Dear Justin Schultz,
Some fans reading this letter will now need a moment to absorb this delightful piece of information. Let’s give them a moment to process the joy and euphoria they are surely experiencing at this moment—many are probably laughing out loud right now. Forgive us if it sounds a little strained and hysterical.
Congratulations on winning the Stanley Cup. That’s really great. We are so happy for you. I am clapping while staring blankly into space. Can you hear it? Clap. Clap.
Yes, I may have magnified the goodwill shown towards you by Oilers fans a little bit, or perhaps exponentially. But now that we've gotten the requisite sarcasm out of the way, it's really worth pointing out that despite how you were seen in Edmonton as the symbol for everything that is putrid in this world, the sentiment towards your Cup run is surprisingly not full of anger and hatred. I wouldn’t say we are all quite sure what to feel, but the lack of pure negativity makes this a rather interesting illustration of our sweetly complex feelings towards you.
Let’s be real. Cheering for you is like genuinely wishing the best for an ex who treated you pretty terribly during your relationship, and has now found a much hotter significant other. Together you are now successful billionaires, looking down on us and laughing from your private jet as we sit on a dirty park bench eating microwaved pizza pockets. So yeah, it's slightly difficult.
But look how happy you look. This looks nothing like Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oiler. Who is this strange human lifting the Stanley Cup? Full Playoff beard, expression of unabashed joy, all foreign concepts to Oilers fans but, really, how can one not be even a little bit happy to see that?
You would really think given how proficient Oilers fans had become at criticizing you, so much so that your name has been immortalized as a verb ("to Jultz" joining the ranks of "to Google" and "to Xerox" as proper names achieving a resounding level of cultural relevance), they would be saying a little prayer each night, hoping you trip over your own skates in brilliant slapstick fashion and embarrass yourself every shift. But you see, the Edmonton Oilers are not your typical hockey team, and Oilers fans not your typical hockey fans.
The general sentiment amongst Oilers fans on social media and forums (read: infallible scientific research) during your Cup run has consisted of a rather wide variety of conflicting emotions, but few with pure ill will. Just within the Copper & Blue family, a discussion around your imminent Cup win resulted in vastly disparate reactions, many mirrored on Twitter by other fans. Here are a few of the most prominent:
1. Thinly veiled saltiness and denial (at 75% intensity)- Shona
"I don’t want to write this. I don’t want to think about this." Shona added, "Please make me sound only 75% as bitter as I actually am."
2. Really intense sarcasm- Alan
"Please refer to him as ‘key deadline acquisition’ Justin Schultz."
Justin Schultz sets up the 1st goal of the Stanley Cup finals just like everyone predicted back in October. #StanleyCup— CollinCapone (@CollinCapone) May 31, 2016
3. Raw, unfiltered disbelief- Ben
"It's funny how, with this Cup, Norris will become the most award-winning the Oil-developed defenseman since... God..."
If you would have told me 80 days ago, that Justin Schultz would record an assist in Game 1 of the #StanleyCupFinal I would have slapped you— Dave Sawchuk (@davesawchuk) May 31, 2016
4. Realistic, sane assessment of situation- Ryan
"The team he plays for isn't trying to fit a square peg into a round hole."
Justin Schultz IS a good D man. Oilers misused him. I hope he wins the cup.— Three Points Dave. (@3PointsDave) May 31, 2016
5. Norris jokes- Derek
"Seems like they're fitting a Norris-sized peg into a Norris-sized hole to me."
6. Genuine, heartfelt well wishes- Corey
"I'm 100% in favour of some heartfelt kindness in the Schultz article!" (I don’t know Corey very well, but Corey seems like a nice person.)
