The Capitals signed their second restricted free agent of the summer on Wednesday when defenseman Jeff Schultz agreed to a four-year, $11 million contract.

The 24-year-old led the entire NHL in plus-minus rating last season. He was on the ice for 50 more goals scored for Washington than against. Only Mike Green and Tom Poti saw more ice time than Schultz (19 minutes, 43 seconds) on the Caps blueline. He even registered a career high 23 points with three goals and 20 assists. The deal runs through 2014.

“It does take away one year of [unrestricted free agency],” Schultz said. “But I’m happy with what the numbers were and was willing to give up that one year.” 

All of this comes just nine months after the 6-foot-6, 221-pounder was a healthy scratch on Opening Night against Boston. But he was quickly back in the lineup and became a key piece on a team that posted the NHL’s best record. Schultz had filed for salary arbitration on Monday, but it didn’t take long for the two sides to come together. Avoiding the dreaded arbitration process – where you get to hear your bosses say bad things about you for a few hours – was a relief, too.

“I saw salary arbitration as kind of a precautionary measure in case something didn’t get done so we weren’t left with nothing,” Schultz said. “I’m real happy we were able to get a deal done before that happened.”

The salary-cap hit for Schultz will be $2.75 million per year. That’s a big jump from his $715,000 salary in 2009-10. Washington still has two key restricted free agents to sign in forwards Tomas Fleischmann (23 goals) and Eric Fehr (21 goals) and about $10.8 million left in salary-cap space. The Caps would then have three remaining roster spots to fill. But general manager George McPhee hasn’t been shy this summer throwing out the names Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson to fill two open center spots internally. So far the organization has shown no inclination to throw cash at free agents they don’t see as a big enough upgrade over what the farm system can produce.

“Kind of hearing what George has said it seems like he’s going with youth this year,” said Schultz, whose friends fill him in on the team’s offseason moves. “They weren’t going to change too much because they were happy with the regular season. The playoffs - I think everybody’s still trying to forget about that. It’s going to be a young team again this year and I think we’re pretty stuck on the team that we have.”

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