From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading the 2008-09 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2009-10. Next up, Jeff Schultz.
#55 / Defenseman / Washington Capitals
Feb 25, 1986
RFA; qualifying offer of $715,000 needed to retain rights.
Key Stats: In his three NHL seasons, Schultz has been tied for first, first, and second among Capitals defensemen in plus-minus. He also has the highest plus-minus among all Caps skaters in that time frame.
The Good: Schultz once again had a year of generally consistent, solid-but-unspectacular play, proving himself to be an effective defenseman and one capable of playing second pairing minutes, coming almost exclusively five-on-five (Schultz had the second most even strength minutes per game among Capitals defensemen) and on the penalty kill (Schultz was also second in shorthanded time per game).
In five-on-five situations Schultz was one of only two Capitals defensemen - Mike Green was the other- who had a GFON/60 than was significantly higher than his GAON/60. It's also worth noting that both of Schultz's regular defensive partners, Green and Milan Jurcina, had their rate of team goals for go up and the rate of team goals against go down when they were paired with Sarge as opposed to other partners.
What is perhaps most impressive is that Schultz played so many difficult minutes without making very many mistakes: he took fewer penalties than any defenseman other than Alzner and gave the puck away fewer times per game other than anyone aside of Morrisonn. What Schultz does best may just be what's most likely to go underappreciated by fans: being able to take a regular shift at the NHL level without making mistakes. That in and of itself is a skill few people in this world posses and while it's not as flashy as a big hit or a fight, it's a lot more likely to help your team win a hockey game.
The Bad: Schultz might do a pretty good job of mitigating the weaknesses in his game, but they're still obvious and they're still significant enough to cause him problems. He's about as awkward-looking a skater you'll find at the NHL level (tossing out guys who are only in the league to fight) and his deliberateness with the puck and clumsy hands make handling the puck a problem, especially when trying to keep it in at the point. Sarge also plays for too tentatively at times, and has a tendency to get caught flat-footed as a result of slow decision-making. No matter how aware Sarge is of these issues, they're ones skilled forwards will be able to exploit until the big guy simply gets better.
Schultz's offense was a disappointment too. It's not that anyone expect Schultz to contribute much from the blue line - that's simply not his skill set or mentality - but that he didn't score a single goal with a goaltender in the opposition's net after potting five during the '07-'08 campaign has to be considered a step backwards.
And then of course, there was this:
Of course, we now know Schultz was playing with a broken rib, making it difficult or even impossible for him to move in the way he would have needed to in order to be able to make the play. Still, that's the kind of ugly, high-profile gaffe that can stick with a kid.
The Vote: Rate Schultz below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Where does Schultz ranked in the Capitals' defensive heirarchy going into next season? Has he solidified a top four role for himself or will Jurcina, Alzner, and possibly even Pothier make it possible that Schultz finds his way to the third pairing?