The Edmonton Oilers rebuild has seen more downfalls and shortcomings than steals and reasons to cheer for a floundering organization that is still figuring it out. Yes the Oilers are better this season, they haven’t been able to play with their full roster healthy and all that but a large reason they’re still in the mix is because of how bad the Pacific division is.
If Edmonton is going to take a giant leap forward in 2016-17 they’ll have to make some important roster decisions.
Case in point — defenseman Justin Schultz.
Every Oilers fan on the face of this earth knows the story of the now 25-year-old Schultz. For those of you that want to summarize the last four seasons; he came in with much pomp and circumstance with some predicting he’d become an elite puck-moving defenseman that would be the cornerstone of the Oilers defense. Fast forward a few years, a few injuries, the discovery that he struggles defensively, some serious consistency issues and now the Oilers have for better or worse a struggling No.5/6 defenseman.
Some could say that Schultz is a reclamation project that just needs to find a new home and with the right coaching and tutelage could regain that swagger and become a dependable NHLer but the jury is still out.
The Contract Renewal
A huge reason why Schultz likely won’t return next year is that the Oilers would have to qualify Schultz with his current cap hit of $3.9M per year. Given the Oilers need to improve their defense in a serious way, allocating nearly $4M for what looks like a protected zone-start defenseman who is just strictly powerplay player (note we didn’t call him a specialist) isn’t going to help Edmonton take the next step.
The Oilers need better two-way defenseman. They already have developing players they are going to give heavy ice time to in Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse who will factor into the core of the team for years to come. Klefbom just re-signed a deal that’ll pay him $4.6M per season and he’s slowly garnering votes as the Oilers best defenseman. Nurse will be getting a solid contact extension for 2018-19. Andrej Sekera just signed with the Oilers and he’s on the books for $5.5M. Where is there room for a near $4M defenseman who has to be protected with his zone starts?
The third-pairing? You’ve already got the likes of Brandon Davidson, Mark Fayne, Andrew Ference, Eric Gryba and Nikita Nikitin battling for those minutes.
Edmonton already has some bad contracts on the backend with Fayne, Ference and Nikitin taking up north of $11.3M (without factoring current IR, buried salaries). Yes Nikitin won’t be here next year but wash his contract with the qualifying offer for Schultz and the numbers wash each other out.
He’s played off of back to back one year deals already and it’s time to get away from the bad contracts, know when to cut your losses and walk away.
Schultz best year all things considered was his rookie season where he scored 8 goals and 27 points in 48 games. That translates to 13 goals, 46 points over a full NHL season. He’s had two back-to-back 30 point seasons before a lingering back injury and a poor year have limited him to just 4 points in 27 games. Schultz went on a 20-game goal drought this season before scoring his first of the year December 21st against Winnipeg.
Throw the guy a bone he’s had a back injury and they’re hard to come back from and they come with their limitations. That said the Oilers didn’t do much to really help the guy out in his first few seasons and threw the guy out against the top competitions and saw him get eaten alive. That contributes to a reason the guy is a career -65 (if you still believe in that stat).
- 2012-13: 21:26 TOI per game (2nd)
- 2013-14: 23:20 TOI per game (1st)
- 2014-15: 22:36 TOI per game (1st)
- 2015-16: 20:14 TOI per game (4th)
Can the Oilers afford to salvage Schultz and take one last chance on him with a one or two-year deal that will get him to UFA status? It’s an option but the fact of the matter is $4M is a lot of money to be paying a guy who’s supposed to be an offensive player who might be lucky to break the 10-point barrier this season.
Schultz is in the same scoring category as guys like Gryba and Davidson, the third-pairing guys who are playing 17:42 TOI and 17:54 TOI respectively. His offensive production has fallen in each sequential year and he’s becoming more and more of a depreciating asset by the day.
Trade or Walk Away From Him
The desparaging thing about all this is that there isn’t much value for Schultz right now and he could very well have negative value on the market. We’ve seen how slow the market has been this year with only a handful of trades and most being dollar in dollar out type deals. GM’s are getting smarter with the cap and the philosophy has shifted more than ever to drafting, developing and buying low on commodities.
Schultz comes with that heavy price tag for an RFA qualifying offer so unless a team truly believes they can run a reclamation project and get $4M in value from him, it’s hard to see a trade working in their favour, regardless if the Oilers take a dollar or two back for the rest of the season. It won’t matter when the qualifying offer comes in this summer. So if Edmonton does find a taker don’t expect much more in return.
The current market speaks volumes; low trade picks, fringe prospects, reclamation project for reclamation project, dollar in for dollar out.
That should be the expectation. There are guys struggling right now across the league however so there is a glimmer of hope that the Oilers could get a player like Jared Cowen or Patrick Wiercoich out of Ottawa (rumoured to be available). There’s a stud like Travis Hamonic (NY Islanders) but it’ll take more than just Schultz to pry him from the cold dead hands of Garth Snow. What about a forward that hasn’t been used much in Columbus, Kerby Rychel? Don’t expect Schultz to be a starting point for Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay).
There are options.
The last option would be to just not tender him a qualifying offer this summer.
Is Peter Chiarelli bold enough to go down that path? Only time will tell. Until then Justin Schultz is really going to have to put it together in the last 41 games of the season to give the Oilers a reason to want to keep him after four inconsistent seasons.