Measuring Shattenkirk's Power Play Impact

McCabe. Del Zotto. Boyle. Yandle. Shattenkirk.

The Rangers’ have failed over and over since Jaromir Jagr to find a power play maven, and Kevin Shattenkirk is the newest experiment. We won’t know until probably November how Alain Vigneault plans to use the newly signed Shattenkirk entirely, though we can make a strong assumption that he’ll slot right in as captain Ryan McDonagh’s right-side partner. But, immediately, we’ll see what impact he can have on the Rangers’ power play.

Measuring the impact is tricky, but the question, “How much better can the Rangers’ power play get?” is a worthwhile one.

With McDonagh serving as the quarterback of the power play, averaging 3:05 PP TOI/GP last season, the Blueshirts’ man-up squad finished the season tied for tenth-best in the NHL at 20.2%. There’s an unquestioned belief that the Blueshirts will improve on that number—fair enough, considering Shattenkirk’s skillset—but the improvement might not be as substantial as Rangers fans tend to believe.

The St. Louis Blues have been a strong power play team, but not an elite one during Shattenkirk’s reign. Given the Rangers’ solid numbers last year, it’s hard to imagine Shattenkirk having much transcendental power in New York. Over the last four post-lockout seasons, Shattenkirk has averaged 3:09 PP TOI/GP and just over 24 power play points per season with the Blues. During that time, the Blues finished 7th in 2013-14 (19.8%), 4th in 2014-15 (22.3%), 6th in 2015-16 (21.5%), and 8th in 2016-17 (21.3%). Dating back to Shattenkirk’s rookie season, they’ve never finished a regular season producing at better than the 22.3% clip they did in 2014-15.

There’s no arguing the overall strength of that unit, but the Blues have failed to really challenge the league’s elite man-up units. The consistency is worth noting, and having a top-ten unit is great, but for the power play to give the Rangers the extra juice they need to contend for the Cup, it needs to be elite. It’s fair wonder whether or not Shattenkirk can bridge the gap.

There are a handful of players—predominantly snipers—in the league who you can argue single-handedly make a power play dangerous and the names shouldn’t be surprising; Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Brent Burns. But Shattenkirk doesn’t really fit in that company. Instead, he falls in line with the guys who succeed by allowing the talent around them to thrive. Kris Letang, Mike Green, and, for comparison’s sake, Derek Stepan.

Since Shattenkirk isn’t going to be the devastating shooter that the Rangers’ power play needs, his impact might be smaller than conventional wisdom suggests. He’ll make the unit better with his offensive-zone vision alone, but it’s tough to say that he packs the punch necessary to be the catalyst for an elite unit, especially since he hasn’t before.

Compounding on this is the fact that, quite simply, the Rangers don’t generate a high volume of power plays. The uptempo, contact-averse style that Vigneault prefers simply doesn’t lend itself to a consistent flow of man-advantage opportunities. Last season, the Rangers finished tied for 23rd with 233 attempts while over the last three seasons, cumulatively, the Rangers are tied for last in the league with 691 opportunities.

So, therein lies the rub in signing a guy who’s only certain value comes on the power play; the low number of chances facilitates a negligible difference in goals.

Assuming Shattenkirk’s presence boosts the Rangers to a 24.5% success rate (Buffalo’s league-leading mark last year), and the Rangers earn 240 advantages, the Rangers would tally 59 power play goals and improve on last year’s mark by 12. Assuming 230 attempts and 21.3% (St. Louis’ rate last year), the Rangers would tally just 49 goals. Split the difference and we’re looking at another seven or so goals.

Is that an improvement that makes the Rangers any stronger in the standings? Does that win you more than another game or two? More importantly, does another handful of power play goals compensate for the fact that Shattenkirk isn’t an elite top-pair defenseman, should he struggle with the defensive responsibilities that McDonagh’s partner will necessarily assume?

There aren’t many good answers to these questions. There’s a chance that Mika Zibanejad and J.T. Miller can find the net consistently from the dots to really make the man up unit hum, but a marginally better power play is probably the most realistic scenario, since it was already a strong unit last year anyway.

Where the extra goal or two will matter is in the playoffs. Last year, the Rangers’ power play converted at an anemic 7.7% against Montreal and Ottawa who, to their credit, had great penalty killing units. And, as in the regular season, the Rangers struggled to get opportunities as they finished seventh out of eight teams to make the second round in opportunities. If his tenure here is going to be a success, Shattenkirk should and, really, must do that in the playoffs where a single goal can be the difference between joy and pain.

It’s worth noting that, even in a small sample size, Washington’s power play was almost 2% better in the playoffs than in the regular season with Shattenkirk running the point.

Perhaps, too, another way to evaluate Shattenkirk’s presence on the power play is more abstract. We’ve seen in recent years that, with the Rangers’ objection to fighting, teams have felt comfortable taking liberties and being overtly aggressive because they didn’t fear New York’s man up unit (ironic, considering the Rangers’ low PP totals). Even if the total goals scored is negligible, Shattenkirk may be able to make the Rangers’ power play a more consistent threat and allow the team to capture momentum, rather than allow a strong penalty kill to do so for opponents.

Fear is powerful and keeping opponents on their heels is what the Rangers thrive on when their four-line attack is rolling. Barring a monumental rise in power play goal totals, maintaining that pace with the man advantage, particularly in the postseason, may be where Shattenkirk sets himself apart from some of his predecessors.

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