Wisconsin junior defenseman Justin Schultz was the buzz of the hockey world yesterday when TSN's Bob McKenzie reported that Schultz had filed paperwork to officially withdraw from school.
Withdrawing from school was an important step in Schultz's hockey future. A 2008 second round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks, Schultz can become an NHL free agent this summer thanks to a provision in the collective bargaining agreement.
Since it's been four years since Schultz has been drafted, he has the right to choose his organization. The first step was notifying the parties involved that he would be officially withdrawing. Since that has happened, the Ducks will now own his exclusive negotiating rights for 30 days.
According to McKenzie, those 30 days expire just prior to the June 22nd Draft. After that, Schultz is free to negotiate with any teams leading up to the opening of free agency on July 1st when he can officially sign a contract.
However on Friday, Michael Russo who covers the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune mentioned on the radio that he thinks a team may have already gotten to Schultz, and that Anaheim may go after them with a tampering charge.
Russo was filling in on the Twin-Cities radio station KFAN Friday when he mentioned the possible tampering charges. The following is a transcript of what Russo reported on the air:
"Lot of people asking me about Justin Schultz. What happened today (withdrawing from school) is a formality. Schultz has been playing hardball from Anaheim since they thought they were signing him at the end of the year. Really at the end of the regular season they thought they were putting him in the lineup. Schultz is a Wisconsin defenseman."
"I think somebody has gotten to Schultz, and told him ‘come here, come here.' And I think that we'll know who that team is, come July 1 wherever he signs. And that's why I don't think the Wild have a chance with him. Of course the Wild would be interested in someone like him."
"But he has his mind set on going to one specific team right now. And whatever that team is, I guarantee you the Anaheim Ducks will go after them with a tampering charge, because the Anaheim Ducks have been building that case for the last couple of months. They have all sorts of e-mails from him basically saying, ‘I'm coming there, I'm coming there,' and suddenly, for some reason, he's not coming there."-Michael Russo on KFAN 5/15/12
In some ways it's hard to differentiate in what Russo is saying between what is his opinion of what happened, and the information that is real and has been given to him. That said, it certainly seems like Russo knows a lot more here than he is letting on and that there may be something to this.
Digging in a bit further and checking Russo's twitter feed (@Russostrib), we can garner that Russo believes Toronto is the landing spot for Schultz. In response to a fan asking if Minnesota could be a destination for Schultz, Russo tweeted:
none. He's obviously picked his team. My guess: Toronto— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) May 25th, 2012
Russo was later asked again about Schultz and responded again with Toronto as his likely team next season:
he's picked his team. My guess is Toronto— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) May 25th, 2012
It wouldn't be fair of me to say that Russo is accusing Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs of tampering, especially since he's prefacing his Toronto claims as a 'guess'. That said, you can draw your own conclusions when Russo makes the claim that the Ducks are preparing tampering charges, and Russo believes that Toronto is where Schultz will end up when free agency opens up on July 1.
Toronto is obviously the current home of Schultz's former defensive partner with the Badgers, Jake Gardiner. The two were both drafted by Anaheim in the same year (Gardiner in the first round, Schultz in the second). Anaheim's GM at the time? Toronto's current GM Brian Burke.
Back in February of 2011, Burke made a trade with his old team in Anaheim sending Francois Beauchemin to the Ducks and acquiring Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner. It's been widely speculated that Burke's original target in the trade was Schultz, not Gardiner. Allegedly the Leafs settled on Gardiner only after being told that the Ducks weren't willing to part with Schultz.
It's now possible that Burke will end up with both Gardiner, and Schultz.
Coincidentally, according to the Orange County Register, Schultz happens to be advised by Toronto based Newport Sports Management and Wade Arnott, who oversees United States operations according to his bio on the company's website.
Tampering allegations aside, It's all but a certainty that Schultz will let the 30 days of exclusive negotiating rights with the Ducks expire. As it stands right now, Schultz is bound to the entry level max base salary of $875,000 from his 2008 draft year. However, if Schultz waits until July 1 to sign as a free agent (even if he signs with Anaheim), his max base salary will be $925,000.
So even if Schultz was going to sign with the Ducks, he would have taken this route to get to free agency first to get the extra $50,000 base salary per year. Hey, money is money right?
Granted, if Schultz really wanted to to sign with the Ducks he would have done so at the conclusion of the Wisconsin season. The All-American blue-liner gave up an $87,500 signing bonus and upwards of $100,000 in salary by not signing with the Ducks immediately after the Badgers were eliminated by Denver in the playoffs.
By not signing with the Ducks before the end of the NHL regular season, Schultz also gave up the opportunity to burn a year off his entry level contract. Burning a year would have gotten Schultz to restricted free agency sooner, and thus accelerated his timeline towards a bigger payday down the road.
Hockey analysts across the globe were singing his praises once again yesterday. Bob McKenzie mentioned once again that Schultz will be one of the hottest names on the market this summer:
Next to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Schultz may be most sought after UFA this summer. Blue chip, Top 4 offensive defenceman prospect— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 25th, 2012
Former Calgary Flames GM and current TSN & NHL Network hockey analyst Craig Button was also very complimentary of the two-time All-American in a tweet sent out Friday comparing Schultz to NHL superstar Drew Doughty:
To add a little On Justin Schultz. NHL ready & a player I feel could be like Drew Doughty. Dynamic & controls game.— Craig Button (@CraigJButton) May 25th, 2012
Regardless of where Schultz ends up, he's going to be an outstanding gift for someone.
@TSNBobMcKenzie wherever @6Schultz6 ends up is gonna win big time whether its #wisco or #nhl.. #leader #theman— Mark Zengerle (@Zengerle9) May 25th, 2012
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