After seeing his role and ice time diminished for a second straight season under another new coaching staff, defenseman Jeff Schultz has asked the Capitals to trade him so he can earn a consistent spot in the NHL elsewhere.
Discouraged by being a frequent healthy scratch and frustrated by the absence of instruction from Coach Adam Oates and the assistant coaches as to how he could earn more playing time, Schultz believes it’s time for a fresh start.
“My agent and I thought there has got to be somewhere else where a team needs a player like myself and I can be utilized a lot more than I was here,” Schultz said Thursday afternoon. “It was like I was a young first year player again with them. They didn’t have that trust in me that they could put me out there in tough situations or even in the third period.”
Schultz’s agent, Jarrett Bousquet, said that the trade request initially occurred in mid-March when it became clear that the 27-year-old had been passed on the depth chart. The Washington Examiner first reported that Schultz had asked to be traded.
The defenseman played in only 26 games this year and none past March 31 as the Capitals relied on left-handed defensemen Karl Alzner, Jack Hillen and John Erskine down the stretch. But throughout the season, players with less experience including Tomas Kundratek, Dmitry Orlov and Steve Oleksy all saw game time while Schultz sat from the press box.
“It was hard too to see, when you’re not playing, for [the Capitals to] call guys up and have them play in front of you. You’ve been in the league for a certain amount of years and this is their first year, it’s just kind of frustrating,” Schultz said. “I guess they want to get them some experience, but I felt like I could do more than them.”
Schultz, who has one year remaining on a four-year, $11 million contract, carries a $2.75 million salary cap hit next season. Whether that’s a tradable contract for a defenseman who has played only 80 games combined in the past two regular seasons as the salary cap drops to $64.3 million remains to be seen. A buyout is also an option. If the Capitals were to use one of the two compliance buyouts allowed under the new CBA on Schultz, it would not count against the salary cap.
Bousquet said teams have expressed interest in Schultz, however, and is confident that there is a market for his client.
“Playing in the National Hockey League now supersedes playing for the Washington Capitals,” Bousquet said. “I think he can still play in the National Hockey League. He’s played almost 400 games, almost 30 playoff games if he’s playing 20-22 minutes a night like he was when they signed him he’s not a huge cap hit. In any situation you want to be utilized and you want to be developed still – he’s still a young guy, he’s an asset – if they’re not going to do that in Washington I can’t believe they would go through another year like this, have him sitting out every game and being on the cap.”
Schultz has spent his entire career with the Capitals, who drafted him 27th overall in 2004 two picks prior to the selection of Mike Green. After time with the AHL’s Hershey Bears he became a regular with the Capitals in 2007-08. Once Bruce Boudreau took over in Washington, Schultz became Green’s regular defensive partner and averaged no less than 19:46 per game for three straight seasons as he appeared in 64 games in 2008-09, 73 in 2009-10 and 72 in 2010-11.
In 2011-12, Schultz saw his time in the lineup drop significantly once Dale Hunter took over as coach in late November. He appeared in 54 regular season games and 10 playoff games last season. Communication was a problem during Hunter’s tenure, Schultz said, but he was hopeful that he would get a fresh start under the new coaching staff.
Schultz said even early on in this season he noticed a lack of confidence from the coaches, though, because he wasn’t seeing regular penalty kill time or given the opportunity to play during important parts of the game.
“My minutes were down compared to what I was used to playing and I’d get in for a stretch of games and then sit a couple and there was never an indication why they were taking me out of the lineup,” Schultz said. “My last game I was pulled and haven’t played since with no indication of what I did wrong for them to take me out or what I would need to do to get back in.”
At this point Schultz, who is already back home in Calgary, is waiting to see if he’ll get the opportunity to prove himself elsewhere in the NHL.
“I just go somewhere and play and put what happened the last year and a half behind me,” Schultz said, “and to show that whatever does happen here I’m the type of player who can help a team win.”