Defending Sarge From The Sgt. Schultz Defense

[Ed. note: A large portion of the credit for this post has to go to Japers' Rink members Bald Pollack, Yoshietree, and Fehr and Balanced, whose Fan Posts "Looking at a couple of blueliners" and "Comparing Jeff Schultz", and Fan Shot on one of Schultz's former teammates helped to lay the groundwork for this post.]

Recently, we've devoted time and space to taking closer looks at the play of Capitals defensemen Tom Poti, Mike Green, and John Erskine. Today we look at Jeff Schultz, who is quite possibly the most underrated player on the team, owing in large part to his style of play, which, as a very intelligent hockey mind noted, results in Schultz being nearly invisible when he's being effective and impossible to miss when he makes mistakes. That, coupled with the notably non-physical style Schultz plays despite his 6'6'', 221 pound frame and his modest offensive numbers, means that the 23-year-old blueliner's contributions can be easy to miss.  But don't be so easily misled - just because you hear nothing or see nothing doesn't mean there's nothing there. Jeff Schultz is a good NHL defenseman and that he's only going to get better.

Let's start by taking a look at the first assertion. Jeff Schultz's primary job right now with the Capitals is to prevent the opposition from scoring, which also means that, in essence, Jeff Schultz's job is to not make mistakes during the time he's on the ice.  It is in large part due to this fact that Schultz's game lacks flash.  His devotion to positioning, getting in passing lanes, and avoiding turnovers means he doesn't shoot much, doesn't make try for long breakout passes on a regular basis, and hits less than you might expect for a man his size.  This doesn't mean Schultz doesn't use his size to his advantage, though, as he often uses his long reach to make life difficult for opposing forwards by winning the puck off them or by blocking shooting or passing lanes.  It might not sound like Schultz's task of playing a regular shift without making any glaring mistakes is easy, but the reality is that there are very few guys who can do it as a defenseman at the NHL level.

With that in mind, let's take a look at how Schultz's numbers compare to the teammates he has been playing with in his NHL career.  A couple of notes on this table: the numbers in parenthesis are Schultz's rank among qualifying defensemen, of which there were seven in 2006-07 and 2007-08 and eight in 2008-09.  For the sake of simplicity, we've constructed the table so that the rankings are done from best to worst, rather than just high to low.

2006-07 2007-08 2008-09
Games 38 (7) 72 (4) 50 (4)
Goals 0 (7) 5 (t-2) 1 (t-5)
Assists 3 (7) 13 (3) 10 (t-2)
Points 3 (7) 18 (3) 11 (t-4)
Plus-Minus 5 (t-1) 12 (1) 14 (2)
PIMs 16 (1) 28 (2) 14 (t-1)
PIMs/Game
.42 (1) .39 (1) .28 (1)
ATOI 18:12 (4) 18:05 (5) 19:51 (3)
ATOI (PK) 3:13 (3) 3:10 (3) 3:27 (2)
Giveaways/Game .92 (6) .69 (4) .58 (2)
Takeaways/Game .32 (4) .32 (7) .16 (6)
Hits/Game .71 (6) .85 (5) .72 (6)
Blocked Shots/Game 1.55 (3) 1.25 (3) 1.5 (6)
Corsi - 5.4 (5) 0.4 (7)
GF On/60 2.10 (6) 2.82 (1) 3.30 (2)
GA On/60 1.57 (2) 2.29 (3) 2.51 (6)
BTN Rating - 0.42 (2) 0.38 (2)
Qual. Comp. -0.035 (4)
-0.00 (4) 0.04 (2)
Qual. Team. 0.00 (6) 0.10 (3) 0.16 (t-1)

By the numbers Schultz does pretty well compared with his teammates, especially in the Behind the Net stats, although he does very well in plus-minus and fairly well in offensive production too.  Schultz is above average league-wide in plus-minus, team adjusted plus-minus, behindthenet.ca rating, ES GA On/60, ES GF On/60, blocked shots, and penalties - just about everything other than hits.

The common counterargument is that Schultz is a player who looks better on paper than he really is.  We wouldn't disagree that Schultz isn't exactly pretty to watch on the ice - he's all arms and legs and Heaven knows he isn't a very graceful skater - we just tend to think it doesn't really matter all that much.  The age old adage in hockey is "they don't ask how, they just ask how many", i.e. that actual production is more important than looking good, and it's true.  Dominik Hasek's style of goaltending often consisted of flailing around in the crease wildly, but it won him six Vezina Trophies and two MVP awards.  Dave Andreychuk and Phil Esposito built Hall of Fame caliber careers largely by putting away garbage goals.  After 392 career home runs and seven all-star appearances Vladimir Guerrero still looks like a toddler swinging at a wiffle ball in the backyard.  Kurt Warner and Tom Brady both have the sidearm throwing style that NFL coaches and scouts regard as a red flag when they see it in college players.  Production trumps style any day of the week, and Jeff Schultz is a productive NHL player.

