In my look at what the Oilers need heading into Unrestricted Free Agency, the most pressing need was the one hardest to fill on July 1st, that of a top-pairing tough minutes defenseman. I suggested that Steve Tambellini will have to look to the trade market to satisfy the roster need. He could find a willing trade partner in a division rival.
Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune has noted on a number of occasions that Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher is trying to move defenseman Nick Schultz.
...Three players who may intrigue other teams are Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon. But Bouchard and Schultz are expensive and have two and three years left on their deals, respectively.
So Fletcher has a lot to weigh. The Wild has missed the playoffs for three years in a row, so, "I'm open-minded to anything. We have to get better."
#55 / Defenseman / Minnesota Wild
Aug 25, 1982
|Season||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi QoC||Corsi Rel QoT||Corsi QoT||Corsi Rel||Corsi On||Sh%||Sv%||PDO||Ozone%|
*Stats courtesy of the venerable and terrifying Gilbert Desjardins' Behind The Net's Player Card Feature.
Schultz is the best of the best when it comes to shutdown defensemen. He's played tough minutes for four years with what is likely the worst overall offensive zonestart percentage in the league over that time and he's almost breaking even. There are few players in the league who have ever been placed into the circumstances Schultz has dealt with and even fewer players who have performed as admirably as Schultz has. The Oilers have an obvious need - a 1st pairing shutdown defenseman who can kill penalties and the Wild are inexplicably shopping one. It's a match made in heaven.
I've written about Schultz twice before, once when talking about the relationship between raw Corsi and Zonestarts, and again when talking about how poorly Todd Richards was managing the Wild's lineup. Richards' refusal to emulate Jacques Lemaire's personnel management - load the defense on the shoulders of Nick Schultz and give everyone else the easy assignments - cost him his job.
In the player card above, Schultz' Corsi On (his Corsi/60) doesn't look impressive. However, when his Corsi is adjusted for his zonestarts, his numbers are extremely impressive. Below is a table containing additional underlying stats, all culled from the venerable and terrifying Gabriel Desjardins' Behind The Net.
|Season||DZ||OZ||OPCT||GP||TOI||Corsi /60||Adj Corsi /60||PKTOI||ES+/-||ES+/- per 60|
Adjusting his Corsi/60 for zonestarts shows that Schultz is much closer to breakeven than the raw numbers reveal. Considering his level of qualcomp, his Corsi value is outstanding. Beyond his Corsi, his even strength plus / minus is also excellent -- over four seasons of tough minutes and tough zonestarts, he's -9 at even strength. Schultz has averaged 79 games played, 1282 even strength minutes, 223 minutes on the penalty kill, and he's just a -9 despite starting just 37% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone. In any major media market, Nick Schultz would be a superstar.
I asked Hockey Wilderness (and Minnesota Wild-credentialed) writer BReynolds about the possible return Fletcher is seeking in return for Schultz:
Reynolds: "Likely a mid-grade NHL d-man or forward, and a forward prospect or second round pick. That would be my guess. Fletcher most likely wants the cap space more than a player back, but he did say yesterday that if he trades an NHL player, he wants an NHL player in return. Obviously, if he wants picks or prospects, the quality of NHLer goes down."
The obvious question becomes why, in the course of a youth-driven rebuild would or should Steve Tambellini trade for a veteran defenseman like Schultz? First, Schultz turns 29 in August and still has a couple of years in him as a top-shelf defenseman, especially considering his durability. Second, for a defenseman of his caliber, Schultz has an extremely modest cap hit of $3.5 million. Third, Schultz is signed for the next three seasons, running through the first year of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark and Jeff Petry's second contracts, and the year after Nikolai Khabibulin's contract is finally off of the books. It's the year that the Oilers will be most likely to compete for a Stanley Cup and Schultz will be still be around. His contract terms courtesy of Cap Geek:
|2011-12||$3.6 million||$3.5 million|
|2012-13||$3.6 million||$3.5 million|
|2013-14||$3.6 million||$3.5 million|
So how do the Oilers go about landing Schultz in a trade? The obvious answer is a draft-day trade. Tambellini, Lowe or some combination of the two worked with Chuck Fletcher on draft day 2009 to move Kyle Brodziak for picks and could do so again. Fletcher is looking for a mid-grade defenseman and cap space plus a pick or a forward prospect. The Oilers have Ladislav Smid and a multitude of forward prospects and picks. Moving Smid for Schultz is a natural fit - Schultz is under contract for as long as Smid is under control by the Oilers through restricted free agency. Smid plus the Oilers first pick in the third round (#62 overall) might be enough to bring in the shutdown defenseman the Oilers so desperately need.
Adding Schultz to the depth chart gives the Oilers' defense immediate legitimacy. Renney could pair him with Tom Gilbert to take on the tough minutes, giving Ryan Whitney easy zonestarts and easier matchups, a strategy that could coax more offense out of Whitney. The Oilers would have to find a second-pairing defenseman in free agency, which changes the targets I discussed yesterday. Even if the Oilers draft Adam Larsson, this trade still makes sense. The first step towards competing in the Western Conference is to plug the leaks on the top pairing and the penalty kill. Nick Schultz does both and more.