Theme: “I think no virtue goes with size.”
One defenseman is 6’6, 221. The other is 6’6, 213. One is Jeff Schultz, the other…Chris Pronger. And that is the sort of comparison that leads to wonderment among Caps fans as to why Schultz doesn’t play more to his size, more like…Pronger.
Let’s leave behind the context of that quote from Emerson, above (it comes from a poem about a bird). It speaks to an important issue with respect to Schultz. Why does he become something of a whipping boy because he’s not a big hitter in a six-foot, six-inch body?
He had 40 fewer hits than did Minnesota’s Nick Schultz (who is six inches and 20 pounds smaller than Jeff), but as far as we are concerned, we don’t care if Schultz hits a guy or reads him Emerson, as long as whatever he does keeps opponents from putting pucks in the Capitals’ net. And the fact is Schultz – only 22 years old this morning – was more than merely a serviceable defenseman with a hitting problem this past season. In fact, he was pretty effective. If you look at his ten game splits, the usual lack of pizzazz one sees from offense-weighted statistics is there...
He did have a stretch of six games (December 8-17) in which he netted four of his five goals. But otherwise, the numbers have the look of a defenseman who tends to his own end rather than join any rush.
His season breaks down, as you might expect, into two pieces. However, it isn’t a “Hanlon” and a “Boudreau” segment. The dividing line is Christmas. Before December 25th, Schultz was 5-1-6, -4, in 29 games. He was even or better in 17 of those games, but was inconsistent. After Christmas, his offensive numbers did change some on per-game basis (0-12-12 in 43 games), but Schultz became much more consistent and reliable in his play. He finished the season +16 in his last 43 games and was +10 in his last 22 games as the Caps were turning into the stretch.
Jeff Schultz had only 38 games of NHL experience coming into this year (all earned last year). But by the end of this season, he was a dependable 18-20 minute a night defenseman (he averaged 18:41 in ice time after Christmas). What’s more, he’s quite a bargain in that role (cap hit: $750,000; 2008-2009 is the last year of his current contract). It’s hard to see what there is to complain about with Schultz, who looks to have a long NHL career ahead of him. We hope it’s with the Capitals.
By the way…it might bear noting that while Schultz had “only” 61 hits in 72 games this year, Pronger had only 74 in the same number of games, tied for 99th in the league.