Sunday, June 14, 2009

The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Defensemen: Jeff Schultz

Jeff Schultz

Theme: “A good scapegoat is nearly as welcome as a solution to the problem”

That anonymous quote seems to fit young Mr. Schultz rather well. Instead of accepting Schultz for the player he is – a steady one who plays angles and anticipates, who does not sacrifice position for the big hit, fans would seem to want to take the clay that is a defenseman with about two years of experience (174 games, to be precise) and remake him into… Chris Pronger.

Schultz’ curse is that he is a positional defenseman in a Pronger-like body (they are virtually the same size – 6’6” and about 220 pounds). And that’s probably going to be his curse for as long as he plays the game. He might develop more of a physical edge as he gains experience, but he plays a certain way, and that way is not to go for the bone-crunching hit or the bug-on-a-windshield smear against the glass. Compound that with the fact that a defenseman of his size playing the style he does can look ungainly at times, and it makes for a difficult row to hoe with respect to how fans view him. The facts are these…

- He was second on the team amond defensemen in even strength ice time per game, second in shorthanded ice time per game.

- He was fourth in points among defensemen, despite missing 18 games.

- He was second in plus-minus, despite missing those 18 games

- He took only eight minor penalties this year (we’ve noted folks – including ourselves – praising Karl Alzner for having taken only one)

- He was second on the team among defensemen in total goals scored when he was on the ice.

- He had the second best goal differential per 60 minutes at even strength on the team (+0.61, second to Mike Green’s +1.36)

His ten-game segments suggest an up and down sort of year…

There was a solid start, scoring wise (seven points in his first two segments), followed by something of a drought. What he was able to do consistently was finish on the plus side of the ledger – he was even or better in five straight segments (and that even came in a segment in which he played only one game). However, at the end, he faded. From Game 61 to the end of the year, 0-2-2, minus-5 in 21 games, although hey, he hit more often (25 hits in those 21 games).

And that leads us to some unfortunate numbers for Schultz as we delve deeper. He was last among defensemen on the team with 50 or more games played in his Corsi rating. He followed up his five goal season last year with a single goal this year – a shorthanded empty netter against Pittsburgh in January. Despite that second best goal differential at even strength noted above, he has the second highest goals-against per 60 minutes at even strength, while the quality of competition he faced was third among the six defensemen playing at least 50 games for the Caps. For a “positional” defensemen, he did not position himself in front of a lot of shots. He was last among the defensemen (50 games, minimum) in blocked shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.

As a penalty killer, Schultz faced the second worst quality of competition among the six Caps defensemen playing at least 50 games. Yet, he still was only fourth among the Caps D in goals scored against per 60 minutes in 4-on-5 situations.

An odd number shows up at this point, and that concerns his home and away performance. Despite the heckling he gets from the home folk, Schultz was a better performer at Verizon Center (0-6-6, plus-14, seven PIMs) than he was on the road (1-5-6, minus-1, 14 PIMs), or at least his numbers came out better.

And here is another odd one, if you’re not inclined toward being a Schultz fan… against the other seven playoff teams in the East, he was 1-4-5, plus-12, with only two penalty minutes in 23 games.

Part of Schultz’s problem is that when he makes a mistake, it’s usually a doozy. He’s like the cornerback in pro football whose mistake is out there for all to see. None was bigger than the game-winning goal scored in Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs, when Schultz got his legs tangled at the Capitals blue line, and Brandon Dubinsky left him writhing on the ice as the Ranger skated in along to net the winner. It would be the only playoff game in which Schultz would play. Why? Well, not because of the gaffe, but the fact that he had a broken rib that was suffered before this misfortune.

Schultz is yet another one of those arbitration-eligible restricted free agents among the defense. His cap hit of $763,889 this past season was, frankly, a bargain. What that means in terms of a new contract, that’s another matter. Is he worth Shaone Morrisonn money (at least what Morrisonn earned this year). Almost certainly not. But the Caps can fill only so many holes on the blue line, if anyone departs. Since he is in a competition of sorts with two other defensemen for contracts (Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina being the same situation), his return is not a certainty. But for all the nonsense he takes for the contradiction that fans seem to feel between his size and his style, he is what he is – a young defenseman who could one day be a quite effective, if unspectacular one.

Grade: B-

1 comment:

Usually Frustrated Caps Fan said...

On this one we'll disagree - not because I want to turn Schultzie into Pronger but because I just think until he toughens up so he can stay in position when we get to "polayoff" hockey his #'s will always go down againast tewams fighting for a playoff spot in the last 30 games of the season and of course in the playoffs. Also I think he needxs to move around and bring the puck in more during the back end of the seaosn and the playoffs as well. For me if the choice is Schultz vs. Jurcina given we have Green, Poti, and Pothier I'm opting for Juice....