|Image Courtesy of: Zhao Lim|
Who is Justin Schultz you may ask?
So how can he become a free agent?
Schultz is now 21 years old and will become 22 on July 6th. He has yet to sign an entry level contract. Under the current CBA rules in the NHL if a player does not sign a contract by 22 years old he becomes eligible or unrestricted free agency. But it is more complicated than that!
The main factor for Schultz to consider is how soon he can sign his second contract and potentially begin to earn some serious salary. Players who sign entry level contract while under the age of 22 are required to sign for three years. If they are 22-23 they are required to sign for two years. If Schultz signs now with Anaheim he will insist on playing this season to burn off a year of his contract and qualify for RFA in 2014. If he holds out and signs after July 6th he will still become a RFA in 2014, but can sign with any team he chooses.
Where may he go?
At first thought it would seem highly unlikely that such a coveted prospect could possibly be allowed to become a free agent. Blake Wheeler was a similar situation after he was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2005 in the first round with the fifth overall pick. After refusing to sign in Phoenix, he signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins in 2008. If Schultz were planning to remain property of Anaheim, would he not sign now and begin playing this season in order to burn off that first year of his contract? Assuming he lives up to his massive potential his next contract could be a significant one. Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty are two players who went from entry level deals to earning over $7 million a season. That is pretty big motivation and incentive to get through the $875,000 a year entry level deal as soon as possible. With only 10 games remaining in this season, time is running out for Schultz to play off his first year. Of course he may simply sign a two year deal after his birthday with Anaheim, but then any other team can also make him an offer.
If he is unsigned by the end of the season, it becomes reasonable to assume he intends to play elsewhere in the NHL and it would behoove Ducks GM Bob Murray to trade Schultz rather than lose the asset for nothing.
With time seemingly running out, the speculation is beginning to heat up. The 2012 free agent market may be more interesting than originally forecast, and offer a major building block in Justin Schultz.
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