Saturday, April 7th was by far the most important date for the Anaheim Ducks in their pursuit to sign Wisconsin junior defenseman Justin Schultz. The day came and went, with no announcement from either side that they have reached an agreement.
The reason the date was significant was because it was the last day that the Ducks could get Schultz under contract for the current NHL season.
The biggest bargaining chip for the Ducks was the fact that they could burn a year off his entry level contract by signing him during the current season, allowing Schultz to become a restricted free agent sooner, and in turn accelerating his timeline for a bigger pay day.
Turning down that offer from the Ducks says a lot about Schultz's intentions. Not only did he leave $200,000 on the table by not finishing the season with the Ducks, but he also gave up an opportunity to accelerate his timeline for that bigger payday down the road.
Anaheim will hold the rights of their former second round pick until June 1st of this year, and after that Schultz can sign with any team as of July 1st.
On the surface, it makes little sense for Schultz to pass up the opportunity to sign with the Ducks before the end of the NHL season, only to sign with them before June 1st when their exclusive negotiating rights expire. If he was going to sign with the Ducks, he was going to do so when he could burn a year off his entry level contract and put a few bucks in his pocket in the process.
In fact, since we're already past the April 7th deadline, it would be more financially beneficial for Schultz to wait to sign with any team, Ducks or otherwise until July 1st when he will become an unrestricted free agent. If he signs with the Ducks between now and June 1st his entry level contract will max out at $875,000 (base salary) per season. If he waits until July 1st when he can sign with any team, Schultz's contract would max out at $925,000 (base salary) per year.
Anaheim GM Bob Murray made his first public comments this week about Schultz, which came as no surprise as the Ducks were well aware how important the April 7th deadline was. Murray's comments came off to me as an obvious attempt to spin the public perception that the Ducks did everything the possibly could to sign their top prospect.
"Several members of our staff have had conversations with Justin over the last few years, where he has expressed a strong interest in being an Anaheim Duck," Murray said Thursday. "We have all had the opportunity to get to know what a great person and player Justin is over the last few years. We are very excited about the possibility of him becoming an Anaheim Duck when he is ready to turn pro."
Schultz has told the Ducks that he doesn't plan on making a decision until after the semester ends in May. Again, Bob Murray adds a little spin to it and even mentions Schultz going back to Wisconsin for his senior season. At this point, Schultz returning for a fourth year in Madison is probably the Ducks best bet at signing the West Kelowna, B.C. native.
"We respect his decision to finish his third year of college and a fourth year if he so decides. If he does decide to sign with us before he graduates, we have a policy of providing whatever assistance is necessary to help our players graduate from college."
Schultz mentioned recently that there is still a chance he returns to Wisconsin if there is a lockout. I don't see it, even if there is a lockout. If Schultz wants to become a free agent on July 1st, he's going to have to withdraw from school at Wisconsin in mid-May, well in advance of the CBA expiring next September.
At this point, we probably won't hear much news either way on Schultz until the first couple weeks of May when the second semester at Wisconsin is over.
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