The Case Against Kevin $hattenkirk

To many, Kevin Shattenkirk to the New York Rangers seems like the inevitable conclusion of a two-year story. At face value, it makes a lot of sense; the Rangers’ biggest weaknesses are the blueline and the power play and Shattenkirk’s desire to be a Blueshirt is a poorly kept secret. But unlike a long list of hockey folks who think the 28-year-old would be a key to a Rangers run at the Stanley Cup, I don’t think he’s worth the investment.

In a vacuum, as a player, Shattenkirk is a great fit for Vigneault’s Vixens (™ pending). The team lacks quality right-handed defenseman and though Ryan McDonagh has every skill in the world, he lacks the offensive sensibilities to quarterback a dynamic and consistently dangerous power play. Shattenkirk easily fills both those needs. But, as with every UFA, the cost is prohibitive, and it’s not as if the Connecticut-born defenseman isn’t without his own flaws.

Potential contracts are tricky to talk about, especially if you consider the idea that Shattenkirk might take less to play in New York. After all, Dan Boyle did it. But realistically, $6.5M/year—5 years for $32.5 million—is a fair number for evaluation purposes, especially since he turned down a 7-year, $42 million deal that would have sent him to an Eastern Conference team at the trade deadline.

Here’s the company that contract and, more importantly, the cap hit would put him in:

Drew Doughty, Dion Phaneuf – $7m
Zdeno Chara – $6.9m
Brent Seabrook – $6.875m
Mark Giordano – $6.75m
Erik Karlsson – $6.5m
Alex Pietrangelo – $6.5m
Keith Yandle – $6.35m
Johnny Boychuk, Erik Johnson, Mike Green – $6.0m

Of those 11 players, how many are worth their cap hit? Doughty, Karlsson, and Pietrangelo are unequivocally three of the top five or ten defensemen in the game, but after that, there are more guys who are out-earning their performance than not. At this point in his career, Shattenkirk’s inflated market value rightfully puts him in this company because of his offensive production, but he’s not on par with Norris winners. You have to pay to get, but this kind of contract is cost-prohibitive and tomorrow, let alone when he’s 33, he’d have trouble making it worthwhile.

Making this type of free agent splash almost certainly means a buyout of Marc Staal and/or Dan Girardi, but the ripple effect goes beyond the two veterans. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Jeff Gorton spends big on Shattenkirk and then shells out another $4 million or so for Brendan Smith. If that’s the case, then we’re all but guaranteed one of Nick Holden, Marc Staal, or Dan Girardi spending another year in the top four. Perhaps a new face, namely Ryan Graves, Neal Pionk, or Alexei Bereglazov can cement a spot, but that’s likely wishful thinking at this point as only Graves has ever played professional hockey in North America.

The pure cost and trickle-down effect in the lineup make a Shattenkirk contract a tough sell. That’s compounded by the fact that, despite all he does well, he’s never been a top-pairing shutdown defenseman and doesn’t have the skins on the wall to warrant such a promotion in New York.

Quite simply, Kevin Shattenkirk is not a strong enough defensive player to warrant top minutes alongside Ryan McDonagh. Modern thinking is that more puck possession will make the Rangers a much more formidable defensive team, especially if Henrik Lundqvist continues to cover up errors. But though Shattenkirk has always been possession monster with a career 54.2% Corsi For (CF), that number is inflated by a career 56.6% Offensive Zone Start (OZS) rate.

For context, McDonagh has a career CF of 49.3% with just a 45.4% OZS while Alex Pietrangelo has a 52.5% CF with a 50.1% OZS and Jay Bouwmeester, who was traded for to replace Shattenkirk on St. Louis’ top pair, has a 47.9% CF with a 47% OZS. These three represent a small sample, obviously, and just a glimpse at the bigger picture. But as Shattenkirk’s contemporaries, they show that he’s getting sheltered* minutes, which lends itself to strong possession numbers. Trusting that he’ll maintain massive possession numbers with a significant drop in OZS as Mac’s partner seems misguided. For a guy making top dollar, it’s something you should be sure of.

