back in June of 2012 and for that reason, was never going to accept some sort of team-friendly contract. Not surprisingly, those who jumped all over MacT for the signing chose to ignore that little tidbit.
Like it or not, the reality of the situation meant the Oilers were going to have to overpay to get him signed. That theme continued on Wednesday afternoon when the Kelowna native was handed a marginal increase in salary to $3.9 million for the coming season. Again, the number is higher than most would like to see but that is roughly what you are going to pay in today’s NHL for a 25-year old blueliner who can put up a minimum of 30 points a season.
I fully expect Justin Schultz to take a big step forward this season. Will blossom under experienced coaches and will be a willing pupil
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) July 15, 2015
By signing him to another one-year contract, Peter Chiarelli accomplished two things. Many a player have repaid their organizations after being given another chance to show what they could do in a different environment and with an experienced coaching staff. That is exactly what Schultz will get under Todd McLellan and it will be up to both sides to see if they can make this work.
Second, it gives Edmonton the opportunity to possibly raise the value of their asset. Regardless of how things turn out, should Chiarelli decide the 2012-13 AHL Defenceman of the Year isn’t a good fit for the direction he wants to take this lineup, he can look to move him at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Smart Asset Management
If Schultz puts together a good year, the Oilers will either have the high-scoring defenceman they thought they were getting when the signed him or one heck of a valuable asset to use on the trade market. However, should he continue to be a liability in his own end of the rink and not show the ability to be a consistent point-producer at this level, then you simply move on.
With his skill-set being what it is, you can bet there would be more than a few suitors interested in taking a run at seeing if they could “find” the player almost every other team in the NHL felt he would eventually become at the pro-level. From an organizational standpoint, moving him in the here and now would have been the irresponsible thing to do and possibly cost them a valuable piece of the puzzle.
In all likelihood, the Oilers will start next season with a blueline that looks pretty similar to what they currently have. With Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne expected to take the lion’s share of the so-called hard minutes in 2015-16, the duo of Oscar Klefbom and Schultz will thankfully see their level of responsibility greatly reduced. While the lighter workload will unquestionably help, the former University of Wisconsin Badger’s shortcomings will not disappear overnight.
[Related Article: Oilers Likely Finished Upgrading Blueline]
In a perfect world, the Edmonton Oilers would love nothing more than to pair Justin Schultz with a top flight defenceman who is currently in the prime years of his career. Unfortunately for them, no such player exists on their roster. So expecting the 25-year old rearguard to simply morph into a power play quarterback with elite puck-moving ability could be asking a little much. But it is certainly a risk worth taking.
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.