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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Justin Schultz and the Kelowna Connection

Justin Schultz, #6 Wisconsin Badgers
Justin Schultz has successfully exercised his right under the current CBA to reach unrestricted free agency despite being only 22 years old (as of July 6).  

Make no mistake, this is a  big deal for NHL teams:
“This one is going to be just as big as the (Zach) Parise and (Ryan) Suter because of the economics of it.” -- NHL executive

His is one of those unique situations though, the UFA status will not necessarily garner him more money, since he is still bound by the limitations of the Entry Level Contract framework, which has a maximum base and maximum bonus structure. Here's a good explanation of what Schultz can expect:

Every team that makes an offer on him will do so knowing it will have to absorb a $3.8 million salary cap hit next season - $925,000 in base salary and signing bonus, $850,000 in ‘A’ level bonuses  (for achievements such as scoring 10 goals, 25 assists, 40 points, 0.49 points per game and others) and $2 million in ‘B’ level bonuses (for elite performance such as finishing among the top 10 defensemen in goals, assists, points or ice time or being a finalist for the Norris Trophy) – on a two-year deal.

So if the money is more or less the same wherever he goes, the real benefit to Schultz is the ability to choose where he plays. Its been widely speculated that Schultz preference is to play in Canada. Some feel he wants to reunite with former Wisconsin Badger teammates. Others think he will want guaranteed icetime that some blueline thin teams could provide. And then there are those who think it will be the proximity to his hometown of Kelowna BC that will be the determining factor.

Bob McKezie, who has been guessing that Edmonton would be Schultz preference, is reporting otherwise now:

Justin Schultz
What intrigues me more so is the question why? Why did he in December indicate to the Ducks that everything was hunky-dory, but soon after do a complete three-sixty. Bob Murray, the Ducks' executive vice president and general manager is left shaking his head in confusion as well:
"Yeah, that's a sore spot...huge disappointment. We've drafted fairly well the last few years...we rebuilt and you have a young man like Justin [Schultz] coming along who gave us every indication he wanted to play for us...[we] counted on it."

That type of dissapointment and eventual resigmation did not come quickly for Murray. There was a full court press employed to get Schultz to try to get Schultz to stick to his word. It included having hall of fame ex-Duck, Scott Niedermeyer personally calling Schultz. But to no avail.

Considering the difficult path Schultz faced including a hit to his reputation, why would Schultz subject himself to such an uncomfortable ride on his way to UFA status? What is it about Anaheim that turned him off some completely?

I don't think its a the city itself, Orange County and Southern California is a great place to live and play. The new head coach, Bruce Boudreau, is known as a player's coach. There doesn't seem to be any issues he has with anyone in Ducks management or ownership. The team itself has been relatively competitive over the past few years, though it headed for the links earlier than usual this past season -- but that happens. 

What else could it be? If we take a close look at the roster, we'll find that the team is facing a bit of an uncertain future. Since the departure of Niedermeyer and Chris Pronger, and due to the age of Teemu Selanne, the Ducks on-ice flag bearers have really been Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, and to some extent a younger Bobby Ryan. Both Getzlaf and Perry will be UFAs at the end of this coming season, barring a near deal with Anaheim.

Ryan Getzlaf (center) and wife Paige Larsen Getzlaf (right) in Kelowna
What if the uncertainty regarding the Ducks longterm future played a part in turning off Schultz? And, is it possible than that not only is he worried about Perry & Getzlaf flying the Duck coup, but he also knows where they are going?

What if the NHL team (Vancouver) Schultz eventually chooses is also where Getzlaf and possibly Perry may also plan on ending up. In fact, is it possible that Schultz was tipped off in some way, by Getzlaf and or Perry, or someone else in the know.

What do we know about Perry & Getzlaf? Perry, despite being a Rocket Richard Trophy winner, one year removed, was widely rumored to be headed to Vancouver during the last all-star break. That deal presumably would include from the Canucks side, Cody Hodgson and Cory Schneider -- not beyond the stretch of the imagination considering Hodgson was eventually traded and Schneider had yet to sub-plant Roberto Luongo.

As for Getzlaf, despite being married to a SoCal girl, and apparently owning a house in Orange County, he makes his off-season home in Kelowna as well. Is it possible the "Kelowna Connection" theory is at work here? 

Last off-season, I was speculating that Shea Weber was possibly conspiring with his good buddies Josh Gorges and Black Comeau, all three Kelowna residents, to possibly re-unite as free agents in Vancouver, to play closer to home. All three had signed one year deals despite successful performances with their respective clubs -- an indication that all three wanted out.

It didn't quite materialize though, as Comeau's game fell apart and was eventually waived and picked up by Calgary. Gorges, on the other hand, ended up signing longterm with Montreal. Weber though seems poised to force a move from Nashville especially with his blueline partner, UFA Ryan Suter, seemingly headed out of town. 

Is it possible then, that Weber and his Kelowna hockey colleague Getzlaf, both have Vancouver in their sights, and that fellow Kelowna boy Justin Schultz is but a precursor to more monumental free agent signings in Vancouver? 

Obviously, there are more questions than answers at this point in time. Nevertheless, the hockey enclave that is Kelowna BC, is once again a common denominator in another creative free agency conspiracy theory here.

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