DETROIT - APRIL 08: Scott Gudmandson #1 of the Wisconsin Badgers stops a shot as Justin Schultz #6 stands by in the first period against the RIT Tigers on April 8, 2010 during the semifinals of the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Is there anything else to say? We drafted him, we waited for him, and he spurned us (and no one really knows why he spurned us). Some have argued that Schultz was turned off by Bob Murray's inability to manage the Ducks' assets, and others argue that he's a manipulative, narcissistic prima donna with character issues.
I suspect that the truth lies somewhere between those two extremes. And even though the organization appears to have moved on (yay prospect scrimmages!), I feel the need to offer the final word on a situation that I've been pondering since Jen first sent me the link to Chuck Schwartz's original article about the CBA loophole.
Since Schultz will never give us the hour-long, in-depth, air-clearing interview that we all crave, everything written in this post - and on this blog, to be honest - is speculation. Keeping that in mind, I don't think that Schultz intended to become the center of a free agent maelstrom, fielding offers like a king among his peasants. I think he is a talented young defenseman who saw a loophole in the CBA, and decided to explore his options. Every. Single. Option. I am not a member of the camp celebrating Schultz's liberation from the Ducks organization, but he had the right to do this. But sometimes, exploring one's options leads to confusion and hurt feelings. Enter Bob Murray:
"We received no phone call from Justin Schultz. I'm more confused more than ever. I read everything of course. I've moved on. I'm confused because, if he had it in his mind that he wanted to play in Canada, then okay. I get that. I'm a Canadian too. But Eric Lindros when he didn't want to play in Quebec, he went to his team that drafted him and said 'No, I'm not going to play there.' He allowed that team to make a move to get something for him. He told us numerous times he wanted to play with us. He needed to just tell us the truth."
Everyone has seen this quote. Greg Wyshynski even wrote an entire article around it. One could argue that this is Bob Murray's feeble attempt to cover his tracks by placing all of the blame on Schultz. But Murray does admit that he understands the appeal that a Canadian team has for Justin. It would have been valuable to know that Schultz was leaning toward a Canadian team in advance. Murray could've gotten a pick from the Oilers in return for him. But since Schultz never called, no deals could be made. One might ask - what does Schultz owe the Ducks? Technically, nothing. But it would have been courteous to give the Ducks organization some compensation for his loss.
Bruce Boudreau and Ryan Getzlaf also expressed similar levels of frustration with the situation during the Select-A-Seat last month. You've already seen these quotes as well, but they're worth revisiting.
Bruce Boudreau: "I don't know what the heck happened there. We were in Chicago and we still weren't playing great and I talked to the kid straight up and said we could use you right now on the big club. We won't send you to the Crunch, as soon as you're through with Wisconsin we'll get you down there on the ice. The kid looked me right in the eye and said I can't wait coach, it's what I've always wanted. We also told him since we were playing him now it would move him one year closer to making millions of dollars. The kid seemed really excited and it seemed like a done deal when all of a sudden something dramatically changed. Someone got to the kid, it seems. I don't know exactly what happened but there's something fishy in Denmark." (sic)
Faulty Hamlet paraphrase aside, Boudreau's comments are very similar to Murray's. According to this statement, Schultz made a verbal agreement to come to the Ducks organization. That verbal agreement wasn't legally binding, but if Schultz was still deliberating, it would have been best for him to say nothing to Boudreau (or Murray). I suspect that what Schultz "always wanted" was to be a star in the NHL, and not necessarily an Anaheim Duck. And when he realized that NHL stardom didn't necessarily have to come in a Ducks uniform, he leaped at the chance to steer his destiny.
Getzlaf also offered his thoughts on the situation:
"He better be really good because a lot of players, not just on this team, don't like the way he's handling this situation."
Despite its brevity, this might be the most damming of all the quotes. Schultz has not played a single NHL game, and he has already cultivated a reputation as a dishonest person. Many people are upset by Schultz's rejection of the Ducks. But the crux of most people's grievances with Schultz - the reason why many of us are circling October 19th on our calendars - was his inability to maintain a clear line of communication with the Ducks. He should've briefed the organization about his decision making process at every step of the way, which he did not appear to do.
