With the Canucks positioned as shortlisters in the Justin Schultz sweepstakes, guaranteed playing time can’t be too critical for the coveted free agent defenceman.
The Canucks brass, GM Mike Gillis and assistant GM Laurence Gilman, are in Toronto preparing to pitch the highly touted prospect and you can be sure part of their sell job is not promises he will play on the No. 1 power play unit; or even assurances he’ll be in Vancouver’s top-six to start the season.
If it was all about playing time, the Canucks wouldn’t even get a call back.
With a reported 26 teams expressing interest, there’s little doubt some general managers are willing to commit “time on ice” to Schultz before he even signs a contract.
And you can understand why that’s tempting. Acquiring Schultz is a boon. He’d be a top-five draft pick, and he’s ready now to step into an NHL lineup. He makes your team younger and your organization deeper and has the potential to make an impact immediately.
But the Canucks are positioning themselves as a team that stresses player development, and are unwilling to pledge the top-four role many believed Schultz was seeking when this process started.
Generally, the Canucks like to believe they’re modelled on the idea playing time is earned, not gift wrapped. How it resonates with Schultz remains to be seen, because the Canucks aren’t exactly loaded with young players who have been developed in the Gillis era.
Still, if big, guaranteed minutes were what he really wanted, and a deal breaker, Schultz wouldn’t even entertain the idea of going to Vancouver.
Late Tuesday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie said via twitter some NHL teams already believe Schultz is “destined to end up with his home province Canucks.”
He can’t sign until July 1, but is expected to make up his mind a lot sooner than that, if he hasn’t already. Both the Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers had pitch teams in Toronto Wednesday and are seen as the front runners, along with the New York Rangers and the Calgary Flames.
The Canucks believe the former Anaheim draft pick who used a loophole to become a free agent Monday would be a great fit. For starters, Schultz, a star at Wisconsin, wouldn’t need be rushed into the lineup. There would be hype, but he’s not going to be viewed as a saviour in the Lower Mainland.
The Canucks appeared to clear the decks for his potential arrival. The team didn’t qualify Marc-Andre Gragnani and hasn’t shown any interest in re-signing Aaron Rome, which opened up some roster flexibility.
As it sits now, there should be opportunity for Schultz to earn an opening night spot, maybe even starting the season with the Canucks as a No. 5 or No. 6 defenceman. There, he would be protected behind a decent top-four which includes Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and most likely Sami Salo, who as of now is expected to sign another one-year deal.
If Schultz excels, you easily could envision him taking over Salo’s role over the course of the season. Whether Alain Vigneault could ever envision the same is a completely different story.
If you have a chance to get one of hockey’s best prospects without having to finish last, you do it, which explains the interest from 26 teams. But Schultz won’t be free. Along with his maximum $925,000 base salary are bonuses, which should take his cap hit to the neighbourhood of $3.8 million. The Canucks, who have decent cap space currently, would have to fit that under the cap, unless there’s a bonus cushion written into the new CBA. That is possible, if not likely.