Last week Jeff Schultz of the Washington Capitals let it be known that he has been unhappy with his ice time over the past two seasons and is looking to move on. Coincidentally the Toronto Maple Leafs are team with a horrible defense and are in the market for players that can improve their blue line. And while Edmonton seems to be collecting Schultz’s like they’re Pokemon, it’s at least considering whether Schultz makes sense for Toronto.
First, who was Jeff Schultz? Two years ago Schultz was a defenseman routinely playing around twenty minutes a night, he was a regular penalty killer, he was a decent shot blocker, and was the guy responsible for making up for unfortunate Mike Green pinches. There never was nor will there ever be an offensive component to Schultz’s game, but he played a key role on team that employed both Mike Green and Dennis Wideman. Looking at a guy like that you could see the value in him becoming the left side partner to guy like Cody Franson who you want to feel comfortable in joining the play in the offensive zone as much as possible, but want someone more capable than Mark Fraser making up for his mistakes. Two years ago Jeff Schultz is that guy.
Looking at the present version of Jeff Schultz there are more question marks. Schultz was scratched for 20 games this season and is now hovering around 14 minutes a night. He’s fallen behind Jack Hillen and John Erskine on the left defense depth chart (Oates also uses the awful left shot=left side only, right shot=right side only rule). This is on a team with a marginally worse GAA than the Leafs. Schultz has seen his shorthanded ice time marginally cut as well.
Looking at what the experts on the Caps have to say about Schultz, it appears that there may be something salvageable in Schultz. He may not be fleet of foot, and surprisingly doesn’t hit much for a 6’6 defensive defenseman, but under Boudreau was essential in matching up against some of the league’s top offensive units. Where I question whether Schultz could be a fit for Toronto is that he actually declined in production as the Caps shifted away from an offensive possession drive system. Since Toronto plays nothing close to a possession game he might continue to be overwhelmed like he has been in the past two seasons (but imagine how many shots he’ll block!).
Right now Schultz is sitting on the last year of a deal with a $2,750,000 cap hit, so with one year before unrestricted free agency it may be worth rolling the dice on a 27 year old shutdown defender rather than getting in a bidding war with teams over guys like Robyn Regehr (who somehow signed a two-year extension) on July 5th. It is possible that Schultz could be bought out by the Capitals, but I’d expect that some team would be willing to take him for a year at that price off waivers. The NHL caliber defenseman UFA market is extremely limited when you look at players in their 20s, and is really limited to Ian White and Grant Clitsome before falling off a cliff into Ryan O’Byrne/Mike Kostka territory.
Given the low risk nature of this acquisition, where it’s short term and you won’t have to give up too much in terms of assets I’d at least kick the tires on Jeff Schultz.
If you want to see the entire internet morph into the HFBoards, you float the idea that a team will give up an asset to a team willing to take on their buyout albatross. That’s exactly what happened last week (thought #27) and with few teams capable, and even fewer teams willing to spend that amount of money, the market seems to begin and end with what the Leafs are willing to do to get a deal done.
When it comes to what the Leafs would want coming back it becomes pretty clear that the Islanders roster is almost completely made up of players they won’t trade and players who aren’t worth burning a buyout on DiPietro over. Looking at New York’s prospects it starts becoming easier to see there are assets to be had. Ryan Strome is probably the first name on everyone’s list. The same reason he’s up there is probably the same reason he won’t be offered. Five years from now I wouldn’t want to be an Islanders fan watching Strome in an all-star game knowing that the reason he’s not in New York is because the team needed to get out from under one of the worst contracts ever signed.
That leaves Brock Nelson and Nino Neiderreiter as the potential prospects that could be dealt (I’d include Scott Mayfield in this group too if I wasn’t positive the Leafs will be interested in forwards). Neiderreiter seems to be the most likely as he has previously voiced disappointment with the organization and is likely looking to move on. Nelson seems a bit more like a Toronto type prospect and although he might not be as skilled as Neiderreiter there would be some benefit in bringing a centre into the Leafs system over a winger (I don’t really believe this, I’d rather have the more talented player).
The other asset that looks awfully enticing is the 15th overall pick. In a draft filled with talented players it would certainly be nice to pick twice in the first round, or at the very least have the opportunity to pick a little sooner in the first round to potentially grab someone like Max Domi or Bo Horvat who are not likely to be available at 21st overall. Whether or not the Islanders are willing to deal their pick outright I’d imagine this pick swap would have to be a staple of any DiPietro deal.
The next question with this would be who the Leafs would give up in this transaction (if they chose to make the deal bigger or want to offload a salary on the Islanders.) The name that seems obvious to me is John-Michael Liles. With the Islanders losing Mark Streit to free agency they’ll have an opening on their blueline, they’ll be in the need of someone to fill in on the powerplay, and adds a bit of a veteran presence. Essentially he’s a slightly younger, less expensive, less good Mark Streit. If the Leafs get the opportunity to get out from under the contract of player who was frequently a healthy scratch this season and is on the books for three more years that would certainly improve this deal too.
As interesting as this rumour is I still file it under ‘things unlikely to happen.’ I don’t see how any version of this deal could negatively impact the Leafs and because of that it seems like it won’t come to fruition. The only other teams I could see considering this deal are the Rangers, Habs, and Flyers, and with two of those teams already being down a buyout, and the other looking at a potentially expensive goaltender buyout, there is a good chance that DiPietro remains a hilarious problem for the Islanders.
BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE
Yesterday I had started writing out a post that was essentially drawing the same conclusion that Cam’s post from yesterday drew. If you want to go for a home run prospect the name you need to know is Nic Petan. Since that point has already been made I’ll take the contrarian argument, and say that if there was a year to play it safe and take the best player available it’s this year’s draft.
Having spent a fair amount of time looking over this prospect crop I certainly have my favourites (see: Lazar, Curtis) but I also don’t have too much difficulty putting together a list of 21 players I’d be content seeing fall to 21st in the draft. Similarly when I look at my draft rankings up to 51st in the draft I’d probably be happy with any combination of two of those players. With that in mind I don’t have any worries that the Leafs will walk away with at least one prospect that I am legitimately excited about, and can’t help but think there will be plenty of good ‘shoot the moon’ prospects available in the third round as well.
While I can see the benefit in moving Petan up your draft list (he’s higher on mine than on major ones), I think there is plenty to be said for safe but talented prospects like Bo Horvat, Curtis Lazar, and Alex Wennberg. With someone like Petan there is something to said for playing with Ty Rattie on a deep Portland team and his numbers in some ways are possibly an extension of Rattie’s. And much like Rocco Grimaldi a few years ago, there is little doubt that he’d be ranked higher if he was taller than 5’9, but if you look at what has happened to Grimaldi in the past few seasons it has become clear that his size has impeded him and there is something to said for going with players of similar production who were deemed to be more talented by who commit more time to watching junior than I do.
Having just picked up The Hockey News Draft Preview issue I have once again been reminded that this class has a huge amount of variance in where players are listed (Hunter Shinkaruk at 23rd?) and that to some extent organizational need has to come into play. Having addressed the blueline well in recent years it appears that some emphasis now needs to be placed on centres this year and not goaltending as The Hockey News suggests.When it comes to centres available at 21st, there is a good chance the Leafs could find that Nic Petan is the best available player and not just the home run option.