2012 NHL Free Agents: Justin Schultz Signs Contract with Edmonton Oilers

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2012 NHL Free Agents: Justin Schultz Signs Contract with Edmonton Oilers
Photo Credit: FiveMinutesforFighting.com

The Justin Schultz saga has officially come to an end.

The Edmonton Oilers announced Saturday afternoon that they have signed the 21-year-old defenseman to a two-year, entry-level contract.

Per the team's official Twitter account:

Sportsnet.ca's Mark Spector with the financial details of the contract, which are as expected:

Schultz's signing concludes one of the strangest NHL free-agency situations in years.

The British Columbia native was drafted 43rd overall in 2008 by the Anaheim Ducks, but after spending the last three years at the University of Wisconsin without signing an entry-level deal with Anaheim, Schultz was eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.

However, the 6'1", 185-pound blueliner could not receive a cap hit higher than the $3.8 million—the maximum for entry-level contracts.

That unparalleled level of financial parody turned the Schultz sweepstakes into a 26-franchise recruitment race based on team dynamics alone.

By Thursday the player that some were calling the "crowning jewel of 2012 free agency" had narrowed his list of suitors down to five teams.

By today, that list was down to one.

The Edmonton Oilers.

Grabbing Schultz after an afternoon of waiting is a big step in the Oilers' rebuilding process. As Spector elaborates:

Schultz will enter the NHL after an impressive career at Wisconsin.

The offensive defenseman scored 18 goals and 47 points in 41 games in 2010-11, leading the Badgers and all WCHA rearguards in points.

Schultz then followed up that performance with 16 goals and 44 points in 37 games last season, leading all WCHA defensemen in points again and winning Wisconsin's team MVP trophy.

Now moving on to the NHL, he'll have big shoes to fill for an Edmonton defense that finished 23rd in the league last season.

Did Schultz make the right decision?

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No Oilers rearguard scored more than five goals in 2011-12, and the club's top four defensemen in terms of ice time—Jeff Petry, Ryan Whitney, Ladislav Smid and Corey Potter—combined for a miserable minus-35 rating over the course of the year.

Schultz will now step in as the Oilers' second-highest paid rearguard (behind only Whitney's $4.0 million cap hit) and could jump up to the team's top defensive pairing as soon as next year.

He'll join a youthful group with only one player over age 29—Andy Sutton, 37—that's looking to reverse a trend of basement-dwelling in Edmonton. The team hasn't finished outside of the league's bottom two in three years.

However, at least for today, the Oilers are the NHL's big winners.

Welcome to Edmonton, Justin Schultz.

Your decision was the right one.

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