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Justin Schultz Is Officially An NHL Free Agent

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In a step that should come as a surprise to no one, Wisconsin's Justin Schultz has let the 30 days of exclusive negotiating rights with the Anaheim Ducks expire.

Schultz withdrew from school in late May, creating a 30 day exclusive window for the Ducks to convince him to sign with their organization. That deadline expired at 12:00 ET Sunday night.

Let the courting begin.

Anaheim drafted Schultz in the second round of the NHL draft in 2008 out of the British Columbia Hockey League. Schultz spent the following season back in the BCHL before coming to Madison in the fall of 2009. After three seasons as a Badger, Schultz finds himself in a rare position to become a free agent after just three NCAA seasons.

Don't be confused, this is not a loophole in the CBA which has been reported by many. This was put into the CBA on purpose, as it gives players in his position the same rights as a collegiate senior who entered school the year they were drafted. Both players are four years out from the time they were selected, and thus deserve the same rights according to the CBA.

As it stands, Schultz finds himself in the rare position of being one of the top targets on the free agent market, even though he's never played a single game in the NHL.

According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, Schultz will meet with his agents in Toronto on Tuesday. Schultz is represented by Wade Arnott and the staff at Newport Sports Management. Toronto is the home base for Newport, it just by chance also happens to be the home of one of the most likely suitors for Schultz.

McKenzie reports that they will start fielding offers on Wednesday. While he can come to terms with a team starting immediately, Schultz can't officially sign a contract until NHL free agency opens on July 1st.

The Badgers season ended this year on March 11th, giving Schultz one full month of time that he could have spent in the NHL with Anaheim. According to multiple reports, Anaheim was prepared to add Justin to their NHL roster as soon as the final buzzer sounded on the Badgers season.

If Schultz signed with Anaheim at the conclusion of Wisconsin's season, he would have received an $87,500 signing bonus, and a pro-rated portion of an $875,000 salary which would have approximately totaled somewhere in the neighborhood of $130,000. That means he could have earned over $200,000 to play the last month of the NHL season with Anaheim.

That's why most were stunned when Bucky's 5th Quarter reported on March 13th that Schultz was planning on taking his time, and wasn't planning on making a decision anytime soon. With every day that went by, Schultz was literally losing thousands of dollars remaining unsigned.

Once April 7th (the final day of the NHL regular season) passed, the chances that Schultz was going to sign with Anaheim was between zero and, zero.

Not only did Schultz give up his $87,500 signing bonus for the 2011-12 season by not signing before the April 7th deadline as well as the pro-rated salary he could have earned, but he also gave up the opportunity to burn a year off his entry level contract. By burning a year off his ELC, he could have accelerated the process to outright free agency where he can earn the big dollars that players like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are set to earn this summer.

As it stands now, Schultz will be bound to the current CBA as long as he signs (and he's expected to) before the CBA expires in the fall. That means he'll have to sign a two-year contract no matter where he goes. Schultz will also have a maximum salary of $925,000 per season with an up front $92,500 signing bonus. He can also negotiate performance bonuses that could take his cap hit up to the $3,000,000 range.

Schultz, who is an elite puck mover with above average skating skills that can step in and immediately run an NHL power play has had general managers around the league drooling over the possibility that they could acquire such an elite talent for simply an entry level contract.

What's going to set teams apart, given that no team can offer any more money to Schultz than any other?

Former NHL GM and Sports Agent Brian Lawton was recently on the radio and proclaimed that teams must guarantee Schultz a roster spot if they want a chance to sign him. Some agreed with Lawton, others scoffed at the notion that a college hockey player should command such respect.

I'll promise you one thing. Justin Schultz will be a full time player in the NHL next season.

Well, as long as there is an NHL next season.

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