Justin Schultz resigned with the Pittsburgh Penguins late in the free agency window and for less than half of what he made last year. If it was surprising to some that he took a massive discount to stay in Pittsburgh they are probably in the minority.
Schultz played the best hockey of his professional career in Pittsburgh and the one year deal is the best of both worlds for him and the franchise.
The franchise benefits, as a team that always seems to have defensive injuries, from having more NHL-level players. Schultz plays Sullivan’s system very well and has developed a strong bond with many of the team’s other defenders. He fits into the fabric of the team and has a tremendous upside on the power play if needed. He is also a much-coveted right-handed defenseman that is becoming sought after by many NHL teams. The Penguins also can continue to grow Derrick Pouliot at a comfortable pace, rather than force him into a role he may not be ready for just yet.
As for Schultz, the one year deal has plenty to offer. First of all it’s another year with a team that he’s comfortable with. Like Kessel who was able to shed the mantle of “franchise savior” when he left Toronto, Schultz doesn’t have to be Kris Letang, as the team already has him.
Instead he can focus on contouring his game with Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin. And that’s another positive, working with Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar got a lot of praise from Schultz and others for turning the defenseman around. Another year to work and grow should only help. And finally, it’s a good deal for Schultz who, if he has a strong season, could sign a longer term deal for more.
The phenomena known as “post Penguins payday” has benefited everyone from Deryk Engelland and Matt Niskanen to most recently Ben Lovejoy. Teams see Penguin defensemen often step into larger roles when players are injured, as again it seems they often are, and flourish.
Subsequently those teams are willing to offer players bigger money to play that role full time with their respective squads. It’s what happened with Matt Niskanen so perfectly. He got a raise and fit right in. He’s now a massive part of the Capitals blue line. Schultz could stay longer term in Pittsburgh if he continues to improve or he could sign elsewhere with a big payday.
The timing is also ripe for Schultz, should he so chose, to head to Las Vegas. The franchise that will call Sin City home will have money to burn next year and he could potentially be a good fit, if the situation is right for him. Though both parties will have to keep in mind not to give him the Edmonton treatment. They can’t see him as a savior and he has to stick to his game. If so, that would be an excellent opportunity for team and player.
But that is down the road. Right now, Schultz gets to enjoy being a Stanley Cup champion and going to a city that doesn’t blame him for simply being him. For now, Schultz is part of a team that he loves in a city he felt at ease in quickly. He’ll return to camp with guys he loves to play with and for. The pay cut is more than worth it to have a chance at success on and off the ice and after what the still relatively young blueliner has been through, he deserves nothing less than success.