What's also important to remember when it comes to Schultz is that he's a young player a position that takes longer to learn in a frame that it takes longer to become comfortable with.  To illustrate that, here's how Schultz's numbers to this point in his career compare with some other defensemen of similar stature.  Please note that these statistics are designed to demonstrate that defense with large frames generally take a while to develop, not to suggest Schultz will wind up like any of these guys.  Players included are all players 6'5'' or taller and at least 29 years old.

Jeff Schultz


Year Lge Age GP G A P P/GP +/- PIM PPG SOG PCT ATOI
Calgary 03-04 WHL 17 72 11 24 35 0.48 28 33 4 - - -
Calgary 04-05 WHL 18 72 2 27 29 0.40 -7 31 1 - - -
Calgary 05-06 WHL 19 68 7 33 40 0.59 20 36 4 - - -
Hershey 06-07 AHL 20 44 2 10 12 0.28 20 39 0 - - -
Washington 06-07 NHL 20 38 0 3 3 0.15 5 16 0 22 .000 18:13
Hershey 07-08 AHL 21 1 0 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 - - -
Washington 07-08 NHL 21 72 5 13 18 0.25 12 28 0 36 .139 18:05
Washington 08-09 NHL 22 50 1 10 11 0.22 14 14 0 32 .031 19:53

Zdeno Chara (6'9'', 255 pounds, drafted 56th overall in 1996)


Year Lge Age GP G A P P/GP +/- PIM PPG SOG PCT ATOI
Dukla Trencin U18 94-95 Slvk U18 17 30 22 22 44 1.47 - 113 - - - -
Dukla Trencin Jr.
95-96 Slvk Jr 18 22 1 13 14 0.64 - 80 - - - -
HK VTJ Piestany 95-96 Slvk-2 18 10 1 3 4 0.40 - 10 - - - -
HC Sparta Praha Jr. 95-96 Czech Jr 18 15 1 2 3 0.20 - 42 - - - -
Prince George Cougers
96-97 WHL 19 49 3 19 22 0.45 - 120 - - - -
Kentucky 97-98 AHL 20 48 4 9 13 0.27 E 125 0 64 .063 -
New York Isl.
97-98 NHL 20 25 0 1 1 0.04 1 50 0 10 .000 -
Lowell 98-99 AHL 21 23 2 2 4 0.17 5 47 0 38 .053 -
New York Isl. 98-99 NHL 21 59 2 6 8 0.14 -8 83 0 56 .036 18:54
New York Isl. 99-00 NHL 22 65 2 9 11 0.17 -27 57 0 47 .072 22:52
New York Isl. 00-01 NHL 23 82 2 7 9 0.11 -27 157 0 83 .024 22:20

Mike Commodore (6'5'', 228 pounds, drafted 42nd overall in 1999)


Year Lge Age GP G A P P/GP +/- PIM PPG SOG PCT ATOI
Fort Saskatchewan 96-97 AJHL 17 51 3 8 11 0.22 - 244 - - - -
U. North Dakota
97-98 WCHA 18 29 0 5 5 0.17 - 74 - - - -
U. North Dakota 98-99 WCHA 19 39 5 8 13 0.33 - 154 - - - -
U. North Dakota 99-00 WCHA 20 38 5 7 12 0.32 - 154 - - - -
Albany 00-01 AHL 21 41 2 5 7 0.17 -7 59 0 - - -
New Jersey 00-01 NHL 21 20 1 4 5 0.25 5 14 0 11 .091 12:46
Albany 01-02 AHL 22 14 0 3 3 0.21 E 31 0 - - -
New Jersey 01-02 NHL 22 37 0 1 1 0.03 -12 30 0 22 .000 12:37
Cincinnati/St John's 02-03 AHL 23 68 2 14 14 0.21 -11 228 0 - - -
Calgary 02-03 NHL 23 6 0 1 1 0.17 2 19 0 5 .000 11:35

Jassen Cullimore (6'5'', 235 pounds, drafted 29th overall in 1991)


