Just two summers after accepting all the concessions to live out his dream of playing for the New York Rangers, Kevin Shattenkirk was apparently informed that he’s no longer wanted.
There are numerous factors that have contributed to Shattenkirk’s abbreviated stay, namely an accelerated rebuild in New York and the salary squeeze brought on by the big-money additions of Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. But the bottomline is that the veteran defender failed to live up to the expectations tied to his reduced, yet lucrative deal, and the team will buy him out as a result.
Shattenkirk posted seven goals and 51 points in 119 games across two seasons on Broadway, only 24 of which were registered at 5-on-5. He logged more time on the power play than any other Ranger last year, but the team took a step back under that condition and his role, over time, was scaled back. His possession stats in New York wound up to be the worst of his nine-season career, but it should be pointed out that he led all Rangers with a 49.6 percent Corsi For rating last season.
All the data supports the notion that Shattenkirk is no longer the elite puck-moving right-shot defender that for a three-season stretch beginning in 2014 produced at a top-10 level at his position.
But can he help a team, or more specifically, the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Shattenkirk fits the Leafs’ most pressing positional need. While it will remain somewhat barren at left wing until Zach Hyman returns from his ACL injury, Toronto stands to upgrade at both the No. 1 and No. 3 slots on the right side of its defensive structure presuming that Tyson Barrie does indeed slot in on the second pairing with Jake Muzzin.
Still, it’s within reason to suggest that Shattenkirk would be miscast for both those roles. While we can debate the merits of having a defender with obvious limitations like Ron Hainsey work out of the top pair, it’s probably not a coincidence that the Leafs’ No. 1 defenceman, Morgan Rielly, had his best seasons while sharing the ice with a partner whose primary function was to support what he was out there doing. The Leafs will clearly invite a track meet, but the potential exposure on a Rielly-Shattenkirk top pair would likely force Rielly into re-prioritizing his game after his best season on record.
There’s strong evidence that Shattenkirk would be an upgrade on whomever the Leafs tab to work out of the third pairing. But in that event, the Leafs would be paying a premium for Shattenkirk to assume a depth role that he had little impact in while playing out his time with the Rangers.
By far Shattenkirk’s most value comes with the man advantage. But with Rielly and Barrie already at risk of cannibalizing each other’s impact in that situation already, it’s not easy to see how Shattenkirk would factor on special teams at all.
Shattenkirk’s potential cost is far less predictable than what the defenceman could potentially bring. Because bought out players are still receiving salary from teams that cut them loose, there are often more considerations than maximizing the value on the new contract.
We have already seen Shattenkirk accept less money to land in his preferred destination, which is either reason to gravitate to the highest bidder, or further evidence that he’ll prioritize fit.
Only two of the ten players bought out this summer have negotiated new contracts, both with the Dallas Stars. Next year Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera will earn between 35 and 40 percent of their previous salaries on one-year agreements. Though admittedly far from an exact science, applying the same type of haircut to Shattenkirk would spit out a value of $2.5 million.
It’s probably a safe assumption that Shattenkirk could command more than a 40 percent share on a contract already signed at a discount. Even at such a reduced salary, though, the Leafs would have to make a trade in order to house the contract with Mitch Marner remaining poised to take up what little remains under the salary cap.
Well, should the Leafs pursue?
Barring an unlikely situation in which Shattenkirk blindly prioritizes the Leafs (and volunteers for that Jason Spezza money), the Leafs would have to move out a body to welcome Shattenkirk to the fold.
The only obvious candidate is the player currently slotted for either the No. 1 or No. 3 position on the right side of the defensive structure, Cody Ceci. While many Leafs fans would jump at the opportunity to make that exchange, there should be skepticism over how well Shattenkirk would fit into the Leafs system, and his effectiveness as a player while riding the downswing of his career trajectory.
While moving out Ceci may be the right move, replacing him with Shattenkirk isn’t necessarily.
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