Despite the fact that the puck won’t drop in regulation play for about four months, there is no doubt about it that the “offseason” is certainly heating up for the New York Rangers.
As the Vegas Golden Knights quite literally turn up the heat on the NHL, the New York Rangers find themselves in a fascinating, yet somehow all too familiar position. They’re truly at a precipice now, as the years and pages of Henrik Lundqvist’s storied career continue to turn.
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As a result, Jeff Gorton must continue his methodical approach of balancing moves geared towards 2017-18 with an eye towards 2022. Is Kevin Shattenkirk, the New Rochelle, New York native and the whale of this year’s free agency class the answer for the Blueshirts come July 1?
As noted by Sean Hartnett of CBS Sports, the combination of Dan Girardi’s buyout and Kevin Klein’s presumed retirement from the NHL has the Rangers in prime position to make a serious run at Shattenkirk. For all of the talk concerning his defensive ability, there is no merit to arguing that the addition of a top-10 power play quarterback to one of the worst looking power plays in the NHL is a terrible idea. At a minimum, Gorton and the Ranger brass need to inquire into the asking price of a guy who is coming off an eight-goal, 27 power play point season.
In his last four seasons, Kevin Shattenkirk has registered 26, 25, 26 and 27 PPP, respectively, and his eight tallies with the man advantage last year set a new career high. Shatty represents a legitimate, top-flight option for a team that just finished with a 7.7% power play in the playoffs—an atrocious number that doesn’t even actually tell the full story of ineptitude. By the conclusion of the six-game defeat to Ottawa at the Garden in the Second Round this year, Blueshirt faithful found themselves wishing the NHL had a “decline” option for the man “advantage.”
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Not only did the Rangers not score goals, they obliterated any and all momentum they may have been gaining with their parade of drop passes and general inability to get into the offensive zone. Shattenkirk would solve these issues nearly instantly, as he would take control of the unit with his elite passing ability and willingness to shoot the puck at all times. The addition of Shattenkirk is a one-man rebuild for the Rangers’ unit that arguably costs them series come crunch time. While signing the 28-year-old certainly comes with its fair share of risks, there is no doubt that it would allow players like Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei, Nick Holden and (hopefully) Brendan Smith to breathe a little easier and keep it simple up to a man.
Of course, where this move takes its fair share of criticism is the logistical reality of what the Rangers would have to commit in terms of money and contract length to a guy who will turn 29 this season and is an average-at-best defensive blueliner. Surely, Gorton will be looking for a defenseman who can step in and play on the right side with Captain Mac once NHL free agency begins.
Does Kevin Shattenkirk represent a top-pair defenseman at this point? While McDonagh may be terrified at the thought of potential mishaps and poor reads on his right, Shattenkirk has a chance to be that guy. Signing Shatty would allow the Rangers to try out this pairing during the early course of the season and see where chemistry and ability take them.
The fear, though, is that a guy who is likely to demand six years at $6.5 million per will be forced to play on a second or third pair and that the Rangers will again struggle to find a suitable partner for Mac. Now that G is no longer a part of the team’s plans, giving a big-time deal to a player who seemed overmatched at times in his playoff run with the Washington Capitals is certainly risky.
However, pointing to the Marc Staal and Dan Girardi albatross contracts is not an apt comparison at this stage. While the hope is that Shattenkirk would take a bit of a hometown discount to play at least 41 games at Madison Square Garden, even a full termed contract does not come with the baggage and breakdowns bodies take while playing for John Tortorella. Staal and G were doubtlessly warriors for the Blueshirts for a decade plus and should be applauded for their efforts to bring a Cup back to Broadway. What should have been accounted for, though, was the cumulative wear and tear that style of play took on their bodies. Kevin Shattenkirk, despite his proximity to the red warning light age of 30, is a completely different player than the two aforementioned combatants.
Shatty essentially plays a finesse game and would be the first to admit he plays based on skill and speed as opposed to grit and grind. Thus, the toll on his body has been considerably slight. As a result, he should be able to continue playing at a higher level later into his career. Most importantly, acquiring Shattenkirk is really about fixing the power play woes this team has seemingly had for the past five seasons. For all the Rangers success and playoff games, the inability to generate big goals in big spots up a man has haunted the team. What’s worse, Henrik Lundqvist only has so many more shots at this thing before his own game begins to noticeably decline.
Shattenkirk’s free agency has come at the right time for the Rangers in terms of finding the one puzzle piece that could unlock a portrait of Lord Stanley. Jeff Gorton and the Rangers front office owe Hank and the Blueshirt faithful at least a very, very long look at an impact player that at this point would only cost the team cap space, as opposed to assets. If Shatty moves down a bit in length and Gorton thinks he can make the pairings work, grimaces may turn to cheers as soon as the penalty box opens.