*There’s no more misappropriated word in the hockey lexicon than “sheltered.” Sure, some players are sheltered by being given easier matchups, but for Shattenkirk, it’s more about selective deployment. He’s a great offensive player, so of course, you put him out in the offensive zone.

The lack of defensive prowess materialized in the playoffs for Shattenkirk, as he struggled in Washington. Barry Trotz was honest about that in saying:

I mean, he’s done some really good things offensively for us, but at the same time, I think he’s minus-seven in the playoffs so far, and he’s been more in that third pairing for us. So that’s not good enough for what we need in that third pairing.

And there’s the rub with Shattenkirk. While most of the rhetoric suggests that he’s a first-pairing defenseman and would, in turn, fit on McDonagh’s right side, his defensive deficiencies and past deployment make it difficult to imagine that. Is $6.5 million worth a sheltered guy? And if he’s sheltered and, presumably, unfit to get late minutes while protecting a lead, who does? Does Girardi move up from the third-pair late in games? Do you move Mac to the right to pair with Skjei or Staal late? Is Kevin Klein going to come back from the dead to take big minutes?

None of those seem like great options and, no matter how good Shattenkirk is offensively, one-goal games are almost always the difference between a successful and disappointing season.

There’s also the occasional egregious turnover, which can’t happen to a big-money guy whose entire skillset is based on moving the puck.

How many times have Staal, Girardi & Co. been flamed for this exact play? How many times can this happen before the Garden Faithful turn on Shattenkirk? He’s not a turnover-prone player, but being this weak on the puck under duress is inexcusable for a top-pairing player.

So if not Shattenkirk, then who?

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to trade forward depth since, really, it’s the thing this team can hang its hat on. But the Blueshirts’ depth never really made an impact in the playoffs as forwards went cold. Getting fourth-line scoring is nice, but it’s meaningless when your top guys aren’t scoring as well. You could count on one hand the number of times this year that at least two of the four lines weren’t slumping throughout the year.

With a slim UFA crop, New York should revisit the trade market. There are a number of players that they could target, with varying degrees of practicality.

Something along the lines of Kevin Hayes and Antti Raanta to Calgary—as Hayes has been phenomenal with Goudreau in the Worlds—for Dougie Hamilton could make sense. Moving a J.T. Miller for Jacob Trouba could immediately solidify the Rangers’ blueline, and Minnesota seems ripe as they’ll likely have to expose two of Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, and Matt Dumba (yes, please!). And, as Phil Kocher has been beating the drum for, Anaheim seems like a good target with their glut of young defenseman.

Lastly—and I said he’d be a good add at the trade deadline and still think so—I’d kick the tires on Chris Tanev. He doesn’t get the notoriety, but he’s a right-handed and more dependable version of Brendan Smith, who has fit in really well. Plus, Tanev doesn’t have a massive contract ($4.45m/year through 2019-20) and won’t cost as much trade capital as the others. Tanev wouldn’t be a long-term solution on the top pair, necessarily, but he could give the Rangers a solid, dependable guy to play next to Mac.

So if that happens, the Blueshirts’ D-corps next year could look something like:


That group might not have the same upside potential as one bolstered by Shattenkirk, but it gives you a ton of flexibility with a strong defense-first player along with a puck mover on every pair and a top-four that you don’t have to tweak late in games. Economically, the value spending about $8.5 million on Tanev and Smith seems more responsible than $6.5m on Shattenkirk alone.

Now, to be clear, Shattenkirk is a great player in his own right and is naturally a great addition to any team. But what he’ll likely cost does not add up to what he brings, especially for a Rangers team that doesn’t struggle to score goals. At, say, $4.5m per year, which is just a slight bump from his current contract, he’s a phenomenal add. But unless he’s willing to take ~$2m less than his market value suggests, I’m giving a solid “No” to Shattenkirk.

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