Year Lge Age GP G A P P/GP +/- PIM PPG SOG PCT ATOI
Peterborough 89-90 OHL 17 59 2 6 8 0.14 - 61 - - - -
Peterborough 90-91 OHL 18 62 8 16 24 0.39 - 74 - - - -
Peterborough 91-92 OHL 19 54 9 37 46 0.85 - 65 - - - -
Hamilton 92-93 AHL 20 56 5 7 12 0.21 - 60 - - - -
Hamilton 93-94 AHL 21 71 8 20 28 0.39 - 86 - - - -
Syracuse 94-95 AHL 22 33 2 7 9 0.27 - 66 - - - -
Vancouver 94-95 NHL 22 34 1 2 3 0.09 -2 39 0 30 .033 -
New Jersey 95-96 NHL 23 27 1 1 2 0.07 4 21 0 12 .083 -

Hal Gill (6'7'', 250 pounds, drafted 207th overall in 1993)


Year Lge Age GP G A P P/GP +/- PIM PPG SOG PCT ATOI
Nashoba High School
92-93 HS 17 20 25 25 50 2.50 - - - - - -
Providence College
93-94 HE 18 31 1 2 3 0.10 - 26 - - - -
Providence College 94-95 HE 19 26 1 3 4 0.15 - 22 - - - -
Providence College 95-96 HE 20 39 5 12 17 0.44 - 52 - - - -
Providence College 96-97 HE 21 41 5 16 21 0.60 - 54 0 - - -
Providence 97-98 AHL 22 4 1 0 1 0.25 -2 23 0 8 .125 -
Boston 97-98 NHL 22 68 2 4 6 0.09 4 47 0 56 .036 -
Boston 98-99 NHL 23 80 3 7 10 0.04 -10 63 0 102 .029 20:54

Marik Malik (6'6'', 235 pounds, drafted 72nd overall in 1993)


Year Lge Age GP G A P P/GP +/- PIM PPG SOG PCT ATOI
TJ Vitkovice Jr. 92-93 Czech Jr 17 20 5 10 15 0.75 - 16 - - - -
HC Vitkovice
93-94 Czech 18 38 3 3 6 0.16 0 - - - -
Springfield
94-95 AHL 19 58 11 30 41 0.71 91 - - - -
Hartford
94-95 NHL 19 1 0 1 1 1.00 1 0 0 0 .000 -
Springfield 95-96 AHL 20 68 8 14 22 0.32 - - - - - -
Hartford 95-96 NHL 20 7 0 0 0 0.00 -3 4 0 2 .000 -
Springfield 96-97 AHL 21 3 0 3 3 1.00 - 4 - - .000 -
Hartford 96-97 NHL 21 47 1 5 6 0.13 5 50 - 33 .030 -
Malmö 97-98 Swe 22 37 1 5 6 0.16 - 6 - - - -
Beast of New Haven 98-99 AHL 23 21 2 8 10 0.48 -7 28 - 39 0.51 -
Carolina 98-99 NHL 23 52 2 9 11 0.21 -6 36 1 39 0.51 21:14

Andy Sutton (6'6'', 245 pounds, undrafted)


Year Lge Age GP G A P P/GP +/- PIM PPG SOG PCT ATOI
Gananoque 92-93 OHA-B 17 38 14 9 23 0.61 - - - - - -
St. Michael's
93-94 MTJHL 18 48 17 23 40 0.83 - - - - - -
Michigan Tech
94-95 WCHA 19 19 2 1 3 0.16 - 161 - - - -
Michigan Tech 95-96 WCHA 20 33 2 2 4 0.12 - 42 - - - -
Michigan Tech 96-97 WCHA 21 32 2 7 9 0.28 - 58 - - - -
Michigan Tech 97-98 WCHA 22 38 16 24 40 1.05 - 73 - - - -
Kentucky 98-99 AHL 23 21 5 10 15 0.71 9 53 3 61 .082 -
San Jose 98-99 NHL 23 31 0 3 3 0.10 -4 65 0 24 .000 12:58

In the case of each of these players significant progress was made as the players were in the mid twenties, a trend that holds for many other defensemen with large frames including Mike Komisarek, Filip Kuba, and Sheldon Souray.  Once again, the point is not that Schultz is on his way to becoming any of these players in particular, but to demonstrate that for a defenseman with Schultz's build, it's reasonable to expect more development.

And there you have it - a mountain of evidence that says Jeff Schultz is a quality NHL player.  So the next time someone tries to tell you otherwise, drop a little knowledge on them, and if they try to tell them it's because he doesn't hit, ask them if that's why Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer never amounted to much at the NHL level.

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