Sens good fit for Schultz
University of Wisconsin defenceman Justin Schultz was one of the most sought-after free agents this year. (David Stluka/Wisconsin Athletics)
So the Edmonton Oilers are trotting out the big boys, eh?
Not only did future star Taylor Hall attend their meeting with Justin Schultz, but they also reached into their past and had Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey call the unrestricted free-agent defenceman hockey people expect to be an impact player in the NHL next season.
That should impress Schultz’ dad, anyway. At least he would have seen those two greats play, if his boy doesn’t remember them.
The New York Rangers brought along coach John Tortorella and blueliner Ryan McDonagh for their presentation to Schultz, we are told. Not bad. Schultz skated with McDonagh at the University of Wisconsin. They must be buds. But if Tortorella’s mood was anything like it was when he addressed the media after playoff games this past spring, that’s a wash. In fact, Schultz probably scratched New York off his shortlist immediately after the get-together.
Presume the Leafs had former Badger Jake Gardiner in tow for their sit-down with Schultz. But really, who’s he? Another friend? Big deal. Everybody’s his pal these days.
And yes, the assumption that the West Kelowna, B.C., native grew up a Canucks fan — and word that his parents are already season ticket holders — probably tip the scales Vancouver’s way, at least a bit, in the Schultz Sweepstakes.
But the Canucks are also the most hated team in the NHL. Does the kid really want to start his pro career as a member of the despised?
If Schultz is smart, like he surely is to have himself in a position where he’s suddenly considered right up there with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter as the most sought after unrestricted free agents — despite the fact he hasn’t played a single NHL game — then he also has to like the idea of becoming an Ottawa Senator.
And if the Senators are smart, like they’ve proven to be in wrestling so many other college free agents away from the pack that desired them, then they also had a player of their own drop a dime to contact Schultz.
Like, Erik Karlsson, maybe?
If you’re Schultz, an offensively gifted player who knew he was going to start a frenzy by jumping into the NHL, then you were watching the league closely last season. In doing so, you saw Karlsson thrive in coach Paul MacLean’s system. To the point where he not only crushed the competition in the defenceman scoring race, but fool all the experts by winning the Norris Trophy as the loop’s best blueliner.
If you’re Schultz, isn’t that enough to make you ask Bryan Murray for his pen? Don’t you want to follow that path yourself?
Karlsson, who is getting married in Sweden July 7, should see Schultz as an early gift from the Senators. Someone who would take the back-end load off him, offensively. Why wouldn’t he want to chip in for that present?
This much, we know: Heading into week’s end, Ottawa, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton and the Rangers were on Schultz’ shortlist, with rumblings that the Minnesota Wild also had a chance at getting in the game.
What we don’t know, despite all the speculation, is which way Schultz is leaning.
This is what we think. If he does choose the Senators, Sergei Gonchar and his $5.5-million contract will be gonzo sometime after July 1, when teams that failed to get the UFA they wanted have to settle on a veteran who still has something to offer even though his best days are behind him.
The Senators must have in their minds a scenario that sees Karlsson and Jared Cowen form the first pairing, with Schultz and the veteran, defensive defenceman Murray promises to land lining up as the 3-4 tandem. That would allow one of rookies Mark Borowiecki or Patrick Wiercioch to line up with and learn from Chris Phillips.
Could work out well for the Senators, who might also throw the money they’d save from the Gonchar-new defensive defenceman trade off towards a free agent goal scorer they desperately need. Not that they are short on cash to spend.
But more on all that Sunday.
Should the Senators push hard to sign Justin Schultz?