Plenty of ugly contracts were handed out July 1, 2017. Don’t count Kevin Shattenkirk’s among those.
He was widely considered the No. 1 player in the 2017 free agent class, and for good reason. Shattenkirk is 28, a coveted right-handed shot, an outstanding puck-moving defenseman and an above-average possession player. Those characteristics priced him into the $7-million-per-yer range and, we assumed, into the max allowable term for a player not re-signing with his existing team: seven years.
So it’s a coup for GM Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers to land Shattenkirk on a four-year contract, which should carry him through his remaining prime years and finish before he declines drastically. He’ll be 32 at the end of the deal. For perspective, Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien are 32 now, and Mark Giordano and Duncan Keith are 33. Shattenkirk’s cap hit of $6.65 million is no problem. He absolutely deserves that on the open market. The only defensemen averaging more points per game over the past three seasons are Erik Karlsson, Burns, Kris Letang, Victor Hedman, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban. Shattenkirk is one of the game’s premier offensive defensemen and a top-end power play quarterback. His Corsi numbers are consistently good. He was maligned for his playoff performance with the Washington Capitals after they acquired him as a rental this past-season, but keep in mind (a) the sample size was small and (b) he was paired with the declining Brooks Orpik, who dragged down the duo.
We know Shattenkirk could’ve landed a longer term and a bit more money elsewhere. So why did he join the Rangers? The biggest hint is that he lives in the Hamptons. It’s a hometown signing for him. That may have given the Blueshirts leverage – that and the fact they’re still in their Stanley Cup contending years and may have extended their window by virtue of signing Shattenkirk.
Gorton is enjoying quite a nice start to his off-season. He unloaded Derek Stepan’s contract to secure a high-ceiling prospect in defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and net the Rangers their highest draft pick since 2004 at No. 7 overall. They grabbed Lias Andersson and then, at 21st, Filip Chytil. They are the Rangers only first-rounders since they took Brady Skjei 28th overall in 2012. This week, Gorton also re-signed blueliner Brendan Smith, who was sneaky-good for the Rangers when they traded for him this past winter. Gorton then bought out defensive anchor Dan Girardi. Now the Rangers, already with good mobility from Skjei and Ryan McDonagh, replace Girardi with Shattenkirk. You’ll be hard pressed to find a single player-to-player upgrade as significant as that one across the league this off-season.
The Rangers play in what grew into hockey’s toughest division in 2016-17. But good on them for not rolling over and letting the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets rule. No team in the Metropolitan has made a bigger change than the Rangers so far this summer. They won the Shattenkirk sweepstakes and, somewhat miraculously, did so without handing the league’s prized free agent a bad contract. Bravo.
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