Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Hear me out on this one.
Yes, Jeff Schultz had four good seasons in a row with the Washington Capitals during his seven years in the league. In 2009-10, he even led the NHL in plus/minus rating with a plus-50.
But Schultz was a first-round draft pick. He was supposed to have more than four good seasons in a row. In fact, this stay-at-home defender was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Capitals defense for the next decade. Alas, the foundation began to crumble in 2011-12.
Schultz started that season playing below his standards, eventually losing the faith of Bruce Boudreau, Schultz's first NHL coach and the man who coached him at the AHL level with the Hershey Bears. According to The Washington Times, Schultz was eventually healthy scratched by Boudreau.
Dale Hunter was hired Thanksgiving weekend of 2011 to replace Boudreau, and Hunter's defensive philosophy replaced the offensive mentality of Boudreau. Despite this new emphasis on defense, Schultz could not win over his new coach either.
According to The Washington Post, Schultz was a healthy scratch for 14 of the first 20 Capitals games with Dale Hunter behind the bench. By the end of the season, Schultz played in only 54 games despite no injuries, and his 15:08 of average time on ice was the lowest in his career at the time.
The debut of Adam Oates for the 2012-13 season marked Schultz's third coach in 14 months, but another coaching change saw no improvement from Schultz. Oates frequently employed the healthy scratch with Schultz as well, at one point justifying his decision by saying “sometimes you ask a guy to take a step back and re-evaluate themselves." For the season, Schultz played in only 26 of a possible 48 games and set a new career-low in average time on ice at 14:15.
Over the last two seasons, Schultz played in 80 of a possible 130 regular season games (or 62 percent), and 10 of a possible 21 playoff games. In the previous two seasons, Schultz played in 145 of a possible 164 regular seasons games (or 88 percent), and 16 of 16 playoff games.
Brian McNally of The Washington Examiner tweeted on May 30 that Schultz himself is growing tired of this trend, and demands action:
This is what it has come to, after being a former first-round draft pick Jeff Schultz saw his playing time curtailed by three different coaching staffs with three different systems. All of whom would have loved to pencil in a shutdown defender like Schultz on their blue line every night. The continued inability by a player of Schultz's pedigree to crack the lineup despite a lack of injuries, along with Schultz's inability to perform when he did crack the lineup, reveal that he is indeed a draft bust. Sad but true.