Justin Schultz re-signed with the Penguins for one year and $1.4 million in July.
By Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With 11 goals and 44 points through 61 games — numbers that have him tied for fifth in the NHL when it comes to scoring by a defenseman — Justin Schultz should expect a hefty raise this offseason.
Exactly how big? That’s the fun part. Especially if you’re Schultz and his agent.
Schultz makes $1.4 million, the result of a one-year contract he signed in July. It’s peanuts compared to what he has produced. Betting on his ability and how it meshed within the Penguins’ system, Schultz has turned out to look awful smart..
Just look at some of these numbers that quantify how grossly underpaid Schultz is:
The top 36 earners among NHL defensemen in 2015-16 — everyone with a cap hit of $5 million or higher — were compensated an average of $167,310.92 per point produced.
Those 44 points Schultz has contributed have cost the Penguins $31,818.18 per point, which is among the best back-end bargains in hockey.
Entering games Monday, Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets had earned $23,717.95 per point. St. Louis’ Colton Parayko made $29,612.07, followed by Brady Skjei of the New York Rangers at $29,838.71.
If you want to look at the top point producers instead of earners, San Jose’s Brent Burns (his $8 million-a-year extension starts next season) has cost the Sharks $85,970.15 per point, a decent bargain.
The Minnesota Wild’s Ryan Suter ($221,719.47) has the highest cost-per-point among the top 20 scorers, followed by Kris Letang ($213,235.29 for his 29).
It’s also important to remember that a defenseman’s ability isn’t solely quantified by how much he scores. It simply helps drive up cost for those who can. And when you’re playing as well as Schultz — whose defensive numbers are among the best league-wide for offensively gifted defensemen — that’s good news.
Another caveat: Comparing Schultz to Chicago’s Duncan Keith (cap hit of about $5.5 million) or Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty ($7 million) is also tough because, while the points might match, there’s an obvious gap in accolades and team success that will surely come up at the bargaining table.
One interesting exercise is always finding comparable contracts from similar situations, and in this case there’s an interesting one with a trade-deadline darling.
Kevin Shattenkirk signed a four-year, $17 million extension with the Blues June 26, 2013, giving him a cap hit of $4.25 million per season.
That figure should be extremely low-end for Schultz.
Consider that Shattenkirk, 24 at the time, had a high-water season of nine goals and 43 points in 2011-12, numbers that Schultz, who’ll turn 26 July 6, already has eclipsed.
Further, the cap back then was $64.3 million compared to $73 million now. If you apply that same rate of change to Shattenkirk’s restricted free-agent number, you arrive at $19.38 million or a cap hit in the neighborhood of $4.85 million.
The Blues also signed Shattenkirk based on future projections. Schultz is doing it now, becoming a top-five scorer while posting defensive numbers that are more than serviceable.
16-17 cap hit
Price per point
Six of the seven best defensive bargains in the NHL this season reside in the Metropolitan Division:
Other deals signed recently by restricted free agent defensemen could drive the cost even higher.
At 21, Seth Jones went six years, $32.4 million with the Blue Jackets in June, a yearly cap hit of $5.4 million. He was a pending RFA at the time.
When he signed the deal, Jones had 11 goals and 58 points in the previous three seasons combined. Defensively, Jones and Schultz have nearly identical five-on-five defensive marks, according to corsica.hockey:
• Corsi For Percentage (CF%): Schultz 52.15-Jones 52.57
• Scoring Chances-Against Per 60 (SCA60): Schultz 7.93-Jones 7.91
• Goals-Against per 60 (GA60): Schultz 2.11-Jones 2.08
Furthermore, Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm signed a six-year, $31.5 million contract in October 2016 (cap hit of a little more than $5.2 million) coming off a 10-goal, 28-point campaign.
The incentive there is for general managers to lock up a young defenseman for below-market rates — the top 10 cap hits for NHL defensemen average $7.3 million — while overpaying slightly in the short-term.
You could also bat around the idea of Washington signing Matt Niskanen to a seven-year, $40.25 million deal July 1, 2014, after a 10-goal, 46-point season with the Penguins, but Niskanen was an unrestricted free agent and the Capitals likely overpaid for his services.
Will the Penguins have to overpay to keep Schultz? That much is to be determined, although offer sheets are tremendously uncommon.
The more likely scenario is the Penguins and Schultz settle on a number that works for both sides, the player looking for a deserved raise, the organization cognizant of its situation against the cap but also having a history of not trying to get by on the cheap.
Jason Mackey: email@example.com and Twitter @JMackeyPG.
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