Schultz decision weighs heavily on Ducks

The most promising sign in the stalemate between the Ducks and Justin Schultz is that the club still has time to exclusively negotiate with the star college defenseman.

The reality is that any hope of reaching an entry-level deal with their 2008 second-round pick is slim and fading fast.

As TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie reported via Twitter, the Ducks have until June 24 to sign Schultz; they had 30 days to work out a contract after the 21-year-old filed paperwork to leave the University of Wisconsin. No one has disputed that date.

But the signs are increasing that Schultz won’t sign with the Ducks and is intent on choosing to entertain offers from other teams, which can begin at 5 p.m. ET on the 24th. Any team can officially sign Schultz on July 1, when he can become an unrestricted free agent.

All parties have been tight-lipped about the situation. Ducks GM Bob Murray would only say that “we’re still trying to sign him.”

The fact is, Murray hasn’t been able to land the talented blue-liner despite offering the maximum allowable to a player entering his initial NHL contract. Ducks executives have been unable to convince Schultz that Anaheim is the right spot for him after his junior season with the Badgers ended in March.

It has led to much consternation within the Ducks’ front office, which until the last few weeks has been of strong belief that Schultz wanted to play for the club. The Ducks were ready and willing to burn the first year of a two-year entry level contract and hoped to play him on the final three-game road trip to western Canada.

Adding him would likely make veteran Lubomir Visnovsky expendable — that is how badly they want Schultz. But other teams want him just as badly.

Seen as a top-four NHL defenseman upon arrival, Schultz might become the top free agent who’s not named Ryan Suter or Zach Parise. Vancouver is believed to be hot for Schultz, and the Canucks could be a natural fit given he’s from British Columbia.

Edmonton, Toronto, Boston and the New York Rangers have also been rumored to be potential landing spots for Schultz. Detroit could become a player if Suter opts to re-sign with Nashville and doesn’t hit the market.

The Ducks might consider the option of trading Schultz’s rights before July 1, but there are problems with that scenario. Teams would come to the conclusion that the defenseman is set on heading to free agency and would rather wait to make their offer instead of making a trade.

The team’s best hope is finding out where Schultz wants to play and getting that team to part with a draft pick — perhaps a third-rounder — in order to secure his services before he hits the market. Schultz, of course, would have to be amenable to a trade if it gets him to that team.

But while the Ducks drafted and invested a large amount of time in him, Schultz has every right to simply wait a week and choose the one team he truly wants. And that’s led to a lot of stomach turning in the club’s front office.

SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Starting with a Jan. 6 win over the New York Islanders, the Ducks ripped off a two-month stretch in which they went 17-3-4 to pull themselves from 29th place in the entire league into the playoff picture. They finished off a 5-2-1 road trip with a victory over Carolina, which got to within four points of eighth place. And they seemed to be in position for a final push after a nationally-televised Feb 26 home win over Chicago right before the trade deadline. But the Ducks lost to Colorado the next night, which began a 3-7-1 swoon that effectively knocked them out of contention. An individual highlight was Teemu Selanne’s emotional return to Winnipeg, where he began his storied career and was greeted with multiple standing ovations by Jets fans.
   TURNING POINT: The Ducks were already slumping badly in November when they faced Chicago in their annual matinee home game the day after Thanksgiving. It was truly a Black Friday as they blew a 4-2 lead in a matter of minutes early in the third period and lost 6-5. Two nights later, the Ducks were a flat-lined group in a dreary 5-2 home loss to Toronto. General Manager Bob Murray had made his up mind to replace longtime coach Randy Carlyle and immediately sought out Bruce Boudreau the moment he was fired by Washington on Nov. 28. Two nights later, Carlyle was fired after a win over Montreal and Boudreau was announced as the new coach. Boudreau went 27-22-8 after taking over.

NOTES, QUOTES
Top minor league scorer signs one-year extension
   –LW Patrick Maroon, who led the Ducks’ minor league affiliate in scoring this season, signed a one-year contract extension with the club. Maroon scored 32 goals, had 42 assists and was a plus-17 for the Syracuse Crunch, giving him AHL career highs in each category. The 24-year-old ranked third in the league in scoring with 74 points and was tied for fifth in goals. His new contract is a two-way deal that will pay him $550,000 in the NHL and $105,000 in the AHL, which is a raise from the $60,000 he made after signing a one-year contract with the Ducks last July. Maroon does not have arbitration rights.
   –RW Ryan Lasch was signed to a two-year deal, making him the first Orange County native to play for the organization. The two-way contract will pay him $600,000 and $650,000, respectively, if he is in the NHL, and he will earn $200,000 and $105,000 in 2012-13 and 2013-14 in the American Hockey League. Lasch, 25, is a native of Lake Forest who played for Team USA alongside the Ducks’ Bobby Ryan, Cam Fowler and Kyle Palmieri in the recent IIHF World Championship. The former St. Cloud State standout scored 24 goals and led the SM-liiga, Finland’s top league, with 62 points. “It’s pretty awesome,” Lasch said. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet. To be able to have a chance to play with the Ducks is pretty special to me.”
   –D Tim Heed, the Ducks’ fifth-round pick in the 2010 draft, was signed to a entry-level contract two days before the signing deadline. The two-way deal is for three years at an escalating salary for each. Heed’s NHL salary is worth $525,000 in 2012-13, $575,000 in 2013-14 and $600,000 in 2014-15. His American Hockey League salaries will be in $55,000 in ’12-13, $65,000 in ’13-14 and $67,500 in ’14-15. Heed, 21, appeared in 47 games with the Malmo Red Hawks of HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden’s second-best pro league, and led all defensemen with 26 assists while also chipping in four goals.
   QUOTE TO NOTE: “Definitely growing up I was a Ducks fan. It’s your local team, so I was always watching them. The only other team was L.A., which is a little further away, so I grew up watching the Ducks a lot.” — Team USA and Finnish Elite League winger Ryan Lasch, who became the first native of Orange County to sign with his hometown team.