Justin Schultz won’t leave NHL fans in Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver in suspense until the start of the free agent signing period at noon ET Sunday.
The much sought-after defenceman, fresh off his third season at the University of Wisconsin, is expected to announce his new team on Saturday.
The New York Rangers and Minnesota are also believed to be in the mix as Schultz, 21, was said to have a short list of six teams entering the weekend.
Anaheim Ducks drafted the West Kelowna, B.C., native in the second round in 2008 but failed to sign Schultz during a 30-day exclusive negotiating window after he left school and he was declared an unrestricted free agent on Monday.
Schultz was able to hit the free market after his representative, Newport Sports Management in Toronto, discovered a loophole in the soon-to-be-expired NHL collective bargaining agreement that allowed Schultz to test free agency because he played an extra year of junior hockey in the British Columbia Hockey League before attending Wisconsin.
Schultz was in Toronto this week to field contract offers from teams, with the Oilers and Maple Leafs making a push in recent days. Former Edmonton stars Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey are said to have talked with Schultz on the team’s behalf.
Current Toronto defenceman Jake Gardiner is good friends with Schultz and his former collegiate defence partner with the Badgers.
Gardiner has called Schultz urging him to join the Leafs, according to The Toronto Star.
“I’ve talked to him a little bit, but he really didn’t give me [any inside information]. As his friend, I definitely want him to come here,” Gardiner told the newspaper. “The whole city does.
“It’d be awesome. Hopefully it works out. There’s a lot of teams after him.”
Blessed with a tremendous shot, Schultz can quarterback a power play. In three seasons at Wisconsin, he scored 40 goals and 113 points in 121 games.
“He’s faster than I am,” said Gardiner of Schultz. “He always gets his shot through from the point. Really smart, good vision, good stick.”
Under the CBA, Schultz will be restricted to a two-year, two-way entry-level contract with a maximum salary of about $925,000 US a season (832,500 base salary plus $92,500 signing bonus). With a maximum $2.85 million allowed in performance bonuses, the annual salary cap hit could be as high as $3.775 million.
Schultz can’t formally sign a contract until Sunday.