On Monday morning, Anaheim Ducks draft pick Justin Schultz became an unrestricted free agent, thanks to a loophole in the CBA that allows players who went to college after playing minor juniors decide their own fate (for some reason). It had become clear he was not interested in joining the Ducks and that there would be plenty of interest from around the league for the player many describe as “the best player not yet in the NHL.”
Since he’d be signing an entry-level deal with any team that’s lucky enough to snag him, the money was to be no issue. He’ll receive the rookie maximum $925,000 (which includes a signing bonus of $92,500) — plus he’d be eligible for an additional $2.85M in performance bonuses, making his total cap hit $3.775M. That offer will be identical from every team that sends him one.
And nearly all thirty teams did. According to Bob McKenzie, 26 of the NHL’s 30 clubs made contact with his agent and offered him a deal. Schultz was in a unique position where he’d be able to choose the team of his liking based on geography and the promise of playing time in the NHL right away. Not bad for a kid who’s a week shy of his 22nd birthday.
The Red Wings had never made promises of playing time to free agents. But Justin Schultz isn’t your average free agent. The Wings are in a state of flux, with Nicklas Lidstrom hanging up his skates and Brad Stuart being traded to (and subsequently signed by) the San Jose Sharks, there are a few spots open on the blueline — whether or not Detroit can swing Ryan Suter. If ever there was a time to roll the dice and take a shot at a young stud, this is it. If you’re going to make promises once, why not now? And that’s exactly what General Manager Ken Holland did, stating, “We’re prepared to give him the opportunity to be on our team.”
On Wednesday evening, Justin Schultz narrowed his options down from 26 to just a few. Detroit was NOT on that list, according to The Detroit News’ Ted Kulfan.
No matter which team Schultz chooses, he won’t be able to sign a contract until July 1st, but it is expected that he’ll make his decision well before Sunday. The front-runners for the Canadian’s services have long been rumored to have been the Toronto Maple Leafs (Brian Burke originally drafted him), Vancouver Canucks (he’s from British Columbia), and Edmonton Oilers (perhaps he wants to be the stud D they’re lacking).
It looks like it’s Suter or bust…
Photo Credit: David Stluka/Icon SMI