A First Look At Replacing Justin Schultz With Erik Gustafsson

Photos: NHL via Getty Images

Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan had his busiest opening day to free agency since his ascension from assistant general manager to general manager back in 2014, acquiring six players in the opening day frenzy. One of his six acquisitions and the only new player added to the Capitals blueline is Erik Gustafssson, signed in the first day of free agency.

Justin Schultz, who was not expected back, signed a two-year, $3,000,000 AAV deal with the Seattle Kraken on the opening day of free agency. As a result, the Capitals signed free agent defensman Erik Gustafsson.

The apparent plan is to initially have Gustafsson step into Justin Schultz’s vacancy on the third defensive pairing. The move first appears to be for simple cost savings, but how will the change look on the ice? Let’s take a quick look.

Tale Of The Tape

As mentioned, the transition from Schultz to Gustafsson will save the Capitals a considerable amount of money, approximately $2,200,000. In addition, the roster pot gets about two years younger.

So the Capitals save a ton of cash and get younger by the move . What’s not to like? But how will it pan out on the ice?

Basic Stats

Before we dive into a few of the more granular metrics, let’s first take a quick look at the basic stats: games played, goals, assists, points per game and plus/minus, for last season and for each of their careers.

Last seasons stats are very similar for both players. Schultz had a slightly better scoring season (very slight) but also had a much worse plus/minus. Gustafsson has the better points per game career average. Advantage: push.

Possession Metrics

Next let’s take a deeper dive on a few of the more specific metrics that provide a better gauge for the play of the defensemen. [To learn more about the statistics used in this post, check out our analytics NHL Analytics Glossary. Statistics in this post are courtesy of Evolving Hockey, HockeyViz, and Hockey Reference.]

Expected Goals

First let’s take a look at the basics: Corsi for percentage, expected goals for percentage, xGA per 60 and expected goals against minus actual goals against: [Click to enlarge].

Just Schultz had the better CF% and xGF%, while Gustafsson had the better goals against differential. Advantage: push.

GAR, WAR And SPAR Metrics

We’ve typically applied the Goals Above Replacement (GAR), Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Standings Points Above Replacement (SPAR) metrics to initial assessments of this nature. In very general terms, the metrics encapsulate how valuable an individual player is in terms of on-ice play, relative to a ‘replacement level’ player. Please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary if you should need further definition. [Click to enlarge].

Gustafsson holds better value in all three of the advanced metrics, further tilting the needle forwards him. Advantage: Gustafsson.

Context And Caveats

As always, there are a wide range of variables that limit context and the depth of the granularity of the metrics above. Justin Schultz played on a much better team last season, and was paired with a solid defenseman in Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Gustafsson played primarily on the right side of the third pair for the Blackhawks last season, and was paired with several different defensemen, including Jake McCabe, Riley Stillman and Caleb Jones, all fairly average defensmen with poor goals against differentials – again a reflection of the team as a whole.

First Take

The comparison above could easily produce the conclusion that the players are fairly equal and a wash, statistically. The Capitals will lose a little experience on the backend, but likely gain fresher legs in Gustafsson. All-in-all, if the players are generally equal, the move by MacLellan has to be deemed a good one, simply from a business perspective.

More to come.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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6 Responses to A First Look At Replacing Justin Schultz With Erik Gustafsson

  1. Anonymous says:

    This seems like a pretty savvy move by GMBM. We need to see how it plays out, but at first glance, I like it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Also, this means TVR is playing on his natural side, right?

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      That’s why we originally figured they’d go get an LHD, but this signing could mean TVR returns to left side, where he played with Schultz most of last season. They have some flexibility, so it’s not too concerning.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Gustafson is also really good on PP. That will help the team.

  4. Luka says:

    How do you see him comparing to Lucas Johansen? What each brungs to the table, who is better suited to be opposite to TVR? What must LuJo do at training camp to beat him gor a place in top 6?

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      LuJo has a chance to win a starting job, or at minimum a 7th or 8th defenseman role. It will depend on how things unfold in training camp as to where he lands. This is his shot.

      It’s hard to say who would be better paired with TvR – but that’s what we’re gonna find out.

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