The upcoming summer’s most coveted free agent defenseman will also be the most coveted trade deadline defenseman. Where might Shattenkirk end up?
Kevin Shattenkirk must be tired of it at this point. Pending unrestricted free agents often find themselves tied to trade rumors throughout the final seasons of their contracts, but scuttlebutt has dogged Shattenkirk for at least a year already, maybe two. It’s long been assumed the St. Louis Blues can’t afford to give Shattenkirk a raise over his $4.25-million cap hit. First it was Alex Pietrangelo’s and Jay Bouwmeester’s long-term deals that got in the way. Then Vladimir Tarasenko, Jake Allen and Jaden Schwartz commanded mega-deals as restricted free agents. Now young D-man Colton Parayko needs a contract as an RFA after this season. Robby Fabbri’s and Joel Edmundson’s contracts expire next season, too.
Shattenkirk is just 27 and one of the game’s premier puck-moving defensemen. He’s the type of commodity who doesn’t hit the open market often. Just ask Brent Burns, who was ticketed for a huge UFA payday but already re-signed with the San Jose Sharks. The combination of legit skill and a huge demand, especially given Shattenkirk is a right-handed shot, will make him rich this summer. A $7-million cap hit shouldn’t be hard to find, maybe even with a seven-year term. The Blues, then, probably have to cash him in on the trade market. If they were chasing a Presidents’ Trophy, they could justify keeping him as the equivalent of a trade-deadline rental for a Cup push, but they’re clutching to a wild-card spot in the West, having lost six of 10. GM Doug Armstrong might be best off hedging his bets and dealing Shattenkirk then.
What are the ideal landing spots for Shattenkirk? Consider these five.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
Dating back to last year, reports out of the Shattenkirk camp suggested his ideal landing spot was an Eastern Conference team, as he hails from Greenwich, Conn., and lives in Sag Harbor, N.Y. Jeremy Rutherford, the most reliable Blues beat writer, later refuted that rumor, suggesting the Western Conference was in play. Still, all things being equal, it would be fair to assume Eastern teams have an edge. “Close to home” is a nice tiebreaker.
Shattenkirk can’t control his destiny in that he lacks any no-trade or no-movement clauses in his contract, but if a trade ends up contingent on him signing an extension with his new team, Shattenkirk gains some control back. The Leafs fit the bill of somewhere Shattenkirk would be comfortable landing. They could stand to improve their blueline, too. They have good mobility from Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev, but Shattenkirk wouldn’t just be useful for his rushing ability. He is a strong possession driver, and the Leafs still allow too many shot attempts in their own end.
What Toronto can offer: That’s a tough one. Acquiring Shattenkirk would mean committing to a pretty locked-in top four, assuming the Leafs re-signed him, so it might make defensive prospects like Travis Dermott or Andrew Nielsen available. The Leafs have also been linked to “hockey trades” involving left winger James van Riemsdyk for a top-four defenseman.
Red flag: Honestly, while a trade could make sense on the Blues and Shattenkirk’s side, it’s too early for the Leafs to attempt a move like this. Going all-out for a rental would be especially foolhardy for a team less than a year removed from draft lottery status, and an extension doesn’t seem realistic given how much the Leafs will have to pay Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in a couple years. It’s pretty clear Toronto is way ahead of its rebuild schedule, and the playoffs suddenly look more likely than not, but this management team has consistently resisted the urge to make the same rash mistakes as previous generations did. I’ve included the Leafs on this list because they’ve popped up in plenty of Shattenkirk rumors, but I’d be stunned if he actually ended up in the Big Smoke.
4. Boston Bruins
The Bruins’ blueline seriously lacks depth and talent, especially with Zdeno Chara aging. Shattenkirk would remedy that problem in a big way. If he signed an extension, they could build around him, Torey Krug and the emerging Brandon Carlo.
What Boston can offer: That David Backes has spent much of the year playing the wing reminds us how deep Boston is at center. Maybe it’s time to deal Ryan Spooner, who is due a raise as a restricted free agent this summer but can’t climb his way above the third line. If Boston was certain of a Shattenkirk extension, perhaps GM Don Sweeney would throw in a prospect such as Jakub Zboril.
Red flag: Are the Bruins going to make the playoffs? The deck seems stacked against them given how many games they’ve played versus most of their Atlantic Division rivals. Sweeney should only target Shattenkirk if extremely confident in an extension.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have the strongest fit for Shattenkirk in a pure hockey sense. They desperately need a mobile top-four blueliner.
What Tampa Bay can offer: Would the Blues consider making a play for pending UFA goalie Ben Bishop in a straight-up swap for Shattenkirk? The idea has been tabled in many a blog and opinion column. Tampa GM Steve Yzerman would worry less about the risk of a UFA rental if he’s sending away a pending UFA in return.
Red flag: The Blues can get so much for Shattenkirk. Especially with the playoffs not a guarantee for them, using Shattenkirk for a haul that includes prospects and picks might actually be the best strategy. Acquiring Bishop would mean going for the Cup instead of bet hedging. That plan only works if the Blues heat back up between now and the deadline. Also, with so many RFAs to re-sign, the Lightning wouldn’t be candidates to extend Shattenkirk. He’d have to be a rental. A team currently last in the Atlantic shouldn’t rent anything aside from golf clubs. The Lightning could still make the big dance with a second-half surge, though.
2. Edmonton Oilers
It’s time to start thinking of the Oil as playoff bound. They’re nine points up on the fourth-place Pacific Division team. Will they become buyers or, like the Leafs, are they best off being cautious? Shattenkirk would provide them with a piece they lack: a true offensive defenseman. Guys like Andrej Sekera and Oscar Klefbom move the puck just fine but will never be confused with Erik Karlsson. Shattenkirk would be a truly exciting addition to the high-flying lineup.
What Edmonton can offer: The Blues could use a boost on their wings, especially with Alexander Steen starting to exit his prime, turning 33 on deadline day. Jordan Eberle has struggled to find his consistency all year and may just need a change of environment. He’d be an interesting piece to dangle in a Shattenkirk swap if the Oilers were comfortable weakening themselves at right wing. Maybe GM Peter Chiarelli would have to pursue a second deal to plug that hole after a Shattenkirk acquisition.
Red flag: Shattenkirk was linked to the Oilers in the summer, but Edmonton clearly didn’t fit the description of what he sought market-wise. Few options would be further from his home. Still, we’ve established the geography talk as overblown, and the lure of playing on Connor McDavid’s team might be too tempting to avoid. The Oilers would be smart to try and lock up Shattenkirk long term. He shouldn’t just be a rental for them.
1. New York Rangers
Now here’s a marriage that needs making. Manhattan is a dream market considering he calls the Hamptons home, and he’s a dream fit for a D-corps lacking offensive flair. Ryan McDonagh has improved a lot in that department but isn’t a natural scorer, and Brady Skjei’s offense, while ascending, hasn’t caught up to his swift skating yet. Shattenkirk would fill that void.
What New York can offer: The Rangers burst with forward depth. Someone like J.T. Miller has the pedigree and talent to attract another team in a trade but also toils on the Blueshirts’ third line, making him reasonably expendable. We also know the Rangers are never, ever averse to mortgaging away draft picks.
Red flag: I don’t see a ton of downside here. The Rangers are in win-now mode as long as Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash play for them. They’re deep enough to spare a forward and not miss much. A Shattenkirk extension would make the salary cap situation dicey, as Mika Zibanejad is an RFA this summer, but the Rangers would shed some salary via whomever they offered for Shattenkirk. It’s hardly an impossible feat to pull off.
Other teams to watch:
Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Colorado Avalanche
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
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