The Pittsburgh Penguins have re-signed one of their most important pieces, inking Justin Schultz to a three-year, $16.5MM contract. The deal runs through 2019-20, after which Schultz will become an unrestricted free agent.
Schultz has had his career completely resuscitated since joining the high-flying Penguins last season. Signing as a big-name college free agent, he struggled for parts of four seasons in Edmonton before being shipped for a third-round pick at the 2016 deadline. Schultz went on to win the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons, and was especially important this last post-season, helping fill the void left by the injury to Kris Letang.
Schultz is known primarily as an offensive defenseman. His isn’t overly physical and generally isn’t played in shutdown situations. However, he was far from sheltered last season in Pittsburgh, playing over 20 minutes a night in the regular season against quality competition, generally being slotted alongside the stay-at-home Ian Cole on the second pairing. Schultz finished the season with 51 points, good for 7th among all NHL defenseman. Notably, he finished within 5 points of household names like Duncan Keith, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Dustin Byfuglien. He was a solid shooting option on the powerplay and truly flourished once May rolled around, adding 4 goals and 9 assists as he utilized a solid first-pass to spring the more threatening Pittsburgh forwards.
His $5.5 MM cap hit is likely more than what GM Jim Rutherford had expected to set aside for him when acquired just over a season ago. Fellow restricted free-agent Brian Dumoulin is also looking to get a payday this summer, so it remains to be seen whether some money may be moving out from the defense corps. A possible target could be Olli Maatta who is coming off a sluggish year, and is earning $4.083 MM for the next 5 seasons. Dumoulin and Schultz have definitively passed Maatta on the depth chart, and this sort of financial commitment will only add fuel to the fire that Maatta is the odd man out.