For the first time since Wisconsin's season ended on March 11th, Badger defenseman Justin Schultz has spoken publicly about his hockey future.
The 2008 second round draft pick of Anaheim is weighing his options between returning for his senior season at Wisconsin, signing with the Ducks, or taking advantage of a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that allows him to become a free agent July 1st.
Instead of spending next week suiting up for Anaheim, Schultz is expected to return to his parents West Kelowna, British Columbia home during Wisconsin's spring break.
Schultz spoke with the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot on Wednesday, and implied that he won't be signing with the Ducks before the NHL season is over on April 7th.
"We feel it's best to finish out the school year and then look at my options and then see what's best for me," Schultz told Baggot.
Schultz's quotes confirm an earlier Bucky's 5th Quarter report that the junior blue-liner was planning on taking his time in this process, and planned on finishing the semester at Wisconsin.
The news is troubling for Ducks fans, as their biggest hope to retain the Hobey Baker finalist was to get him under contract before the conclusion of the season.
The biggest bargaining chip for the Ducks was the fact that they could burn a year off his entry level contract, allowing Schultz to become a restricted free agent sooner, and in turn accelerating his timeline for a bigger pay day.
If Schultz doesn't sign before April 7th, he will not sign until July 1st when he will have his pick of any of the 30 NHL franchises. Many clubs have been rumored to be the favorites for his services, including his hometown Vancouver Canucks.
Baggot is also reporting that the potential NHL lockout next fall could have an effect on the future of Schultz. The current CBA expires in September, and many expect new union boss Donald Fehr to fight for every last cent in the players favor.
Schultz told Baggot that the potential for a lockout is having an effect on his decision.
"They really don't know what's going on yet," Schultz said. "That's kind of why I'm waiting. Finish school and let things settle down a bit and let me step back from everything and just relax and figure things out with my family."
The obvious concern for Schultz would be spending all of next season in the American Hockey League. Back in 2004-2005, the NHL owners locked out the players and the entire season was cancelled.
Waiting until July 1st would give Schultz a better grasp on the potential for a lockout, as well as obviously giving him an opportunity to choose which franchise he would like to join.
If a lockout seems imminent, which is certainly a possibility given the leagues history, it wouldn't be entirely shocking if Schultz returned for one last year with the Badgers.
Schultz noted to Baggot that if there is a lockout, there is still a chance that he returns to school.
However Schultz was honest with Baggot, noting he realizes it's probably time for a new challenge.
"Yeah, I think I'm ready," Schultz said. "My defensive game got a lot better this year and I continued to improve everything.
"I've done enough here and I think it's time for me to move on."
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