If you want wait for the wining and dining that comes with the biggest free agents on July 1 and sometimes July 2, then consider this the appetizer. For one free agent the courtship has already begun and it's almost like an episode of The Bachelor.
Justin Schultz, the unrestricted free-agent defenseman out of the University of Wisconsin, has apparently narrowed his list of teams down to five, handing them roses. That's down from the reported 26 teams who expressed interest in him -- all offering an identical, entry-level contract.
Piecing together the reports, here is the list according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.
OK, so that would be four no-brainers and a "how did they slip in there?" That would, of course, be the New York Rangers. It has been widely reported that Schultz, who hails from British Columbia, wants to play in Canada. Last I checked, New York is not in Canada.
Well no, but the Rangers do have some former Badgers like Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan. Don't think that doesn't play a factor. It doesn't hurt either that Chris Kreider came to the Rangers out of Boston College in the playoffs and got the chance to play for the team in the postseason. That has to be encouraging for a player looking to play in the NHL immediately.
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However this seems inevitably headed toward a battle among Western Canadian teams. Five teams will get to make their case, two will probably get the most consideration and obviously only one will get the contract.
In the Oilers and Canucks there are definitely two different situations. In Vancouver you have a team that is in win-now mode. He could immediately come in and play on a team that is competing for the Stanley Cup. That and it's his home team.
The Oilers, though, propose an intriguing situation. They need help on defense but have a very promising stable of young forwards. If he were to go to Edmonton Schultz could immediately be looking at a top-pairing role on defense and growing with a group that is definitely headed for bigger and brighter days.
Frankly, the whole scenario is rather fascinating to me. We don't see this in the NHL often, if ever. It happens in other sports, remember the circus of LeBron James' courtship before free-agency opened up? The NHL system doesn't allow for that, so this is unique to hockey. Because of his situation where he didn't sign with the Ducks after they drafted him, he is thus able to negotiate with other teams.
What makes it all the better is that he's a very well-regarded prospect, clearly reflected in the abundant interest shown across the league. Assuming the Ducks were one of the four teams that didn't show interest, that means just three others didn't take a stab at Schultz. And I'm guessing those three didn't do it because they knew how slim their chances were.
As fun as this all is, I sure hope that Schultz has his mind made up before Sunday and he can be the first player to sign a new contract at 12:01 ET.
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