Nick Schultz has been the subject of Flyers fans' ire this season, particularly from those who rely heavily on advanced statistical analysis in forming their opinions. But Schultz has remained a key piece of the Philadelphia defense, regardless of the criticism. Could those fans finally get their wish at the trade deadline?
Should the Flyers try to trade him?
In many ways, Nick Schultz is the reverse-Evgeny Medvedev. This year, Schultz has posted horrific overall on-ice shot attempt differentials (-6.18% Corsi Relative) but has been solid in defensive zone shot suppression (+1.45% Defensive Zone Score). Medvedev, as BSH broke down earlier in the season, drives play extremely well (+4.15% Corsi Rel) but can't seem to get out of his own way in the defensive zone (-10.18% Defensive Zone Score).
The result? Medvedev is shuttled in and out of the lineup, while Schultz has yet to see the inside of the press box even once this season. And with one year remaining on Schultz's two-year, $4.5 million contract, it's fair to expect more of the same next season. That is, unless GM Ron Hextall decides to make a trade.
With Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin all expected to take serious runs at an NHL roster spot in training camp next season, the Flyers would be well-served in opening up some spaces on the blueline for the talented young defensemen. Mark Streit is likely Hextall's first choice to move, as the emergence of Michael Del Zotto and Shayne Gostisbehere has made him a bit redundant on the roster. But Streit could prove difficult to trade due to his large cap hit for next season, and he remains a useful player despite his slowing speed.
On the other hand, trading Schultz would probably be addition by subtraction, at least at even strength. The team would take a legitimate hit on the penalty kill, where Schultz has been one of the team's best shot suppression defensemen. But that seems a small sacrifice if it means picking up a draft pick for the 33-year old defenseman. If a contender is looking for a veteran blueliner on a cap-friendly deal to solidify their third pairing, then Hextall should jump at the chance.
Will the Flyers try to trade him? And if so, will they succeed?
When I hear fans speculating on social media that Nick Schultz could be part of a trade deadline purge, I mostly chalk it up to wishful thinking. Analytically-oriented teams likely won't want anything to do with Schultz, and the defenseman has even been underwhelming via the eye test this season. There's also the fact that Schultz has yet to be scratched this season, implying that the coaching staff believes the team has a need for his skillset. Finally, it probably helps young defensemen to have a veteran on the roster to show them the ropes, so it's unlikely that the Flyers will trade all of their vets.
But if I had to make a case that Hextall could be open to moving Schultz, it would be this: though the defenseman has yet to be scratched this season, he ranks last among Flyers blueliners in average 5-on-5 ice time per game, hinting that his role has shrunk. Hextall knows that he needs to open up space on his defense for next season, and if he finds that Streit's contract prevents him from getting (what he perceives as) fair value for the Swiss defenseman, he could very well start to aggressively shop Schultz.
Still, it's taking a leap of faith to assume that the Flyers have both identified the weaknesses in Schultz's game and can find a buyer who believes that they are overblown. Most likely, Schultz is a player that gets moved at next year's trade deadline, when he's a low-risk rental.