Nothing went well for Kevin Shattenkirk last season – but, to be fair, nothing went well for the New York Rangers, either, who missed the playoffs. The Rangers elected to buy out Shattenkirk's $6.65-million salary on Wednesday, saving the team $5.16 million this season after a dismal year for the defenseman.
Shattenkirk hasn't been the same since requiring surgery on his left knee in 2018, and he's coming off of a 28-point campaign, which is his worst full-season offensive output. But as it stands, Shattenkirk is the best right-handed defenseman on the UFA market, and, given his previous experience as a top-pairing defenseman capable of solid offensive numbers, a team will be willing to take a risk on the 30-year-old on a one- or two-year deal. At his best, Shattenkirk was a reliable defender capable of 10 goals and 40-plus points a season. Even if he contributes 35 from the blueline, Shattenkirk would bring significant value in a lesser role for a team. For example, the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes are two teams who have been in on Shattenkirk in the past and have young enough rosters to benefit from his experience – you have to imagine they'll make a run.
One problem for players bought this late into the summer is that many teams already have a good idea as to what their lineup will look like and have already spent their cap space. But there are some teams out there who would be a fit. Here are five teams that should show some interest in obtaining his services:
Assuming Rasmus Ristolainen is on his way out, as numerous reports over the last few weeks would suggest, the Sabres will have space on the roster for a right-handed defender who can run the second power-play unit. With $3.12 million in cap room and the futures of RFAs Linus Ullmark and Jake McCabe to worry about at the moment, the Sabres could use him as a depth option that might not play a big role with the team but brings experience to a team that relies heavily on 19-year-old Rasmus Dahlin. Henri Jokiharju could fill Shattenkirk's spot, but if the latter can be had on a cheap deal, Jokiharju might start the season in Rochester – in reality, is there a rush to move the 20-year-old up while the Sabres are still rebuilding? He grew up a Rangers fan, so staying in the New York State area with his family could be enticing.
Columbus Blue Jackets
With $15 million in cap room and Zach Werenski the lone RFA still to sign, the Blue Jackets are in a good spot to add some veteran depth at a good price. Outside of Werenski and Pierre-Luc Dubois (RFA next summer), the Blue Jackets have their core signed for at least the next two years, with many of the team's most important pieces signed for three or more. Columbus could afford to throw a couple million at Shattenkirk for a year or two to solidify the team's defense core, and he can use that time as motivation to earn a bigger pact if he redeems himself. If anything, he can be an insurance policy for Ryan Murray, who has spent a good portion of his career battling injuries.
Edmonton's never-ending search for defensive help continues this summer, and if Shattenkirk's wants to play big minutes his best option could be in Oil Country. For as bad as Shattenkirk was last year, his 28 points with a brutal Rangers team would have tied him with Oscar Klefbom for second among Edmonton defensemen on an equally poor Oilers team. They have just $2.4 million in cap space, and RFA's Jesse Puljuarjvi's future is uncertain, but the Oilers could still find a way to make it happen. Just imagine how happy Oilers fans would be if GM Ken Holland shipped out Kris Russell and his $4-million cap hit after sending Milan Lucic's untradeable contract to Calgary. Adding Shattenkirk will likely depend on the Oilers plan for fellow right-handed blueliner and top prospect Evan Bouchard. If the Oilers think he's ready to play in the NHL, there may not be any point to bringing in Shattenkirk.
Los Angeles Kings
Yes, the Kings shouldn't be looking to get older or slower, but given how bad the team was defensively last year (and in every other facet of the game), could taking a flier on Shattenkirk – a proven veteran with years of big-minute experience – be a negative? The Kings have three pending UFA and two upcoming RFAs on the blueline for next season, so if the Kings signed him to a two-year deal at less than $2.5 million AAV, they'd have a bit of stability on the backend for an extra year. And at that price, if he can regain his form at all, he'd be a good trade option to get more assets to assist the rebuild. Shattenkirk could be used to bridge the gap in while Sean Durzi, a defenseman with a similar skill set, gets more seasoning in the AHL.
Winnipeg's top priority is to lock up RFAs Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor long term, but after losing half the team's defense core, adding Shattenkirk would help ease the sting. Most of the team's $17.59-million cap hit will be used to sign Laine and Connor, but with Trouba gone, the Jets are missing a big piece on the right side. Shattenkirk could fit in on the second defensive pairing with Dmitry Kulikov and help offset some of the scoring punch left by Trouba while providing mentorship to youngsters Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman and former Rangers teammate Neal Pionk. Would he take a discount to play for a contender?
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