The Kevin Shattenkirk trade obviously signalled a massive Stanley Cup push for the team acquiring him, the Washington Capitals. And it felt like a white flag wave for the team sending him away, the St. Louis Blues.
It’s not like the Blues received a high-impact roster player in exchange for their prized pending unrestricted free agent defenseman. St. Louis got Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, a 2017 first-round pick and a conditional 2019 second-rounder for Shattenkirk. That’s a classic sell-off package. St. Louis knew it couldn’t afford to retain Shattenkirk this summer as a UFA given he’d command something in the range of $7 million annually at a seven-or eight-year term. Defenseman Colton Parayko is a restricted free agent this summer, Robby Fabbri next summer, and the Blues just extended center Patrik Berglund last week for five seasons at a $3.85-milllion cap hit. Per capfriendly.com, GM Doug Armstrong has 20 players signed for next season already and only about $7 million in cap space remaining, with Parayko left to re-sign. Even if the expansion draft plucks away a piece, it likely won’t be an expensive one – say, Nail Yakupov or Dmitrij Jaskin – so there just wasn’t going to be money left to extend Parayko and re-up Shattenkirk.
We all knew it, as did Shattenkirk’s suitors, which likely hurt Armstrong’s leverage. The package he received from the Capitals is thus respectable. Still, it’s not like Sanford and Malone project as major difference makers for this franchise. Sanford, 22, possesses great size and flashed some scoring potential with Boston College and in the USHL. Malone, 27, is AHL depth and nothing more. At the very least, it’s clear nothing St. Louis received will help much now.
That would be fine if the trade followed typical seller parameters, with the Blues mining the depths of the standings hoping for a lottery pick. But, geez, they currently occupy a playoff position. They hold down the second Western Conference wild-card spot at 67 points and have a game in hand on the L.A. Kings, who sit two points back. St. Louis won seven of eight games after Mike Yeo assumed head coaching duties with Ken Hitchcock let go, but they’ve now lost three straight. Did that mini skid cause Armstrong to declare his team’s Cup hopes dead?
It’s more complicated than that. Ideally, the Blues would’ve found a “hockey trade” for Shattenkirk, one that would’ve helped them stay competitive, but it was likely difficult to achieve. What team would surrender an important roster player, especially one with term left on his deal, to rent Shattenkirk? An extension would’ve had to be worked out between Shattenkirk and his new team for that to work, and it may have proven too tall of an order.
That left Armstrong with the decision to either keep his asset for the playoffs knowing he’d lose him in the summer – or seek the type of return typically reserved for a team with no playoff hopes. The guess here is the organization decided the fan base could not stomach losing another prized UFA for nothing. David Backes and Troy Brouwer walked in the summer, and the Blues are not nearly as good a team as they were a year ago. Having Shattenkirk depart would’ve been a public relations disaster, especially if the Blues ended up missing the playoffs with him in the lineup. Hey, it was possible. They occupied the lowest seed with an outstanding player like Shattenkirk.
The trade Monday night, then, was about saving face. It wasn’t the sexy return Blues fans likely hoped they’d get for Shattenkirk. The first-round pick could well be 31st overall if the Caps win the Stanley Cup. But the one thing we know about what St. Louis acquired for Shattenkirk and goalie Pheonix Copley: it was not nothing. That’s what St. Louis needed to ensure after losing Backes and Brouwer.
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