EDMONTON - The last time the Edmonton Oilers sent out an entourage to woo a prominent player, they were turned down by Dany Heatley in 2009.
This time, they are hoping their efforts pay off, but they are not alone.
Kevin Lowe, the Oilers president of hockey operations, and Craig MacTavish, recently installed in the vice-president’s role, are in Toronto making a pitch to unrestricted free-agent defenceman Justin Schultz.
The Vancouver Canucks reportedly sent general manager Mike Gillis and assistant GM Laurence Gilman while the Toronto Maple Leafs are also expected to be on the short list of teams which will have a chance to talk to the highly sought-after University of Wisconsin product.
Schultz, 21, became a hot commodity when he elected to not sign with the Anaheim Ducks, who drafted him in 2008. After three standout seasons with the Badgers, the Kelowna, B.C., native has his choice of destinations.
He and his representatives set up shop in Newport Sports’ Toronto office earlier this week. Offers can be presented, but he cannot sign until July 1, the first day of free agency.
Ryan Suter, the Nashville Predators’ defensive anchor, and New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise are the other big names that bear watching when the market opens.
Another interesting entry is Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who has spent his career with the franchise but has some concerns about signing a contract with the team’s ownership situation still in flux.
“Are we interested (in Schultz)? Of course we are, and with a chance to present what we believe to be an incredible opportunity,” said Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini. “Let’s see what happens.”
Heatley had been seeking a trade out of Ottawa when he vetoed a deal that would have seen him relocate to Edmonton in exchange for Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid. Lowe and Tambellini then dropped in on the winger at Okanagan Lake, B.C., to try to convince him to rethink his decision.
Later, the Oilers dropped off a flashy video to his agent, extolling the virtues of the team and the city. But Heatley dug in his heels and, months later, was dealt to the San Jose Sharks.
Part of the appeal of Schultz is can’t command more than the $925,000 ceiling for a player signing an entry-level contract. He has said he wants to play in Canada and, if it’s playing time he really wants, he’ll get that in Edmonton, where the blue-line needs to be bolstered.
By not drafting Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart or Morgan Rielly at the recent NHL entry draft at Pittsburgh, the Oilers may have increased their odds of fanning Schultz’s interest.
Not to mention the fact he’ll be teamed up with some young offensive punch in Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and 2012 No. 1 pick Nail Yakupov.
Hall is also on standby to meet with Schultz, if needed.
“He has a heck of a lot of interest, with good reason, and we hope to take a good swing at him,” Tambellini said. “We have our ideas of how we can present a pretty good opportunity for a young man.”
Smyth, Oilers to talk
Veteran Ryan Smyth, one of several Oilers who will be without a contract as of July 1, is scheduled to meet with team management again before Sunday’s market opens. There was a two-year deal on the table but the Smyth camp wasn’t prepared to accept the bottom line.
Darcy Hordichuk is also an unrestricted free agent, as are Taylor Chorney, Yann Danis, Ryan Keller, Josh Green and Bryan Rodney.