Heading into the 2009-10 season, Alan Haworth was Washington’s franchise record holder in the single-season, plus/minus department. Haworth’s plus-36 from 1985-86 had held its place in the Capitals’ record books for nearly a quarter century.
Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz
obliterated Haworth’s mark this season, posting a plus-50. He beat Haworth’s previous mark by nearly 40 percent. Schultz’s plus-50 was the top mark among all players in the league in 2009-10. 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 for the 2009-10 season. His 32 penalty minutes represents a single-season career best, as does his average of 19:51 in ice time per game.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Schultz also improved his offensive game, 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.”
Injuries limited Schultz to a total of three playoff games over the previous two seasons, but he skated in all seven postseason tilts this time around, averaging 19:43 per contest.
“Everybody still feels a little disappointed,” he said in the wake of Washington’s early postseason exit. “I think it’s something we have to let go of. There is nothing we can do about it anymore and we have to take the summer and get ready for next year.
“We have high expectations for ourselves. We set the bar high, and it’s just another year to build on.”
Unless he and the Capitals reach agreement on a contract extension in the meantime, Schultz will become a restricted free agent on July 1.
“I’ll let my agent and the management here deal with it,” says the big blueliner. “I just want to play hockey.”