Curiousity From Afar
LONDON--Even from overseas, it's fascinating to watch the commotion over Justin Schultz, perhaps deserved, perhaps not.
Everybody, from the Maple Leafs to at least 19 other clubs, it sounds like, are hot on the trail of the University of Wisconsin defenceman. As always, it's worth wondering if it's because of his talent - and the kid has a chunk of it - or simply because he is free, at least as of Monday. No need to trade players or prospects or picks to get him, no need to even expend a high draft selection - you just sign him.
This, going back to the days of Ray Staszak, has always caused NHL clubs to absolutely lose their minds and all perspective. Similar unrestricted young players have come on line in recent years, from Teddy Purcell to Matt Gilroy, from Fabian Brunnstrom to Jonas (The Monster) Gustavsson, from Jussi Rynnas to Mats (The Norwegian Hobbit) Zuccarello, from Christian Hanson to Tyler Bozak. Heck, once upon a time teams went bananas over Mike Van Ryn because he managed to make himself an unrestricted free agent.
They never seem to turn out to be stars. Adam Oates, signed by Detroit out of RPI back in '85, certainly did, and he went on to a Hall of Fame career.
But sometimes, these kinds of UFAs don't make it at all.
Which brings us back to the much-hyped Schultz, currently sifting through offers with his representatives from Newport Sports, experts in the field of maximizing financial possibilities for their clients.
It might be worth remembering at this point that in 2008, Schultz was a second round pick, 43rd overall. Florida liked Jacob Markstrom better, L.A. liked Slava Voynov better, Nashville preferred Roman Josi and Ottawa, with the No. 42, selected Patrick Wiercioch. Schultz was a B.C. Tier II player at the time and has since gone on to become a star at Wisconsin, increasing his marketabiity to the point the team that drafted him, Anaheim, couldn't afford to sign him or at least didn't believe he was worth that investment.
Or maybe, as is speculated, there's been some tampering going on. Who knows?
Now, the NHL salary cap system prevents teams from blowing out their brains on such players, as Detroit once did with Staszak. The entry level salary is set, and what's negotiable is performance bonuses. So that's a $925,000 base salary, including $92,500 signing bonus, plus $2.85 million in performance bonuses for a $3.77 million cap hit, according to Capgeek.com.
Also negotiable are guarantees on NHL roster positions, and that's where this gets interesting.
Schultz appears to be in a position where he can essentially demand to be in the NHL next season. But is that in his best interests, or best interests of the team with which he signs? He's only 22, and maybe he's like Jake Gardiner and can jump right in, or maybe he'll need to adjust. Time in the minors has been known to help the odd player.
Schultz turns 22 next month. Gilroy was 24 coming out of Boston University as a similarly sized, right-hand shooting defenceman with offensive abilities, and hyped just as much or more. He only spent five games in the minors, but has since been traded twice, with both the Rangers and Lightning deciding fairly quickly they could do better. The Leafs were after Gilroy hot and heavy back then, too, but the Rangers got him because they were willing to offer guarantees Toronto would not.
Gilroy was supposed to be a star, and maybe he will be with Ottawa, the team he joined last season. But his story should at least give teams pause with Schultz.
At the same time, it's all about acquiring assets, and Schultz is as good an asset at this point as, say, Matt Finn, the impressive Guelph defenceman selected by the Leafs in the second round this year. Finn lasted until the 35th pick, and the question NHL teams have to ask themselves is whether Schultz has a better chance of making it, and then put a value on that.
Detroit has acknowledged they've been told they're not on Schultz's short list. If the kid wants to play, he probably knows that's a tough lineup to crack. Or he might be leaning towards a western Canadian team.
Some team will win this sweepstakes and be very happy about it. Somewhere down the line, we'll find out whether it was even close to worth it.