Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)
Most of the reactions I’ve seen on Twitter and around Flyerdom to the Nick Schultz extension has been, at best, “Let’s wait and see,” to at worst, “It’s almost time to fire Hextall.” Lots of people are wondering why on earth we would give Nick Schultz a two-year deal while we already have Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, and Nick Grossmann under contract next year, not to mention the prospects we have in waiting. On the surface, Nick Schultz isn’t necessarily standing out with only 13 points in 55 games. His possession numbers aren’t much better as, according to stats.hockeyanalaysis.com, the Flyers are only getting 48% of the shots when Schultz is on the ice. The website is a great tool for WOWY’s or, ‘with or without yous.’ The concept is, we can see how one player is with a second player also on the ice—and we can also see how these players do when they are away from the other player. Lets look at some WOWY’s for Nick Schultz and seven crucial other Flyers to see if we can gain any insight on why the Flyers offered the extension:
Braydon Coburn: The two have played 325 minutes together and have positive possession numbers (50.1%) even though they’ve started only 42.9% of non-neutral zone face-offs (Offensive Zone Start%, or OZS%) in the offensive zone. In “close” situations, adjusting for zone-starts, the duo sports a respectable 52.8% Corsi For in a 187 minutes together. It’s even more impressive when you consider that, according to behindthenet.ca, Schultz and Coburn lead the Flyers in the Quality of Competition (CorsiRelQoC) that they face.
Mark Streit: In 220 minutes together, the duo has posted an impressive 53.4% CF, which is still considered impressive even though they started in the offensive zone 53.7% of the time. Adjusted for those positive zone-starts and looking at only close situations (in 187 minutes), Schultz and Streit have led the Flyers to 53.7% of the corsi events (a +/- rating of shots, missed shots, and blocked shots). Streit plays slightly above average competition, so it’s not as if these guys were totally sheltered when they were together. Away from Schultz, Streit lost the possession battle (48.5%) even though he started in the offensive zone more (57%).
Michael Del Zotto: In 172 minutes together, the two players were used in the offensive zone only 44.4% of the time, a questionable usage of Del Zotto’s abilities. The Flyers got pounded in the possession battle in those minutes (41.5%). Even when you adjust for zone-starts and score-effects they were still brutal together (41.8%).
Nick Grossmann: In only 26 minutes together, they gave up about 22 shot attempts and had about 10 . It’s a small sample, but it takes Nick Schultz’ overall CF% from a 48.5% (Schultz’ without Grossmann) to 48%.
Sean Couturier: With Nick Schultz playing against the other teams’ best players every night, it’s important to take a look about his numbers with and without Sean Couturier, who plays the same shutdown role for the forwards. They’ve managed to log 314 minutes together and fought the uphill battle that was only 35.6% of offensive zone starts. They came out on the wrong side of the battle, but 45.4% is somewhat impressive given that it’s with such a staggering lack of offensive zone draws and the stiff competition that both players face on a nightly basis.
Claude Giroux: In another interesting relationship of the top-line center and shut-down defender, we see success from Nick Schultz. In 257 minutes they’ve posted a CF% of 52.7%. Claude, away from Schultz, also has a 52% CF percentage—but there is one key difference. With Schultz and Giroux on the ice they start in the offensive zone only 44.7% of the time. Giroux without Schultz starts a significantly higher percentage (55%) of the time in the offensive zone.
After digging a bit deeper into the stats, we can see that there are certain situations that Nick Schultz has succeeded in this year and there are certain situations that Nick Schultz has not. I noted earlier in the article that Schultz is the sixth defender we now have under contract for next season, not including Chris Pronger. The thing to keep in mind is we only have two healthy defenders under contract for the 2016-17 season: one is Mark Streit, who will most likely be in his last year in the NHL, and the other is Andrew MacDonald, who, unfortunately for the Flyers who have him signed until 2020, isn’t very good at hockey. We do have the promise of the “big-4” defensive prospects, but you can’t count on 20- and 21 year-olds to play big minutes in the NHL. You hope for it but you certainly can’t rush it, nor should you lack some sort of a backup plan. At 2.25 million per year, I can live with two more years of Nick Schultz. The key to the success of the next two years of Nick Schultz will be his usage. If he can play with Coburn and Couturier against other teams’ best players and stay around, if not over 50% in the possession battle, then the Flyers should be able to win a good amount of hockey games in the future. In my next article, I’m going to take a look at how his contract fits into the future plans for the squad—especially considering that we have to sign Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Braydon Coburn and Michael Raffl between years one and two of Schultz’ extension.