I was one of those disgusted with the booing of Justin Schultz in Edmonton. I'd be thrilled if he won a cup. #Oilers— Kurt Leavins (@KurtLeavins) May 31, 2016
Justin Schultz on the scoresheet in the #StanleyCupFinal there aren't many words. But I'm happy for him. He's being used correctly.— Douglas Dyck (@dougers14) May 31, 2016
As you can see, people were feeling a lot of things. I felt all of these at different times, sometimes even all at once, which was a really emotionally confusing experience. But it was nice to see most people were not cheering against you, and that's because we never truly hated you in the first place.
On the one hand, it's true that you were not a very good hockey player for the Oilers. There’s a reason you were our favourite punching bag, and we are so used to blaming you for everything that the natural instinct is to continue blaming you for things, even though you’re gone, much like my parents still blame me when they lose things around the house, even though I moved out six years ago. After you were traded, I had moments when I would be watching a game and really want to make a Jultz joke, only to realize you were no longer there. It felt kind of strange and hollow.
And no, we will not apologize for criticizing your play as an Oiler, because it was deserving of criticism. Even my non-hockey fans, (gently) forced to watch occasional games, have asked me, "Who is #19? Why does he keep passing to the other team?", to which I shook my head and sighed as loudly and dramatically as I could.
But on the other hand, you were not the only reason the team, and the blueline, in particular, was as porous as a used and discarded dish sponge. You were simultaneously a cause and result of a hopelessly losing culture, one that undeniably had an effect on you, with a carousel of coaches in four years, very questionable player development, and a supporting cast that left you very exposed. Fans are aware of the fact that you were, in fact, a scapegoat for the team's poor performance and easy target for dumping our collective misery on. That is a very large quantity of misery for one man to absorb.
We understand and are similarly frustrated by the fact that the Oilers are not a great hockey team, you were brought in under vastly unrealistic expectations, and were utilized in the wrong way. This is why you were never truly hated, and why we are able to kind of, sort of be happy about your Cup win, just a little bit.
A better hockey club would never use the word "Norris" in the context of your name, except maybe in the sentence "Justin Schultz will never win a Norris Trophy." A better team would never pin the hopes of an organization on you, but instead realize you can play a serviceable role as a 6/7 defenseman, as you have done admirably for the Penguins in their Cup run. A hockey club where Mark Fayne would never come within sniffing distance of the top-pairing would have the depth required for you to be utilized properly, or the tactics and players necessary to shield you, as explained by Pensburgh.
Fanbases don’t usually cheer for players who departed having played really poorly, but we understand well that you were also a victim of the larger ecosystem of ineptitude. We feel a unique combination of wrath and pity towards you, enough to muster some variation of begrudging support for the Pens’ Cup run.
This is all despite the jokes made at the Oilers’ expense during your "resurgence." Essentially, the more success you have, the worse it makes the Oilers look. Everyone is talking about your amazing redemption story and how this confirms Edmonton is the worst possible place on this planet for a professional hockey player to play.
The more Justin Schultz plays in this system, the more you see what all the fuss was about coming out of college. #EdmontonBrokeSchultz— Erik Paul (@ekpaul87) May 31, 2016
Sorry for breaking you, but this still doesn’t really factor into how we feel about you as an ex-Oiler. For better or worse, we're just very used to players who played terribly for us being sold low and finding their feet on a new team, suddenly playing like they had been method acting the part of a really bad hockey player all that time they were wearing an Oilers uniform. It comes with the territory of having a subpar team. We all know deep in our hearts that if Jordan Eberle were ever traded to another team, any team, he would be the second coming of Patrick Kane, minus the mullet and myriad dislikeable aspects. So pretty much, even better than Patrick Kane (this is not scientific).
So despite our history, Justin, we’re happy for you, in kind of a weird, complicated way. Enjoy your newfound success, and we will always look at the times we had together with some fondness; if nothing else, it was great for some good jokes. Jokes are always nice. And hey, since you’re a Stanley Cup-winning defenseman now, maybe Craig MacTavish will come out of the woods and convince the Oilers to trade for you again!
Is that more strained, hysterical laughter I hear?