We've finished dissecting comments from angry members of the Ducks organization, but another question looms: Why Edmonton?
Most of us on AC though that Schultz would end up in Toronto or Detroit. I considered the New York Rangers to be a dark horse (imagine Schultz and Ryan McDonagh on the same team. Whoa). But Schultz has said that he wanted to develop with a corps of talented young players, and much has been made of the Oilers' young guns. Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov have each been the subjects of breathless Canadian media coverage for a long time, and I expect that Schultz has said that he wants to be counted among a group that many believe is destined for greatness. (And I wouldn't forget Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, who is currently marinating in the AHL).
But the Ducks have young, talented players as well. As others have observed, seeing Cam Fowler and Schultz on the Ducks' first power play unit would've been incredible. A Schultz- Luca Sbisa pairing would've been interesting to watch. And we can't forget our young corps of forwards: Devante Smith-Pelly, Emerson Etem, Nick Bonino (who showed that he is an NHL center last year), Peter Holland, and Kyle Palmieri. And if there is one area where Murray has succeeded, it is in the drafting of European prospects - Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, Max Friberg, and Sami Vatanen all show promise. But ‘promise' is the operative word. While I have high hopes for all of these men, only four (DSP, Fowler, Sbisa, and Bonino) have really impressed me at the NHL level. And because we are the Anaheim Ducks, none of these young players have been showered with as much attention as Edmonton's young forwards. Schultz wanted to be in a place where things are happening now. Most hockey fans will tell you that dynasties no longer exist in the salary cap era, but if Edmonton is on the verge of becoming one, Schultz wants to be there.
And speaking of dynasties, here's a simple inequality: Gretzky + Coffey > Niedermayer (Justin allegedly failed to return Nieds' calls, which is pathetic). Even though they're still a gutter team, the Oilers have a proven track record of taking talented prospects and shaping them into all-time greats. Paul Coffey was selected as a Second Team All Star during his second season with the club. Two seasons later, he was a Stanley Cup winner and the first defenseman to score 40 goals in a season. And a season after that, he was a Norris Trophy winner. And no discussion of Oiler history is complete without a mention of Wayne Gretzky, who played the best hockey of his brilliant career with the organization. Even though Schultz has said that he decided to sign with the organization before talking with either man, the conversations that he had with Coffey and Gretzky likely strengthened his resolve to sign with the Oilers.
And here's a final quote, from the man himself:
"I grew up in Canada and wanted to play in a Canadian city. And watching the Oilers go to the Cup run (in '06), it looked like a pretty cool place to play. I fell in love right away."
The Ducks organization is frustrated by Schultz's seemingly apparent duplicity. He said that he was excited about being a Duck, and then seemed to change his mind at the last minute. And despite our best efforts to locate the weak link within our organization, I believe that Schultz's decision ultimately has nothing to do with Murray or the Ducks. He would've done the same thing to Phoenix (shout out to Blake Wheeler!), Florida, Dallas, or any other small to mid-market team in a nontraditional location.
Based on information that he has provided us, I am lead to believe that Schultz intended to sign with the Ducks - Murray or no Murray - until he (or his agent, Wade Arnott) discovered the loophole in the CBA. To us, the Oilers are a perennial basement team (at least we make the playoffs every other year!) But for Schultz, the discovery of this loophole - which probably happened around the same time we discovered it, explaining his change of heart - has given him the opportunity to play for the team of his dreams, in a city where the hockey team is literally the only show in town, and in a country where hockey is culture and not entertainment. Schultz's love of the Oilers organization extends back to his childhood. This was an opportunity that he felt he couldn't refuse, and I seriously doubt that even a shrewder GM would've been able to dissuade him from leaving.
I hope that Schultz becomes the stellar defenseman that he is projected to become. I don't plan to boo my laptop screen on October 19th, but it would've been nice if he had been more direct with us.