Penguins’ Schultz Return Possible; Cullen Update

As expected, the Penguins decided not to extend a qualifying offer to defenseman Justin Schultz making him an unrestricted free agent. It was the right move as he was a bottom-pairing defenseman while in the lineup, and frequently a healthy scratch. Not to mention that the 25-year-old would have made nearly $4 million if tendered. But this does not necessarily spell the end for Schultz in Pittsburgh, and that is a good thing as there is still a lot of upside to be had from the former Oiler.

Schultz played well during the Stanley Cup Finals, but there was always a concern when he had to be counted on defensively. It was a lack of confidence in his defensive abilities that put him in the press box on more than a few occasions. He had the offensive production of a top-pairing player, but his shot suppression was that of a bottom-pairing defender at best. As good as he can be offensively, his defensive wiped out any positive impact on his possession numbers.

The Potential Remains

After spending time in Mike Sullivan’s system, watching guys like Kris Letang, and building confidence, there are a lot of reason to feel positive about Schultz. Combine this potential growth, with his natural ability, and it becomes logical for the Penguins to take a chance on him. As long as it is at a reasonable price.

It would be hard to imagine Schultz not understanding the need to take a pay cut. Not just in Pittsburgh, but anywhere. He has to know what his reputation is in the NHL. All of the deficiencies listed above are well known throughout the league. A contract of $2 million for two years  seems resonable, and the Penguins should not consider much beyond that. Ben Lovejoy is likely leaving, and the jury is still out on Derrick Pouliot, so there is an opportunity for Schultz as a Penguin. At least at first glance there appears to be a good fit. But as we know, anything can happen in free agency.

Matt Cullen to Play

It would be huge for the Penguins if Matt Cullen were to return. As Elliotte Friedman notes, Pittsburgh is up against the cap, but for a player like Cullen who really will not cost that much, I am sure they will find space. It was likely that if Cullen did not come back, Oskar Sundqvist would step into that 4th-line-center role. During a small sample size, it really does look like Sundqvist needs more seasoning in Wilkes-Barre.

Pittsburgh does not have to be under the cap until the day before the season starts. There are moves that can be made to fit both Schultz and Cullen under the cap. Yes, they will have to be creative, but it can be done. They may not have made a big splash during the draft, and likely wont in free agency, but things continue to look positive for the Penguins in 2016-17.

Until next time.