With the prospect of the expansion draft looming plenty of people have turned their eyes towards who the Penguins should, and shouldn’t, protect. The official rules are that teams may select, of their eligible players, seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender or eight skaters of either position and one goaltender. To be eligible, a skater must have skated in 40 games in 2016-2017 or 70 combined games in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 and that skater should be under contract in 2017-2018. Each team must expose one goaltender that is a restricted free agent or under contract in 2017-2018.
There’s obviously a lot of talk going on about the goaltender situation in Pittsburgh and how they should deal with that. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. No, today we have one person to talk about and one only. That is defenseman Justin Schultz. So let’s talk about what might happen to Schultz as the season winds down and the expansion draft looms.
First of all, Schultz is, contrary to popular belief, a restricted free agent. This means that the contract he is currently on at 1.4 million for the season will set a standard for his deal next year and he won’t hit the open market.
This is confusing for one notable reason, so I’ll break it down. Last year, the Penguins did not qualify him at the nearly 4 million Edmonton had signed him to previously. They simply couldn’t afford it. This essentially made him an unrestricted free agent. At which time he took a major pay cut to play in Pittsburgh and it’s been a great fit. This does not make him an unrestricted free agent this season, though. It makes him a restricted free agent again because he is under the age requirement. Which is good news for the Penguins. This means that the team can match any offer extended to him.
Now, moving on to how the expansion draft rules work in relation to restricted free agents, as far as I know them. When the Vegas Golden Knights window opens to talk to free agents they can sign any free agent from any team. This means that they could take a UFA like Daley or an RFA like Schultz. If these deals go through the team that lost a player via this free agency can not lose a player in the expansion draft to Vegas (which might be important for Pittsburgh specifically for Daley).
However, if a player is a restricted free agent with offer sheet potential, which is only certain classes of restricted free agents, the offer can be matched. In this case, say Team X offers Schultz 3 years at 5.0 million average annual value. The Penguins then can come back, match the offer, sign Schultz to that offer, and he’s under contract.
So what does this mean? Well, it means, essentially, the Penguins might be better off waiting until the expansion draft passes to ink Schultz’s nearly inevitable long-term deal. I’ll break down why:
First, they sign Dumoulin as an RFA ahead of the expansion draft. They make a long-term, team-friendly deal with a guy who has been pretty consistent for them.
Second, they qualify Schultz right away keeping his rights in Pittsburgh’s hands. Since he’s making 1.4 million this year they will need to offer him 1.4 million (a 100% rate of his previous salary) to qualify him, according to CBA rules.
Third, if Vegas (or anyone else for that matter) signs him to an offer sheet, the Penguins match it and everything is good.
Should the Penguins not match, and the offer sheet would likely have to be greater than 5.5 million for the Penguins not to match it, they would be in line to receive a first and a third round draft pick (or something similar, this year’s numbers are not yet official) from the team that took Schultz. Which, isn’t exactly a bad return when you remember they only gave up one pick to get him. Though, it is less than ideal.
On the other hand, they could re-sign both he and Dumoulin in-season. Protect him, Letang, and Dumoulin and then take their chances in the expansion draft with Maatta and Cole. This method also has its perks as right-shot defenders are a higher premium and Maatta’s long-term higher-price deal might make him less desirable to Vegas versus Cole who is half the price.
Ultimately, the call is going to be a numbers-based one. The Penguins know they are a better team with Schultz than without him. So, they simply need to identify what gives them the best chance to retain him as well as the majority of their preferred defenders.