Edmonton Oilers: Should they bring back a familiar face in Justin Schultz?

The Edmonton Oilers should consider bringing back Justin Schultz

Remember Justin Schultz?  Believe it or not, he could actually be a remedy for one of our problems right now. In case you didn’t remember, Schultz was a puck-moving d-man who spurned the Anaheim Ducks after they drafted him to sign with us for the 2012-13 season.  As that was the point of the last lockout, we had to send him to Bakersfield to play and to start.  He was named the best d-man in the AHL at season’s end after putting up 18 goals and 48 points in 34 games.

He then graduated to the NHL with the Oilers, who at the time had an absolutely horrendous D core and promoted Schultz to the role of raw rookie top d-man. Offensively he did fine, putting up between 27 and 31 points every season he was here.  Except for his last year when he struggled badly only putting up 10 points in 45 games.  But, seeing as how he wasn’t developed properly and was rocketed up to the top pairing before he was ready, he was swiss cheese in his own end.  Basically finishing at either -17 or -22 every year he played here.

GM at the time Peter Chiarelli, wanting to get rid of a problem child on his hands, traded him to Pittsburgh for a 3rd round pick at the 2015-16 trade deadline. Here’s where the story gets interesting.  The Pens signed their newly acquired d-man for $1.4 million for 1 season, as his contract was up after the season on the trade.

Happy not to have the pressure of being a top dog in the D corps on a much better team in Pittsburgh, he finished the season after the trade with 1-7-8 in 18 games.  Then 4 assists in 15 playoff games.

With the pressure off and top dog Kris Letang injured, Schultz went back up into the top 4 the next season and being so happy to be with the Pens he finished the season with 12 goals and 51 points.  He got there last season just in time to win a Cup with them, and in a bigger role won another cup with them in 2017. The Pens were so happy with him they signed him to a 3-year deal worth $5.5 million per year.

However, Schultz was never able to top that 51 point season again. His point totals cratered after that, finishing with 27 points, then 15 points, then 12 points the season after.  His contract was a boat anchor on the Pens this season and now they can’t get rid of him fast enough.  His +/- also cratered.  He was 0 or above every year he’s been with the Pens except last season when he finished -13, his lowest +/- since he was an Edmonton Oiler.

The Pens are obviously itching to get Schultz off their roster for next year.  That $5.5 million per season contract is now up, so Schultz will be walking away from the Pens as a free agent.

So what does this have to do with the Edmonton Oilers?

I’m so glad you asked.  Schultz is looking for a fresh start now, one the Oilers could actually provide him. You see, our 3rd pairing guy on the right side – Matt Benning – is an RFA, and to keep him due to the rules around being an RFA we’d have to pay him $2.1 million a year.  That’s WAY too much for a 3rd pairing d-man, especially for one whose offence has cratered for 2 seasons in a row.  Not a good idea with our cap situation being what it is.

You could take him to arbitration and get a much more favourable ruling, I guess, but that’s usually not a good route to go as the relationship between the player and organization gets strained significantly.  Think of it this way – your team has just raked you over the coals by listing all your mistakes and why they don’t want to pay you what you’re due.  How motivated are you for the season after?

Probably not very, salary arbitration is a very awkward situation and doesn’t always result in a figure positive to the team – and if it doesn’t, you’re stuck with it, you have no choice but to pay it.  Let Benning go and give him a fresh start, that’s the best thing to do with him at this point. So here’s what I’m doing as armchair GM:  sign Schultz to a 1 year, $1.5 million contract.  Play him in the 3rd pairing right side.

If he can’t get the job done, he’s gone after a year, and worst-case scenario, you can send him down to the AHL and pay him $600,000.  A negligible cap hit in the AHL, then at the end of the year, he simply walks.

If he does well – the most likely scenario – now you put him in competition with the top 4 guys and give Schultz more ice time.  At first, Schultz will be playing limited minutes against weak competition which is a great place to play to get his confidence back.

Evan Bouchard is rumoured to be in the mix for a roster spot next season as well, so if that does happen, he’ll compete with Schultz for minutes.  Competition amongst your team for minutes only strengthens the position. If Schultz does well in that year, by the time the trade deadline comes around, and Bouchard is ready to go full time, you’ve got options.

You can trade Schultz and get back a 2nd or 3rd round pick, maybe more.  Or you can trade him for a 3rd line center or as a piece of a bigger trade for, say, a winger for Mcdavid’s line.  Maybe you dangle Schultz in trade to get rid of Kris Russell, Alex Chiasson, or James Neal, all expensive cap hits we need to rid ourselves of.

Or, if Holland is in a pinch, he could always re-sign him to a longer-term contract and keep him.

Why would Justin Schultz want to come back to the Edmonton Oilers?

The biggest reason?  Redemption.  NHL players are very competitive by nature, so if they left a bad taste in a previous playing post they may want to come back to prove the organization wrong.  The same reason Mike Comrie came back to the Oilers for a 2nd tour of duty.

Schultz left a bad taste in a lot of peoples’ mouths the 1st time around he was here.  He knows he left on bad terms, and he’ll be motivated to correct that.

Additionally, the team is a lot different than it was in 2015-16 when he was traded.  He’ll no longer be expected to be “the man” for the D corps, he’ll play on the 3rd pairing where he belongs right now.

This is where he has the best chance to succeed at this point in time.  We have a new GM and a new coach, so any old animosity towards either right now would be unnecessary.  Furthermore, his addition will keep Ethan Bear and Adam Larsson honest.

If they underperform, they know fully well that Schultz is capable of taking their spot, so it keeps them at their best.  Matt Benning is a toothless player on the decline and he is of no threat to take Bear or Larsson’s spots.  Schultz is a different animal. Also, imagine the possibilities for the PP.  The Oilers already have their top 3 puck movers on the PP, now they can add in another weapon in Schultz.

As already mentioned, he would give us another asset at the trade deadline and helps to give us an option to jettison Benning and his expensive cap hit out of here.  At the end of the day, the Oilers end up with a roster upgrade on Matt Benning, they keep a spot warm for Evan Bouchard, and they save $600,000 in cap space on the roster spot vs. what they would have to pay Matt Benning.

IMO this is a very low-risk bet with a high chance of success that meets a lot of team needs.  What do you think?