Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography
The Flyers have reportedly opened up preliminary talks with Nick Schultz in regards to a contract extension. While he has performed well in Philadelphia, this is a contract that needs to be approached with extreme caution. Lets take a look at some of the reasons why.
Let me preface this by saying that Nick Schultz has been the most positive surprise on the Flyers roster this season. When he signed this summer on a 1 year, 1.25 million dollar contract, my expectations could not have been lower. Even the thought of him stepping in as a replacement during a short-term injury scared me a little bit. Since entering the lineup during the first month of the season, he has played fairly well in a much larger role than I ever thought possible.
However, a multi-year extension is just not a good idea for the Flyers. As a cap-strapped team that has several defensive prospects in the pipeline, is it really smart to commit to a mediocre 32 year old defenseman for multiple seasons after this one? Both analytics and analysis of the roster suggest that the Flyers should be very careful here, especially when it comes to the term of the contract.
In terms of raw possession metrics, Schultz has posted his best season to date in 2014-15, with the Flyers registering 48.1% of shot attempts while he is on the ice. Despite fairly difficult usage, he has not been a huge drag on possession numbers.
However, a look at his numbers with and without his most common linemates suggests that he isn’t necessarily doing much to drive possession himself. The chart below will show that 7 of his 10 most common linemates are actually performing better in his absence.
Data from NaturalStatTrick.com
These numbers are not terrible and many of them are affected by zone starts. The point here is that they are not necessarily worth a multiple year extension. Schultz is an aging player who has been more of a passenger in terms of possession this season. Handing out multiple-year extensions to players like that is not usually a good idea, especially for a team that has salary cap trouble already.
ZONE ENTRY DATA
Arguably the biggest weakness in Schultz’s game is his inability to disrupt opponents who are attempting to gain the blue line with control. His break-up numbers have been poor in the past and continue to be poor during 2014-15. The chart below is entry data (tracked by Jess Schmidt) for the first half of this season, followed by separate data from the pairing on which Schultz has played for the majority of the year.
There are several takeaways here. The first one is that Schultz is obviously very bad at stopping opponents from carrying the puck into the zone.
The next is that Schultz has had the benefit of sharing a large amount of his even strength ice time (340 minutes) with the Flyers’ most successful blueline defender in Braydon Coburn. His second and third most common defensive partners have been Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto, who are 2nd and 3rd on the team in breaking up entry attempts. Thus, his inability to break up zone entries has been masked by the much higher success rates of his defensive partners.
This can still be harmful to the Flyers. Having an easy target like Schultz will cause opponents to attack his side of the ice more often, limiting the abilities of the more capable defenders to keep the puck out of the defensive zone. Schultz has already been targeted for carry-ins more frequently than Braydon Coburn, which keeps one of Coburn’s most important abilities in check.
In order to be passable, Schultz really needs to be paired with a guy who is capable of defending the blue line. Even in such a pairing, he limits his partner’s defensive ability. Players like that should not be targeted for multi-year extensions.
The Flyers are very clearly not in the best salary cap situation. They already have over 62 million dollars committed to a salary cap that will most likely be 73 million or less for next season. A large portion of that money is going to overpaid veterans like RJ Umberger, Andrew MacDonald and Vincent Lecavalier. In 2016-17, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl are all due for extensions. This means that any extension longer than one year will still be on the books when those extensions are due.
If the Flyers have not yet learned that long-term deals for older players aren’t good, then I don’t really know what to say.
There is also the fact that several defensive prospects will sooner rather than later be able to fill the shoes that Nick Schultz is currently wearing. As Charlie O’Connor of BroadStreetHockey points out here and here, even players outside of the elite group of prospects could be ready to fill this role as early as next season. These options would all come at the affordable price of an entry-level contract. No need to prevent this from happening in order to retain a low-ceiling, low-floor guy like Schultz.
Once again, if the Flyers have not yet learned the importance of drafting and developing defensemen, then I don’t really know what to say.
Nick Schultz truly has been a pleasant surprise this season. If he is willing to stick around on a 1 year contract, I’d be happy to have him around for another season. That is much more than I would have said about him last summer. But there are several very clear reasons why keeping him around for multiple years is just not a good idea for the Flyers. Let’s hope they make this decision carefully.