Let's get one thing out of the way right now. This is the last season we'll see Justin Schultz in a Wisconsin hockey sweater.
The junior defenseman from West Kelowna, B.C. will have a year of eligibility left next season, but the chances of him quitting the sport are better than him returning for a fourth year. He's as ready as anyone has ever been to move on to the next level, and there's no reason to hold him back.
In a recent podcast on USCHO.com, Wisconsin State Journal beat writer Andy Baggot, who has covered college hockey since 1986, called Schultz one of the five best players he's covered at this level.
The Anaheim Ducks of the NHL currently own his rights as they selected him in the second round of the NHL draft in 2008, 43rd overall. The general consensus would be that Schultz would sign a contract with the Ducks and start his professional career.
However that might not be so simple.
There's a chance Schultz could exercise a little used loophole in the collective bargaining agreement and become a free agent over the summer.
And that possibility scares the hell out of Anaheim fans.
Schultz is widely considered one of the best players in the world not currently playing in the NHL. Hockey Prospectus, a very well regarded hockey scouting service recently ranked Schultz as the #10 overall NHL prospect in the world.
"Schultz looks filthy good every shift he takes for Wisconsin and he clearly doesn't belong in college anymore. His ability to make plays at both ends and control the game is pretty high end," HP writer Corey Pronman wrote on January 18th.
So what are Justin's options?
First of all, he holds all the cards here. By coming back to Wisconsin for his junior season he essentially maximized his value.
The first possibility for Schultz would be to finish his junior season at Wisconsin (that will happen regardless), and sign a contract with Anaheim sometime this summer. Since he's turning 22 in July, he'll be signed to a two year NHL two-way contract for 2012-13 and 2013-14.
He'll receive $875,000 for each season (if he's in the NHL). He'll also receive a $87,500 signing bonus both seasons regardless of where he plays.
Schultz finishes the season with Wisconsin and signs an entry level contract (ELC) with Anaheim the minute the Badgers season is over. This option isn't outstanding for the Ducks because it means that Schultz can become a restricted free agent earlier. Signing during this NHL season would burn a year off his ELC.
Let's say the Badgers are eliminated after the first round of the WCHA playoffs (which let's be honest, is very possible), Schultz could sign with Anaheim as soon as March 12th. Schultz would immediately receive a $87,500 signing bonus for this season.
As for salary, the NHL goes by days under contract. Schultz would spend 26 days in the NHL to end the season, and would make approximately $5,000 per day. That means he'd end up banking around $130,000 in salary. Add that to his $87,500 signing bonus and he'd end this hockey season with a cool $217,500.
Next season Schultz would receive the second year of his signing bonus (another $87,500) and an NHL salary of $875,000.
In this scenario Schultz would become a free agent a year sooner than in option one, and that obviously means his earning potential increases significantly.
Since Schultz played a year of junior hockey after being drafted, he can become a free agent over the summer if he chooses. The NHL CBA has a loophole that says if you officially withdraw from school (simply has to tell UW he's leaving) and it's the fourth summer after you've been drafted, you can choose to become a free agent.
Not many players do this, but Jason Gregoire from North Dakota chose this route last year. Other players like Bill Sweatt from Colorado College have done the same.
In this scenario, Schultz could earn $925,000 in salary each season with a $92,500 signing bonus both years.
The obvious advantage to this would be that Justin could pick and choose where he wants to play. Being a top 10 prospect in the world, Schultz could essentially choose any team in the NHL to play for next season. Would he want to be closer to his home and play for the Vancouver Canucks? Would he want to go play with a former teammate, or choose a better situation?
Option 1 (Sign with Anaheim this summer)
*2012-13: $875,000 + $87,500 signing bonus
*2013-14: $875,000 + $87,500 signing bonus
*Restricted Free Agent: 2014-2015
Option 2 (Sign with Anaheim immediately after the Wisconsin season)
*2011-12: $130,000 + $87,500 signing bonus
*2012-13: $875,000 + $87,500 signing bonus
*Restricted Free Agent: 2013-2014 (one year earlier than option 1)
Option 3 (Choose your destination this summer)
*2012-13: $925,00 + $92,500 signing bonus
*2013-14: $925,00 + $92,500 signing bonus
*Restricted Free Agent: 2014-2015
So what's going to happen?
Obviously the best option for the Ducks is option #1. They get to control Schultz for two full seasons under his entry level contract. It's the best for them in years, and dollars.
However, Schultz has the leverage in this scenario, and If his advisor (agent when he becomes a pro) is any good he'll immediately let the Ducks know that they aren't going to get away with option number one.
Schultz has the leverage because if the Duck's don't offer to bring him in immediately at the end of the Wisconsin season, and let him burn a year off his entry level contract, he'll choose to become a free agent at the end of the season and choose his team.
He would obviously choose option 3 over option 1. He can make more money, and pick his team.
Therefore the Ducks will be forced into offering him a spot immediately at the end of the season. If they don't, they almost certainly will lose his rights.
It sounds like the Ducks are willing to burn the year off his ELC and bring Schultz in. Over the weekend GM Bob Murray talked about Justin during a "State of the Franchise" type thing held at the Honda Center for the fans.
SBN Duck's blog "Anaheim Calling" recapped what Murray said about Schultz.
"On the topic of Justin Schultz, Murray was very effusive and praised his intelligence and play. He said that the team hopes to see Schultz before next camp (which seems to confirm whispers that the Ducks will give up a cup of coffee this season) and that he believes Schultz will not go back to Wisconsin for his senior year, although nothing is set in stone."
So that's when Schultz has to decide what he wants more. Does he want a nice chunk of change at the end of this season and the ability to become a restricted free agent sooner (where you can make more money than in an ELC)? Or does he want to pick what NHL franchise he wants to play for?
In the end I think he'll choose the Ducks and sign immediately at the end of the Wisconsin season. It makes the most sense financially, and he will get an opportunity to jump in and get his feet wet in the NHL this season. The Ducks are terrible this year and Schulz should get some solid playing time. He could potentially play in as many as 13 games to finish the season.
Ducks fans are already pissed they lost one former Badger (Jake Gardiner) in a trade to Toronto. I can't imagine their reaction if they lose another.
Is that the route he will take? I guess we'll find out in a month or so. But I bet Anaheim fan's are going to be sweating it out until he makes that decision.
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