Provided he’s not re-signed by the Washington Capitals before July 1, Kevin Shattenkirk will be one of the most attractive names on the free agent mark this summer.
Before he can reach that stage though, he and his teammates are trying to shake the playoff curse that seemingly haunts this franchise.
The Capitals lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in overtime on Monday night, which stakes the Leafs to a 2-1 series lead in that first round matchup.
All three games have gone to extra time.
Shattenkirk had 14 points in 19 games with the Capitals after the pre-deadline trade from the St. Louis Blues, and he also picked up an assist in the first period of Game 1 in this series. He’s been held off the score sheet since then – albeit with potentially a lot of time left in this series.
Shattenkirk and Brooks Orpik have been on the ice for four five-on-five goals against the Leafs, including two on Monday evening.
“It was not a banner night at the office for Kevin Shattenkirk,” asserted Montreal’s TSN 690 morning show host Conor McKenna on Tuesday morning while chatting with NHL Insider Darren Dreger. “Do you think he can do any significant damage to his value this off-season based on the way he performs the rest of the way this series?”
“Maybe a little bit, but not a bunch,” considered Dreger. “I think that going into the NHL trade deadline, or around the deadline, most believed that he would be the coveted piece as far as unrestricted free agent defensemen are in the off-season. I don’t think a lot is going to change there.
“Look, I took a fair bit of heat when I wrote a story a couple of months ago talking about Shattenkirk and how he’s perceived to be a power play specialist. You can’t dispute the numbers that Shattenkirk puts up on the power play, but five-on-five he’s not great. He’s maybe better than okay, but he’s not great. And that’s the way it is.
“But that’s not going to stop any team that has interest in Shattenkirk from putting down a pretty big term and pretty big number when it comes to unrestricted free agency in July.”
Guess Orpik and Shattenkirk really, really wanted to defend that guy behind the net, leaving net front open. pic.twitter.com/CNsS8cqLKc
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) April 18, 2017
The comments to which Dreger alluded, for which he definitely heard criticism, initially came during a Feb. 2 TV hit from the Insider.
This was a month before the trade deadline, and the context of the discussion was based around trade thoughts at the time.
“The asking price for St. Louis to make that trade is going to be significant,” said Dreger then. “And any team that may have interest in say a trade-and-sign is going to be reluctant to give Shattenkirk seven or eight years at $7 million or more per year.
“And the reality is Shattenkirk is viewed at best as a second-pairing defenseman. Some teams that I talk to have him as a No. 5 guy. He’s terrific on the power play.
“But that’s a decision as an organization you have to make. Do you want to pay a 4-5 guy $7 million or more on a long term. Probably not.”
Agree or disagree with the comments, it’s at least important to note that Dreger was simply relaying the perception of Shattenkirk from some teams or team reps around the league.
Once the info from that TV segment got out, Dreger did hear about it.
“I took some heat last night on social media. That’s fine. I can live with that,” said Dreger then. “The reaction from fans of Kevin Shattenkirk. Look, I deal with coaches and general managers day in and day out. The guys that I’ve been talking to this week with interest in Shattenkirk say, ‘Look, we know what he is. He’s a power play specialist.’
“But is he a Top-4 defenseman? Okay. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s a second-pairing guy. 5-on-5 he struggles a bit. He does not play, for the most part, against the other teams’ top forwards. So what are you getting? If you’re paying $7 million per, you need to get Victor Hedman or Drew Doughty or Brent Burns. That’s the type of player that you’re looking at when you’re looking at $7 million-plus.
“So some St. Louis Blues fans took offense to that. But that’s okay. He’s a heck of a player.”
Ken Hitchcock coached Shattenkirk for a number of years, so who would know the rearguard’s capabilities better?
“Shatty is one of the best defensemen defending by attacking the rush,” Hitchcock told ESPN’s Scott Burnside last month. “He has great anticipation and surprises people and creates a lot of turnovers because of it. … He is at his most dangerous when the game is tied or down a goal. He knows how to play reckless and is a dangerous offensive player because of that.
“He was a great team player in the room, almost like another coach,” Hitchcock added. “He knows what went right and wrong before the coaches get in the room.”
Call Shattenkirk what you want, wherever you land in this debate, but the 28-year-old defenseman is going to get paid this summer. Period.
The scarcity of available puck-moving defensemen matched with the number of teams looking to add said talents – regardless of the cap crunch facing many franchises – means Shattenkirk will be handsomely rewarded when he hits the open market.
Where will Shattenkirk choose to ply his trade though?
One stream of thought has him preferring to sign with the New York Rangers, which is a sentiment that Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has mentioned numerous times this season as having heard.
You might remember the reports of several trades Shattenkirk apparently nixed since the summer, with one of the noteworthy pieces of information being disseminated that the defenseman apparently turned down a pretty hefty contract offer as part of a trade-and-sign scenario – although the rejection wasn’t necessarily money-related.
“This one it was reported – and I think it’s 100 percent accurate – that Tampa offered him seven years at $6 million per – so seven years, $42 million – and Shattenkirk said no,” said Friedman on Feb. 24. “There were some people last night who were speculating that Shattenkirk said no because it wasn’t enough. I think it’s because – and I’ve written this and said this – there’s a theory out there that he wants to play for the Rangers. He’s a Connecticut guy. He wants to go back up there. And that the Rangers are his No. 1 choice and the Bruins are his No. 2 choice, with the Rangers really being the team he wants to go to.”
Time will tell where Shattenkirk would truly prefer to play, but there is no doubt that the line of teams who will at least make him a tempting pitch during the free agent interview period will be long if he’s willing to hear them out.
On March 24, Friedman brought Shattenkirk’s name up again as part of a larger discussion on the New Jersey Devils.
“I think the one thing – if you ask everybody about Jersey, the biggest issue there is they just don’t have a defense that can move the puck,” said Friedman at the time. “And you can’t win in this league now if your defense can’t do that.
“I don’t know if Kevin Shattenkirk is going to go there – I still think he wants to be a Ranger. But I could see them throwing a big number at him. They’ve got a lot of cap room. They’ve got a spot for him on their blueline. He’s exactly what they need. It would not surprise me in the least if New Jersey is a team that goes out there and just throws bags of money at him and says, ‘Turn us down.’”
The off-season promises to be wildly entertaining in terms of potential activity thanks to the incoming Vegas Golden Knights, and Shattenkirk will be one of the headliners when the opening of July 1 free agency nears.