With the end of the Wisconsin Badgers season, Anaheim Ducks fans began salivating over the soon to be arrival of their prized defensive prospect, Justin Schultz. Schultz has been the top defenseman in NCAA hockey for the past two seasons. He skates well, has a good first pass, and if he puts some more muscle on that 6'2" frame could probably be terrifying.
So, where is thaaat enthusiasm now? It's churning in the stomachs of the Anaheim faithful, wondering if Schultz is going to walk away for nothing. The most recent news on his decision comes from Bucky's 5th Quarter, a Wisconsin Badgers blog. They are under the impression that Schultz is going to take his time deciding on what he wants to do with his career. If you need a break down of what Schultz's options are, the linked story does a good job of breaking it down.
The author of the linked story observed that if Schultz was going to sigh with the Ducks, he probably would have done it by now. That's bad news for Ducks fans, but it should be worse news for Bob Murray. IF, notice the if, IF Murray lets Schultz get away, I believe it should be the last mistake he makes as general manager of the Ducks. This goes beyond the gray areas of what may or may not be considered the mismanaging of assets. If Schultz walks, Murray will have given away the Ducks' top defensive prospect for nothing. That is an unacceptable mismanagement of assets.
This issue has a lot of moving parts, but I'd like to start with this point of analysis: fans can't have it both ways.
Either hockey is a business or it's not. If it is, then Schultz owes us nothing. The only thing we've done for him so far is draft him. It's hard to make some argument that we have somehow been loyal to him, and therefore deserve his loyalty. The CBA anchors players to teams until they are 27, or for a minimum of 7 years. If you want to talk about what Schultz REALLY gains by not signing with the Ducks, you have to talk about freedom. He will have something that very few top prospects in his situation will have, the ability to choose where he wants to play. I don't know if you can really put a dollar amount on that. Schultz is about to beat the system. Yes, he'll be tied to that team, but he will have at least chosen a team for whom he's willing to play for the next six years of his career. I don't know if you can be mad at a kid for wanting to choose where he works, especially when it is a multi-year commitment. Don't kid yourself; there's a reason so few RFAs move.
So, if we can't blame Schultz, who can we blame? Well, it's Murray's job to handle these assets. It's his job to make sure Schultz stays a Duck. The first argument to protect Murray would be that he can't force Schultz to leave early. That's true, but that doesn't change the fact that handling this kid is his responsibility. If he ever felt that he couldn't sign Schultz, he should have moved him. Murray knew this was around the corner. Murray made a press for Schultz this summer to leave school, and he failed. He couldn't convince him to come play for the Ducks. However, that's his job. The GM convinces free agents, draft picks, and whoever to come play here. Murray was not persuasive enough. Of course, it's possible that he committed an error before this summer.
The Ducks traded Schultz's defensive partner, Jake Gardiner, to reacquire Francois Beauchemin. When the trade went down, a fair few Duck fans justified the loss of Gardiner by saying we still had Schultz, who was better. Murray probably agreed and might have been caught giving up a bird in hand for two in the brush, or bush, or however the saying goes. It's not outlandish to think that Murray thought he had the better prospect locked up, so he was giving up something to get something he needed. I didn't like that trade, but I can appreciate the logic. However, there's also a chance that by doing so, he upset Schultz. I don't know if Schultz was in love with the idea of playing with his Wisconsin partner in the NHL, but I think anyone here would agree that the idea is cool. Suddenly, Schultz has the power to do exactly that. I'm not saying he made this decision as soon as Gardiner was traded, but I suppose it's as good of an excuse as any other to explain why he will simply hold out and play where he wants.
There will be unintended consequences for Schultz's actions. This is the type of thing that proponents of major junior hockey will point to in order to promote their league over the NCAA. If Schultz walks, look for their to be a slight downturn in college bound kids going in the early rounds.
Ultimately, this comes down to one thing and one thing only: Losing one of the top prospects in all of hockey. Wrap your minds around that folks. Schultz has just finished seasoning and has some people talking about making the leap. In the mean time, we are watching him walk away. I'm sorry, but I just don't see how that isn't the GM's fault. More importantly, what message does this send to future college prospects we deal with? Can they just wait us out? I don't know how to look at this situation and find a positive. If Schultz signs, then this is probably a no-harm-no-foul scenario. This then becomes Murray just fulfilling his duties as a GM. If Schultz ends up in Toronto, Vancouver, Detroit, or anywhere that isn't Anaheim, it's time to show Murray the door. It's his responsibility to hold onto these players and get value for them. Losing the best defensive prospect in our system for nothing is simply the last straw.