By Matt Larkin
August 6, 2019
We all know the adage about trash and treasure. Rarely does it apply better than when players sign with new teams after being bought out. A veteran can go from overpaid and underproducing to a legitimate bargain in a matter of hours. It’s all about the price tag and the expected level of play it implies.
So defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, bought out after two mostly disastrous seasons with the New York Rangers at a $6.65-million AAV, becomes a fascinatingly thrifty addition for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who inked him to one-year, $1.75-million contract Monday with zero performance incentives attached.
What exactly are the Lightning getting? Shattenkirk was one of hockey’s better offensive defensemen across the first seven seasons of his career. From 2010-11 through 2016-17, he averaged 50 points per 82 games, ranking 10th among all blueliners in scoring over that stretch. He finished in the Norris Trophy vote’s top 20 three times. He was a consistently positive possession driver, almost always posting a Corsi Relative higher than most teammates.
That was the Shattenkirk we knew. In his two seasons as a Ranger after signing a four-year pact in summer 2017, he missed 45 games due to injury, and when he was healthy he produced points at the lowest rate of his career. With Shattenkirk on the ice, the Rangers allowed 1,785 shot attempts at 5-on-5 and generated 1,676 across 119 games. His average ice time dipped to a career-low 18:56 under new coach David Quinn last season.
So do those surface numbers tell an accurate story on what Shattenkirk, 30, has become? Not necessarily. We have to dig deeper to see if Lightning GM Julien BriseBois has a bargain or a bust on his hands.
First off, it’s important to understand the team situation Shattenkirk was in as a Ranger. The team was so committed to a rebuild that its owner, president and GM penned a letter to the fan base committing to youth in winter 2018. The overhaul has been impressively drastic and successful since, with a bushel of first-round picks and prospects joining the fray, from Kaapo Kakko to Vitali Kravtsov, and GM Jeff Gorton acquiring Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin this summer. It could be argued Shattenkirk didn’t fit into the team’s direction and vision regardless of how he was playing, merely because of his age and cap hit. In terms of relative possession impact, Shattenkirk was better than his teammates. Eight Ranger D-men played at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5 last season, and Shattenkirk easily led the group in Corsi Relative. He also averaged the fewest defensive zone starts per 60 minutes, but the idea Shattenkirk played sheltered minutes isn’t really news. He’s an offensive defenseman. As a member of the Lightning, he won’t be handed a shutdown role.
Now Shattenkirk leaves what was one of the league’s weaker teams over the past two seasons to become a minor cog on a juggernaut fresh off an NHL record-tying 62 wins and the highest team goal total in 23 years. He’ll be asked to play offensively tilted minutes and should see a decent chunk of power-play time, likely on the second unit. There’s a good chance he helps the Lightning simply by keeping the puck in the other team’s end. Last season, 209 NHL defensemen played at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5 and, among that group, Shattenkirk ranked 67th in points per 60 minutes; 32nd in shots per 60; 46th in individual expected goals per 60; 33rd in individual scoring chances per 60; and 22nd in rush attempts per 60. Not bad considering he wasn’t playing on an elite team with high-quality support.
The under-the-hood stats suggest Shattenkirk’s play hasn’t declined as much as it may seem. He’s never going to win a Norris for lockdown defensive work, but he pushes the puck in the right direction when he’s on the ice. Health is a bigger question mark than quality of play after knee and shoulder injuries shelved him for 27.4 percent of New York’s games over his two seasons there. And yet, on a one-year deal with the 132nd-highest cap hit among active defensemen, it’s really not much of a risk. There’s a fair amount to gain and little to lose at that price.