Here’s the deal with Justin Schultz

  • He’s pretty good – as in, TSN prospect expert Craig Button compared him to Kings superstar defenseman Drew Doughty.  Schultz, 21 and originally drafted 43rd overall by Anaheim in 2008, starred at the University of Wisconsin, where he tallied 40 goals and 73 assists in 121 career games (by comparison, former Badger Ryan McDonagh posted 14 goals and 32 assists in 119 games).  He’s considered to have elite offensive skills and isn’t too shabby in his own end either.  The consensus seems to be that Schultz will be ready to step into an NHL lineup immediately and play a significant role.  (Highlights)

“It’s his vision. It’s his composure with the puck. It’s his puck skills,” Eaves said. “And the one thing that’s just a gift is his shot. He has the innate ability to get that puck to the net to allow for rebounds, tip-ins and goals. He’s got what we call a ‘smart shot.’

“He can bring the heat, but there are times he recognizes, you have to take a little off to get it at the net. Often times, those are the shots that go in.

“But his shot is very special. That is one unique weapon he’s got.”

  •  He’s the latest in a string of stud Badgers’ defensemen, following McDonagh, Ryan Suter of Nashville, Jake Gardiner of Toronto and Brendan Smith of Detroit.  There’s something in the water in Madison.

How and why is he available?

  • Schultz is in a pretty similar situation to that of Tim Erixon last season.  If you remember, Calgary was unable to come to a contract agreement with its top prospect last June and dealt Erixon to the Blueshirts for a pair of second-round picks and forward prospect Roman Horak.  It’s commonly thought that Schultz isn’t interested in inking a deal with Anaheim, leading many to surmise that he could become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. However, it may be more likely that the Ducks attempt to trade Schultz’s rights, as the Flames did with Erixon. Schultz added fuel to the fire by filing paperwork to leave Wisconsin on May 25th, opening a 30-day window for Anaheim to negotiate with him.  The belief is that Anaheim’s exclusive negotiating period expires on June 24th, meaning Schultz could begin talking with other teams on June 25th.  He would not be officially allowed to sign a contract with another club until July 1st.
  • It’s possible the Blueshirts (or any other team) could land Schultz for just dollars; if the Ducks let him get to July 1st without a contract he’d be free to sign with any team.  To acquire his rights from Anaheim, the bidding may get fairly high and a similar package to the one that netted Erixon may not prove to be enough.  That very much depends on how short Schultz’s list of preferred teams is.
  • According to Larry Brooks, Schultz would be eligible to sign a two-year Entry Level contract with any team besides Anaheim, and a one-year Entry Level deal with the Ducks.  Schultz’s eventual price tag will be substantially lower than what he could command if he were truly a free man on the open market, and not restricted by an Entry Level deal.  According to CapGeek, Schultz’s base salary cannot exceed $875,000 and his signing bonus cannot be more than 10-percent of his contract’s total worth.  Schultz would also be eligible for a host of performance bonuses that could bump his earnings significantly, but his total cap hit likely would not exceed $2.5 million and could be significantly less.

Who’s in the running?

  • The closer July 1st gets, the more we’ll hear about him, because every team in the league is going to be interested.  It’s not every day that a young defenseman of Schultz’s caliber hits the open market, and 30 general managers will give Ducks GM Bob Murray a call to gauge the situation.  Schultz will ultimately be able to dictate his future home, but it’s unclear exactly whom he prefers.  It’s commonly thought that the Canucks, Oilers, Maple Leafs and Red Wings would be leading contenders because:
  1. of the proximity of Vancouver and Edmonton to his hometown of West Kelowna
  2. Toronto, for the chance to play with his old D-partner Jake Gardiner
  3. and Detroit because of the presence of Smith and the chance that the team will sign another former Badger, Ryan Suter, as a free agent.

(For more on the favorites in the Schultz sweepstakes, click here)

And where do the Rangers fit in?

  • A couple of months ago the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson reported, “Most NHL management types feel the Rangers have the inside track to get Justin Schultz, the best. U.S. college defenseman who looks like he’ll go on the open market because it doesn’t appear he wants to sign with the Anaheim Ducks, who drafted him. ‘He could play with (Derek) Stepan and (Ryan) McDonagh, two former University of Wisconsin teammates,’ said one NHL GM.”  Since then, the Blueshirts haven’t been mentioned as much in Schultz rumors as some other teams, partially because no one seems to know what he’ll do and partially because of the playoff chase.
  • It definitely works in the Rangers’ favor that they have executed two trades with Anaheim over the last couple of seasons (Nigel Williams for Stu Bickel, and Aaron Voros and Ryan Hillier for Steve Eminger).  Ultimately, Schultz still controls his future because no team will complete a trade with the Ducks without the assurance that Schultz would sign with them, but if the Rangers are on his list of preferred teams due to the Wisconsin connection, the Blueshirts could end up with the inside track.
  • It’s been suggested that Schultz might be less interested in New York than other locales because of the presence of several solid blueliners that could prevent him from immediately assuming a starring role.  That could prove to be true, but it seems a bit illogical that this would be a major concern considering the proof in the pudding of Coach John Tortorella playing youngsters that earn ice-time in recent years.

Why the Rangers could use him:

  • With Michael Sauer’s career very much in doubt, the Rangers suddenly have more of a need on the blueline.  The playoffs showed us that New York is essentially a four-defensemen team right now.  Tim Erixon may be ready to join the Rangers out of training camp, but there’s still likely to be an opening.  The Blueshirts could choose to make a run at Suter or add a midlevel defenseman via the free agent market, but the team clearly is stockpiling young talent and would love to get its hands on a guy like Schultz.
  • He’s a righty.  On top of the Rangers general lack of depth on defense, they only have one regular right-handed shooter on the rearguard in Dan Girardi (Bickel is an extra, Sauer’s health takes him out of the picture, and Eminger and Anton Stralman are likely to leave the team as free agents).  That’s something the team would like to balance out a little more next season if possible.
  • Schultz’s greatest strength is his offensive ability and he is also a power play specialist.  Rangers’ fans don’t need to be reminded about the team’s struggles on the man advantage, so adding another point-man that could help to remedy a constant source of trouble could be a prudent move.  Schultz, Michael Del Zotto and Brad Richards would give New York a troika of solid quarterback options.

How would a Schultz acquisition affect current Rangers’ defenders?

  • There’s still plenty of talk about Del Zotto as trade bait and though it’d be a major surprise if Del Zotto were dealt, Schultz would make that a bit more likely.  While Del Zotto did show plenty of development last season, Schultz may be a better talent capable of filling the same role.  Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure thing, but many believe Schultz has the makings of a superstar. The Rangers might be more likely to pull the trigger on a DZ trade with Schultz on board, especially if Del Zotto proved difficult to re-sign as a restricted free agent, or if he could be included as part of a package for someone like Rick Nash.
  • A Schultz acquisition could also make the Rangers more likely to part with Erixon.

Will the Rangers actually end up with Schultz?  That’s really impossible to guess, but they, like many other teams, will be involved in Internet rumors until he finally signs an NHL contract.

Check back at 12:30 p.m. to find out why Schultz might not be the right fit for the Rangers…