The Edmonton Oilers reached a one-year deal with restricted free agent defenseman Justin Schultz, the team announced Friday. The deal is worth $3.675 million according to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet and he will remain a restricted free agent upon the conclusion of the deal.
Schultz has two years under his belt in the NHL so far after he signed with the Oilers as an unrestricted free agent in 2012. The former Anaheim Ducks draft pick opted not to sign with the team and the Oilers won a bidding war that was believed to include 29 NHL teams. Though Schultz could only be signed to the maximum under the entry-level system, he received a bonus-laden deal that pushed the contract's value to an annual average of $3.775 million.
That led to a lot of hype around Schultz and it's been tough for the 24-year-old defenseman to live up to just yet.
That first deal is also what made the current negotiation a little trickier than your normal restricted free agent talks. Schultz probably hasn't played up to that kind of value in his first two seasons, but probably not to the degree where he deserved a significant pay cut. The talented offensive defenseman had 33 points last year, which represented a drop in points-per-game from the 27 points he had in 48 games in 2012-13.
With the performance and the contract figures in mind, this one-year deal is probably a good bet for the Oilers and it gives Schultz some motivation to earn a better, possibly longer-term deal next season. It's only a $100,000 pay cut compared to his previous deal, so it doesn't sting the Oilers in a future negotiation, either. It also makes Schultz the second highest-paid defenseman on the team.
Schultz still has a lot of potential after a brilliant college career at Wisconsin and a dominant showing in the AHL two years ago with 48 points in 34 games. He got top-pairing minutes last year, but should see that decline a bit as the Oilers got a bit deeper on defense this offseason by making some additions. Oilers coach Dallas Eakins can be a bit more selective in his usage of Schultz, which probably is for the best for the Oilers and Schultz's numbers.
If Schultz can turn into an annual 40-50 point defenseman, which is certainly possible, perhaps even likely, the Oilers will be glad to have him in the organization longer term. Going with a one-year deal at a higher monetary value seems like a smart, low-risk move to see just what they can get out of Schultz in his third NHL season.