The Capitals are all-in and the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk put the rest of the Metropolitan on notice. Will the other top teams in the division answer back? And if so, how?
The Capitals seemed a long shot to land Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline, so much so that Washington really wasn’t even all that much on the radar for the rearguard until mere hours before he was dealt to the Metropolitan Division leaders. And even when the rumor mill started to heat up speculating the Capitals could be in on Shattenkirk, it still seemed like there would be no way it actually came to pass.
But did the Capitals ever put the rest of the division on notice when they managed to pull the trigger on a deal that, in the eyes of many, could very well put them over the top. All it cost to pick up Shattenkirk at the cost of two drafts picks, Zach Sanford and Brad Malone. If that’s enough to put the Capitals into the winner’s circle come season’s end, it was more than worth the price.
Don’t go thinking the rest of the division will go without a response, however. The battle for Metropolitan supremacy has been the toughest in the league this season, and with four other teams from the group in the hunt for the playoffs, there’s no doubt going to be some moves made as a reaction to the Capitals’ splash with the trade deadline fast approaching.
The Penguins were actually the first squad in the division to make a move, but it was as much out of necessity as it was in effort to take top spot in the Metropolitan. With Olli Maatta hitting the shelf with a hand injury and Kris Letang sidelined day-to-day with an upper-body ailment, Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford looked to his old stomping grounds in Carolina and picked up Hurricanes blueliner Ron Hainsey. That likely isn’t everything the Penguins do with the deadline approaching, however.
Realistically, the Penguins could still do with adding another depth blueliner, even if he doesn’t see the ice all that often. Security on the back end would be a nice thing to have going into the playoffs, especially with the Capitals loading up. It’s clear that’s of interest to the Penguins, too, as they were reportedly in on Shattenkirk, as well.
It wouldn’t be out of the question for Pittsburgh to also look to see if there’s a way to add another depth scorer to the roster, either. One of the most important facets of the Penguins’ run to the Cup in 2015-16 was their depth scoring. Players such as Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl and Conor Sheary stepped up at the right time. Jake Guentzel has been playing lights out of late, but maybe there’s another cheap piece to be added somewhere. A cheap scorer, maybe Radim Vrbata or P-A Parenteau, could fit the bill.
The Penguins have all the top-end skill a team needs to compete in the post-season, but the make or break factor could be ensuring there’s not even the slightest hole in their lineup. That’s what it’s going to take to win the Metropolitan, too.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are having what projects to be the most successful regular season in franchise history. The shame is, though, the 16-game win streak has been followed by a 12-10-1 stretch. Columbus is above .500 since their outstanding run, sure, but few would put them in the same conversation as the Capitals or the Penguins. The question then has to be what the Blue Jackets can do to put them into true contention for the Metropolitan crown.
Up until Tuesday, the Blue Jackets had stood pat, and the only move the team has made to potentially improve leading up to the deadline was Tuesday’s signing of Marc-Andre Bergeron. The 36-year-old blueliner isn’t exactly the kind of player who’s about to come aboard and make all that much of a difference, though, and there’s no telling if he even gets any NHL games under his belt this season. This is to say the Bergeron signing, while nice for the veteran rearguard, doesn’t move the needle for Columbus.
The Blue Jackets could use another defender, though. It’d be tough to make any of the high-priced defensemen work, but one option could be New Jersey Devils defender Kyle Quincey. He’s not carrying a massive cap hit — $1.25 million and a UFA at the end of the season — and could easily skate middle- or bottom-pairing minutes for Columbus. He has playoff experience and he’s got some offense to his game, providing four goals and 12 points this season.
However, it wouldn’t be all that shocking if the Blue Jackets stand pat, for the most part. This is a growing team with a lot of talented, young pieces. Their window isn’t all the way open yet, and there’s no reason to go all-in yet. Building off this strong season would be as good as trading away assets in a division they’re unfortunately unlikely to win.
New York Rangers
The Rangers might just have to wait for the off-season to get Shattenkirk, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to add the blueliner they’re after. New York was reportedly interested in Detroit’s Brendan Smith even before Shattenkirk came off the board, and the Rangers carried out the deal with the Red Wings Tuesday afternoon by sending a pair of draft picks the other way.
Smith isn’t Shattenkirk, that much is clear. The Capitals pulled in an 11-goal, 42-point rearguard, and the Rangers answered back with one who has two goals and five points. What Smith can do, however, is play significant minutes somewhere in the Rangers’ bottom two pairings. They desperately needed someone to do so, too. And even with Smith, it wouldn’t be the worst idea for the Rangers to keep looking at defensemen, even if it means sacrificing some offense in a trade. New York has 203 goals for, which is the second-best mark in both the league and division. Their 162 goals against are 11th in the league, though, and the back end doesn’t exactly strike one as the most fierce in the division.
What the Rangers need most is someone who can reliably share the top-pairing minutes with Ryan McDonagh. Right now, there’s a nearly four-minute gap between McDonagh’s average ice time and that of Nick Holden, who’s second on the club with 20:37 per game. Smith probably doesn’t skate alongside McDonagh or average near the same ice time. Quincey could be an option, or maybe the Rangers consider someone along the lines of Johnny Oduya.
Finding a top-two guy is almost impossible, especially with Shattenkirk off the board, but having someone to help share the top minutes with McDonagh would be a boon for the Rangers.
New York Islanders
Unlike the Penguins, Blue Jackets and Rangers, the Islanders aren’t in the conversation to win the Metropolitan. However, they stand a chance of competing against their divisional rivals if they sneak into the post-season in the second wild-card spot. That would mean a date with the Capitals, and if the Islanders want to be able to put up a fight, they’re going to need to make some additions.
The Islanders aren’t in the same position as the other teams within the division in that they’re quite set on the back end. Having a top three of Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic, when he returns from injury, makes for quite the blueline, and while the bottom three of Dennis Seidenberg, Calvin De Haan and Thomas Hickey aren’t without their flaws, it’s not a bad way to round out the defense. Adding another piece back there could help, absolutely, but it’s not a big-time must.
Adding some scoring to the lineup is, however. The Islanders rank 10th in the league in scoring with 179 goals, but that’s almost entirely because of John Tavares and Anders Lee. More than a quarter of the team’s goals have come from those two players, both of whom have 23 markers this season, and a top three scorers that consist of Tavares, Lee and Josh Bailey isn’t exactly Murderers’ Row.
Making the money work wouldn’t be easy, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see Duchene land with the Islanders? Giving Tavares a speedy, 30-goal player to work alongside could give New York a solid 1-2 punch on offense. But if the Islanders want a short-term fix to try and get into the playoffs and make some noise, they wouldn’t go wrong with Vrbata or Parenteau. Maybe they even try bringing Thomas Vanek back. Just three seasons ago, he scored 17 goals and 44 points in 47 games while playing primarily with Tavares as his center.
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