A deal that many people saw as improbable, the Penguins resigned Justin Schultz to a one year, $1.4 million contract. With veteran defenseman Ben Lovejoy leaving the Penguins in free agency, there was still a need for another defenseman. Derrick Pouliot can be a future top pairing defenseman, but this Penguins team is in a win now mode. That is why signing Schultz is critical to the Penguins success.
Many people thought Jim Rutherford was crazy when he said there was a chance to sign both Cullen and Schultz. I especially thought that it would be impossible to sign either, but with this contract to Schultz, there is still a small amount of room left for a Cullen return. (Rule 1: Never doubt Jim Rutherford).
This signing almost surely solidifies the Penguins defense. Schultz should be an everyday defenseman now come October, and given the need for right handed defenseman, Schultz should fit into a role similar to Ben Lovejoy. As of now, this is how the Penguins defense looks:
That is an amazing defense just too look at. Derrick Pouliot was an 8th overall pick in 2012, and a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Jim Rutherford would be smart to keep Pouliot at the lower end of the totem pole this season in order to pay him less at the end of his contract. While it may not be best to keep him in the press box every night, it helps everyone fit under the salary cap. Pouliot will see NHL time this season, because if you know the Penguins at all, he will surely come in as an injury replacement.
Pouliot was also very inconsistent in his play. He began the season in the AHL after a very poor preseason and it took him over half the season to make it back in the NHL. When he did play, there were two types of Derrick. He either dominated possession stats or brought the team down. That level of inconsistency is not what the Penguins need right now, especially for a team looking to repeat a Stanley Cup championship. Maybe Pouliot will pick up his play, but adding Schultz gives the Penguins more stability.
Signing Schultz for cheap also means that he can be qualified for a lower amount of money. At the end of this upcoming season, Schultz will be 26 and still a restricted free agent. Under the current CBA, the Penguins will still hold possession of Schultz after this season, being able to retain his rights for another season after this year. With this contract, I’d expect to see Schulz for at least another two seasons.
When Schultz signed with the Edmonton Oilers, he was expected to be their top defenseman. Right out of the gate he was given 25 minutes a night, with some even calling him a future Norris Trophy winner. Things never panned out that way for him and his play suffered. Media scrutinized Schultz to no end and fans were ecstatic to see him leave. Once arriving in Pittsburgh, though he was slightly sheltered, Schultz was relieved of the pressure and able to focus on just playing. He did just that, and in return, helped guide the Penguins to the Stanley Cup.