Quietly subpar season from Justin Schultz didn’t help Penguins’ cause
Most of the players who had a bad year for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season did so at a high volume. The struggles of Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist, for instance, were loud.
Justin Schultz, on the other hand, had a bad year quietly.
Perhaps it’s because he spent much of the season on the injured list with a broken leg.
Perhaps it’s because his stat line when he was on the ice – 2 goals, 13 assists and an even plus-minus rating in 29 games – was nothing remarkable. It doesn’t compare favorably to his 27 points and plus-22 rating from the season before, but it wasn’t alarming.
It only requires a cursory look beyond those numbers, however, to find some trouble.
When Schultz was on the ice at five on five this season, the Penguins had 45.2% of the shots and 45.3% of the shot attempts. Both figures ranked 11th among the 12 defensemen the team used. Both figures were by far the worst of his four-year tenure with the Penguins.
It would be easy to chalk up Schultz’s woes to the fact that he and frequent defense partner Jack Johnson did not fare well as a pair, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Schultz’s numbers with and without Johnson are very similar.
In 383 minutes with Johnson at five on five, Schultz’s on-ice shot-attempt percentage was 45.0%. In 107 minutes without him, it was 46.3%.
With Johnson, the Penguins outscored their opponents 16-11 when Schultz was on the ice five on five. Without him, the Penguins were outscored 5-3 with Schultz on the ice.
Besides, the more pertinent reason for Schultz’s struggles might be more obvious than all that: It’s hard for a player to simply shake off a broken leg like nothing ever happened once he returns to the lineup.
He suffered the injury Oct. 13. He didn’t play again until Feb. 16.
“It wasn’t easy, obviously missing a large portion of the season,” Schultz said. “It’s not easy coming back. But I thought the trainers and everyone did a good job of getting me ready. I felt pretty good. Obviously it’s a big summer for me, getting back to, for sure, 100 percent.”
Under normal circumstances, Schultz might be a likely trade candidate as the Penguins are looking to shed salary and change up the roster this offseason. He is, after all, entering the final year of a contract that pays him $5.5 million annually.
It’s probable, though, that he will perform better the further removed he is from his injury. The Penguins might be better off benefitting from that improvement than letting another team reap the rewards.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .