Given that I’m a little more skeptical about Justin Schultz than most, I’ve greatly enjoyed his runs at bonuses over the past two seasons. The NHL’s collectively bargained bonus system is the second biggest mess in the CBA after the arbitration section. As a result of this (as well as Winnipeg’s weird hate-on for Dustin Byfuglien), we’re on the precipice of seeing something very interesting unfold.
Let’s back up. It was reported last year that Schultz had a $2MM bonus for finishing in the top ten in goals for defencemen. He hit it in his last game (off an assist from Hall that, IIRC, ensured Hall hit a $2MM bonus as well) setting off an ecstatic celebration on the ice, while Daryl Katz probably muttered to himself about a $4MM goal on a team that was missing the playoffs. Again.
Fast forward to this year and the Oilers are missing the playoffs. Again. Justin Schultz scored tonight against Anaheim to give him eleven goals on the season, pulling him into a tie for eleventh amongst defencemen.
My understanding is that you can hit your bonus simply by tying for tenth place. Schultz sits a goal back of that. Send your eyes up the list though. See who’s in third place? That’s right. Dustin Byfuglien. He made headlines earlier this year with this:
Hmm. The NHL has Dustin Byfuglien listed as being a defenceman when he’s been a forward since mid-January. So is Schultz tenth or is he eleventh? Byfuglien played more than half the season as a defenceman this year – that would tend to suggest that he’s a defenceman. That’s not really fair to Schultz though – Byfuglien has played 30 games up front or so. His goal total is likely higher than it would be if he was only a defenceman. If I was an arbitrator, I’d have difficulty with that.
You could say “Fine, we’ll only count the goals that Byfuglien scored while playing defence.” Hilariously (to me), that total is ten goals. In other words, if you only count the goals that Byfuglien scored while playing defence, Schultz bumps up into tenth place. This strikes me as a fairer approach than factoring in the goals that Byfuglien scored while playing forward. It’s a bit troublesome though, in that it invites arbitrations on questions of whether or not a guy was a defenceman when he scored a goal. What’s Zdeno Chara when he’s standing in front of the net on the PP? Are those goals scored by a defenceman?
It seems to me to be very likely to be a case with no precedent, nothing in the CBA that really straightens it out and arguments going each way. Oh, and there will be $2MM at stake and the league has an interest in the matter too. I have no idea what Katz is thinking about these bonuses but if it was me, I’d feel a vague sense of resentment about writing bonus cheques for a guy who has scored just enough goals to hit the bonus twice while not really bringing a whole lot else to the party. (As ever, I hasten to add that I’m not beating on the guy – still a young NHLer, defence take time, hasn’t had good partners, etc.)
Maybe Schultz or someone else will score enough goals to render this moot, either by Schultz finishing in tenth or better, even taking Byfuglien into account, or finishing twelfth or lower. If he finishes eleventh though…well, it’s hard for me to see how there isn’t some sort of an argument.Email Tyler Dellow at email@example.com