During last off-season, the Capitals and General Manager Brian MacLellan signed unrestricted free agent Justin Schultz to a two year deal worth a $4 million deal to solidify the right side of the second defensive pairing. The deal was largely polarizing, due to Schultz’s struggles during the 2019-20 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where his primary defensive partner was Jack Johnson.
Overall, Schultz is a known commodity. He’s going to provide offense and can quarterback a power play unit effectively, but he’s not exactly known as a stalwart, defensively. This description is very much what the Capitals saw in Schultz on the ice during the 2021 regular season. The concerning piece here is that Schultz started off the year very well, looking rejuvenated from a down year in Pittsburgh, and slowly regressed throughout the season.
Game Score is a metric that Dom Luszczyszyn (now with The Athletic) created to measure the performance of a player in any given game. Here’s the stats that Luszczyszyn uses in calculating game score:
- primary assists,
- secondary assists,
- shots on goal,
- blocked shots,
- penalty differential,
- 5-on-5 corsi differential, and
- 5-on-5 goal differential (you can read more about the Game Score metric’s method here).
Now, let’s take a look at Schultz’s game scores throughout the 2021 season: (Click to enlarge).
The dotted line in the middle of the graphic above is the trend line. You can see there’s a moderate downward trend from the start of the season to the end of the season. Overall, you can see some real highs, and some very low lows. The latter half of the season is marred by inconsistent performances, and really dragged down his overall performance.
Schultz’s Corsi For percentage started off on the strong side, but after returning from injury in mid-February, was largely inconsistent. This can be somewhat expected based on quality of competition, but there are pretty drastic game-by-game swings in effectiveness here. Disregard the bottoming out of 0 CF% on April 18th; Schultz only played 2:45 of ice time in that tilt.
Overall, Schultz’s average CF% over the season was under 50% at 48.44%, which is concerning. You’d hope that your more offensively-minded defensemen can generate more shot attempts when on the ice, but even with 58.5% of zone starts being in the offensive zone, Schultz didn’t manage to be on the ice for a majority share of shot attempts during the entire regular season.
Expected Goals For Percentage
Here’s another area where Schultz really struggled. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise considering he was typically on the ice for more shot attempts against than generated. Schultz was looking at an upward trend at the start of the season, but was typically under the watermark of 50% after returning from his injury.
Here’s another look at Schultz’s 2021 season performance during five-on-five play, courtesy of JFreshHockey:
This is essentially what Schultz is at this point. He’s a very strong offensive defenseman that struggles defensively. His primary assists and points per sixty minutes of play is in the elite echelon in the NHL.
His expected goals for and expected goals against, on the other hand…are not. His quality of competition is also not very high, so it’s tough to see how much he struggles defensively here.
Here’s another view of Schultz’s Rate Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM)
Overall, this just further supports the fact that Schultz can produce offensively at strong rates, but struggles elsewhere. His expected goals for per sixty minutes dips below replacement level, as well as his possession rates, and expected goals against per sixty minutes.
These are the lowest-rated defencemen in the NHL this season by Wins Above Replacement pic.twitter.com/FGFF6KEY3k
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) May 25, 2021
His goals for per sixty minutes and his expected goals for per sixty minutes being nearly inverse of each other is also interesting, which could mean that his on-ice scoring rate was unsustainable, or just luck.
Schultz was solid on the power play, when he saw minutes. Since he was typically on the second unit, he didn’t see a lot of time there (John Carlson saw 165:40 of ice time on the power play).
Justin Schultz is certainly an NHL level defenseman, but struggles in his own end statistically, while generating offense at even strength in elite company. Due to his high offensive zone start percentage, it’s clear that Peter Laviolette sees the same thing, since he really pays attention to defensive acumen and tends to start players who struggle defensively in the offensive zone (as he should).
Schultz will be 31 years old when the 2021-2022 regular season starts, so it’s unlikely that he’s going to improve defensively. With the expansion draft looming, and Schultz entering a contract year, it seems unlikely that the Capitals will choose to protect him, especially since the Capitals extended Trevor van Riemsdyk earlier this season. With a $4 million cap hit, the Caps could surely use that money to improve the roster. Will Schultz be selected in the Expansion Draft this summer? Time will tell.
By Justin Trudel