Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz doesn’t play a pretty game nor does he put up any kind of stats, but he plays in tough spots for the Flyers
Nick Schultz is pretty much the polar opposite of a defenseman like Shayne Gostisbehere. While Ghost is young, speedy, offensive, and popular, Schultz is the anonymous stay-at-home defenseman.
Not only does Nick Schultz play as a defensive defenseman, he doesn’t bring any particular size or strength to the position like a Radko Gudas. He doesn’t put up goals or assists, and Schultz doesn’t find any friends in advanced stats either.
What the 33-year old Philadelphia Flyers defenseman does do is play all the tough minutes and plug defensive holes. The question becomes, is it enough?
As viewed above, Schultz’s performance is pretty ugly. His Corsi/possession performance lags well behind his teammates. This has pretty much been the case his entire career. Nor does his stat line of 1 goal, 9 assists redeem poor possession.
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All this begs the question, what is he doing out there?
The answer to that question is actually pretty simple. He gives the Philadelphia Flyers a predictable, steady veteran presence.
The Flyers have a pretty young group on defense. Excepting 33-year old rookie Evgeny Medvedev, Mark Streit (38-years old) and Nick Schultz are the old men of the group. Furthermore, Streit has plenty of experience , but it’s not as a bedrock defensive presence. This leaves Schultz as one of a kind on the Flyers defense.
It’s pretty clear Schultz is playing a unique role on the Flyers defense.
The chart above shows Schultz getting fairly difficult quality of competition, but not brutal top line matchups like Del Zotto. What is more striking the zone start ratio, where Schultz is always buried.
This “last line of defense” usage also comes through on special teams. There, Schultz led the team in shorthanded ice time per game. He also appears to be one of the Flyers’ better penalty killing defensemen.
Lastly, while Schultz is bunkered in his own end, he is pretty adept at blocking shots. Nick Schultz led the team in blocked shots, and placed near the top of the league in the category.
So clearly Nick Schultz provided coach Dave Hakstol with a safety net for the tough, thankless minutes at the back end of the ice. He’s played over 1,000 NHL games, and Hakstol could count on that experience to keep things generally under control.
Of course the big catch is that when you spend that much time in your end, bad things will eventually happen. Schultz does not have the ability to move the puck very well, so even though he is often starting in his own end, he’s not getting the puck out of there either. It’s a passive, veteran’s game.
The vast majority of NHL coaches want to have a guy they can count on the roster to do this job. It’s not pretty, and fans will get frustrated with such a player, but it minimizes risk.
I suspect we’re seeing Nick Schultz as a bridge player while the Flyers re-make their defense with youth in the next few seasons. Even if there is a place for Schultz on the team right now, bleeding so many shots against will bite you in the long run, and it will not cement a long term place on the team.
Schultz has 1 year left on a contract that pays him a relatively modest $2.25 million per season. Expect to see Schultz continue to get similar responsibilities next season, but he will only be re-signed if the Philadelphia Flyers fail to find trusted defensive players. There’s a fair chance Schultz will not find an NHL job at that point, but Flyers fans will have to accept Schultz for what he is for at least one more season.