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article imageOp-Ed: Dear Hockey Gods, give Maple Leafs break, give 'em Justin Schultz

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By Marcus Hondro     Jun 29, 2012 in Sports
Toronto - It is being reported that star-in-waiting Justin Schultz, a 22-year-old defenceman said to be NHL ready, has whittled his choice down to six teams. That's from 24, or 26, depending on which report you read, who had asked to make a pitch for him.
Schultz' list includes the Vancouver Canucks, the home province team for the Kelowna native, and five others. Given there's been no definitive word it's hard to narrow down who the other teams are, but by assembling reports it seems reasonable to say 4 of those remaining 5 are the Edmonton Oilers, the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs. That may be the entire list, though one report suggested the Minnesota Wild were in the mix.
Justin Schultz escapes from Ducks
Here's a pitch: the Leafs deserve a break. That isn't going to mean much to the former University of Wisconsin rearguard who didn't sign with the Anaheim Ducks, who drafted him 43rd overall in the 2008 entry draft only to see Schultz use a loophole to escape them. But while sympathy isn't going to sway the unrestricted free agent, it just might have an affect on the Hockey Gods.
The who?
The Hockey Gods are the guys that just gave L.A. Kings forward Colin Fraser his second Stanley Cup ring, his first earned playing 3 playoff games with the Blackhawks in 2009-10. Fraser has value, yes, but when you consider recent Hockey Hall of Fame inductees Adam Oates, Pavel Bure and Mats Sundin collectively have zero Stanley Cups to their credit, it shows how capricious the HGs can be. But they can be persuaded to hand out breaks.
Leafs have tools to land Schultz
The Leafs have already received some breaks in their pitch for Schultz. Given he's put them on the list, as Damien Cox points out, it suggests he is not opposed to playing for Randy Carlyle, who ran things in Anaheim when Schultz went to two prospect camps for that team.
Not only that but the Leafs' Jake Gardiner and Schultz were a defense pairing in Wisconsin and clearly got on well - in 2010-11, in 41 games Schultz lead the team in scoring with 18 goals and 49 points, while also in 41 games Gardiner was third with 10 goals and 41 points. Those are big numbers for defencemen in the WCHA and having had that kind of success together suggests being reunited would be a positive.
There are other signs the HGs are on the side of the Leafs: Neither the Canucks nor the Rangers can guarantee the minutes Schultz reportedly seeks and the two-time WCHA first-team all-star may balk at the prospect of being 6th or lower on the depth chart; Edmonton has a bevy of young talent but let's be brutally honest - it doesn't offer the city atmosphere Toronto does; Ottawa has a guy name Erik Karlsson who's a right-handed shot on the power-play, a specialty of the right-handed shooting Schultz.
Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke to make pitch
Now Schultz isn't himself a hockey god and there might be more hype in all this than substance, but his growth since the draft has been exceptional. In every area of the game he's considered strong and he'd be an upgrade on Luke Schenn, making it seem as if James van Riemsdyk was acquired for nothing. The bottom line is he's ready to help the Leafs take a run at a long-awaited playoff berth and when the time comes for a Stanley Cup run, he'll be ready for that, too.
And finally, it should be noted that the Leafs have one more thing going in their favor as they seek to sign Schultz - a rather competent talker in GM Brian Burke. Indeed, more than any other, it's an area that Burke excels in. So if the Hockey Gods are listening, then the Toronto Maple Leafs just might, at long last, catch a break.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
article:327635:20::0
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