Defenseman Jeff Schultz
signed a four-year contract extension with the Washington Capitals today, avoiding an arbitration with the team. The 24-year-old blueliner – Washington’s second choice (first round, 27th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft – just finished his fourth season in the NHL.
The signing locks up a top four defenseman for the Capitals for the next four seasons, and it gives Washington one of Schultz’s unrestricted free agent years at a salary cap hit of $2.75 million, a very amenable number when the unrestricted free agent signings last week of defensemen around the league are taken into consideration.
Schultz led the league with a plus-50 mark in 2009-10, obliterating the Capitals previous all-time single-season standard of plus-36 (set by Alan Haworth in 1985-86) in the process. He is the first Capital ever to lead the NHL in that department.
With a plus-80 rating through his first four seasons in the NHL, Schultz ranks 26th all-time among all blueliners in league history for their first four seasons. Seven of the 25 defensemen ahead of him are Hockey Hall of Famers and another – Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom – is certain to join them. Ex-Caps defenseman Rod Langway tops the list; the “Chairman of the Boards” was plus-160 after his first four NHL campaigns.
Schultz’s plus-80 is also fourth on Washington’s career plus-minus ledger, trailing only fellow blueliners Langway, Scott Stevens and Joe Reekie.
Schultz also led the Capitals with 129 blocked shots (45th among all league defensemen) for the 2009-10 season. His 32 penalty minutes represents a single-season career best, as does his average ice time per game (19:52). Schultz logged an average of 2:38 in shorthanded ice time per game, second among all Washington rearguards.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Schultz improved his offensive game in 2009-10, establishing career bests for assists (20) and points (23). He recorded 14 of his points (two goals, 12 assists) on the road.
“You can’t let the No. 1 guy score all the goals,” says Schultz. “I think it just gives our team another look out there offensive-wise. Everybody knows what Mike’s going to do Offensively, but it’s up to the other five of us to chip in whenever we can.”
Paired with Mike Green
, Schultz helped Green forge a career high 76-point season. Whenever Green went off on a rush, Schultz could be counted on to hang back and mind the defensive zone. Schultz has also taken great strides in making a strong first pass out of his own end since he began his NHL career in 2006-07.
“I’m not going to be one of those guys who rushes the puck from end-to-end,” admits Schultz. “It’s my job to get it up to the forwards as quick as possible and get it out of our zone with as much ease as possible. If I can make a simple play instead of forcing it, it helps myself and it helps the team.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Schultz’s breakthrough 2009-10 season is that he started the campaign way down on the Washington defensive depth chart. Schultz was a healthy scratch for the Capitals’ opening night contest in Boston, a designation he endured for four of the season’s first six games. Even in the two games in which he did play, Schultz skated less than 16 minutes.
“I felt good about my year,” says Schultz. “As the year went on, I got more comfortable and felt I was contributing more and rounding off my game and getting that consistency that I want.”