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Why Did Justin Schultz Choose the Oilers?

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Questioning the Oilers rebuild is something I enjoy doing. Not because I'm a jerk (or at least not just because I'm a jerk) but because here are a lot of assumptions behind the Oilers decision to rebuild that I find interesting and I enjoy challenging those assumptions.

One of reasons I'm often told that a rebuild was necessary is because free agents don't want to come to Edmonton and so acquiring elite talent through the draft is the Oilers only option if the team ever wants to be a legit contender and not just an eight place speed bump every season. I love Edmonton but I also understand that it doesn't have the draw of New York or Los Angeles, so in some way the Oilers are at a disadvantage but, contrary to the opinions of some fans, I've felt that the overall state of the franchise has had more to do with the lack of marquee free agent signings than anything else. In other words, when (if) the rebuild starts to pay dividends and the team starts to win then Edmonton will be a much more desirable location.

So the signing of Justin Schultz is proof that the rebuild is on track, right? I'm not so sure I'd say that.

This is something I was tweeted on Saturday and the thought was once again at the front of my mind after reading a post from David Staples at The Cult of Hockey this morning. I can't say that the Oilers rebuild and the players that the Oilers have amassed as a result didn't play some part in Schultz' decision to come to Edmonton but there were a few other factors in play as well.

When Schultz and his agent sat down and talked about potential destinations I'm sure his agent talked to him about two things, the first being each team's window of opportunity. For all the potential the Oilers have, their window of opportunity is something that management has to be ever cognizant of. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle will need new contracts at the end of the upcoming season. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the year after. With these players all entering their second contracts the Oilers are going to have to adjust into a team attempting to contend in the very near future. Of course success can't be guaranteed but the window where the Oilers will be trying consistently to win more or less overlaps with the six years between now and when Schultz becomes a free agent. For a player that is an ideal situation.

So, question about management aside and there are a lot of questions, the Edmonton rebuild certainly played a factor in Schultz' decision. But that was probably just part of the equation. The other part was money.

On the money side of the equation the current CBA did the Oilers a huge favour in the Schultz sweepstakes. First because of the restrictions on entry level contracts it put them on a level playing field with everyone else meaning that Tambellini, no matter how hard he tried, couldn't shoot himself in the foot with this deal. Secondly because the CBA outlines the minimum requirements for every bonus choosing a team where he would be instantly guaranteed ice time gives Schultz the best chance of capitalizing on the $2.85M available to him.

The ten "A" bonus that Schultz can reach are as follows:

  • Top four among defence in ice time, aggregate or per game
  • 10 goals
  • 25 assists
  • 40 points
  • 0.49 points per game
  • Top three on the defence in plus/minus
  • Top two in blocked shots
  • Getting named to the All-Rookie team
  • Making the All-Star game
  • Being named the All-Star game MVP

Those are only part of the bonus puzzle but each is worth $212,500 to a maximum of $850,000. And as you can see seven of those bonuses are directly tied to playing time. So if Schultz is looking to make some money beyond the $925,000 in base salary he'll be getting for the next two years he needs to play as much as possible. How many other teams have a blue line bad enough that a rookie is almost guaranteed to not only make the club but see significant power play time as well? Thanks to Tambellini's efforts to rebuild the Oilers defence we find Edmonton on a very short list that would provide that opportunity.

And if you compare that list to those with a significant window of opportunity over the next six season it starts to become very clear why Edmonton was a good fit for Schultz. The rebuild certainly played a role in Schultz' final decision - both in a good way and a bad way.