Kevin Shattenkirk’s tenure with the Rangers was disappointing in every which way, and as a result John Davidson was fed up with him and bought him out with them bringing in Jacob Trouba to help out their defense. Not to mention, for a guy that was supposed to be an offensive prowess as a defenseman and help out the power play, he only had seven goals in two seasons with the Rangers. Granted, the first season he missed almost half the season, only playing in 46 games. However, that kind of production when used to scoring double digit goals with the St. Louis Blues is a letdown especially in a system that benefitted the defense from an offensive standpoint. That being said, was it necessarily the right move? Here are some of the pros and cons of making this move at the timing that they did.
The first and obvious benefit to this buyout is that the Rangers save $5 million against the cap, which can help them give extra as they try to fill out their roster in future free agent classes when they do contend. The moves they made this year for Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba prove that Davidson will pay big names in order to improve the team and that the glamour of the Rangers as a free agent destination has not gone away.
The second benefit is he obviously wasn’t playing well, especially in his own zone. Shattenkirk was especially notorious for turnovers either stick-handling or passing in his own zone, leading to high-quality scoring chances for the other team, and often times goals because Henrik Lundqvist at 36 years old can’t move and react like he used to. Not to mention, him making those kinds of mistakes could have a bad effect on the young defensemen that may be coming up throughout this year and the next 3 years.
Lastly, it seemed like Shattenkirk and David Quinn did not get along last year. David Quinn was not afraid last year to bench him or give him less minutes when he was struggling. I applaud Quinn for that approach to coaching, especially with the young players, as he knows this is a team that is shifting to the younger side. Therefore, if he isn’t going to play the minutes or games he is getting paid for as well as struggling most of the time during those minutes, buying him out makes sense, as it certainly seemed like Quinn did not embrace him, and with Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller coming up in the future and Jacob Trouba now being a staple for this season, that playing time may diminish even more based on those circumstances.
The question remains, though, do the pros choosing to buy out Shattenkirk outweigh the cons with this current situation of the Rangers? Not necessarily. First of all, the Rangers have two even worse defensemen also on bad contracts in Marc Staal and Brendan Smith. Staal is making $5.7 million in 2019-2020, and while he was better than expected this past season, he still has been bad every year since 2015-16. As for Smith, he didn’t even play much either, including being sent down to the minors at one point last season. Therefore, why not release one of them instead? While Smith only saves you $3 million against the cap in comparison to the $5 million Shattenkirk does, he has been worse overall in the same stretch. As for Staal, his buyout savings are a little less than $3 million, but again, to the same effect, he has been declining drastically and overall has played worse than Shattenkirk in the last 4 seasons. Obviously, buyouts can be easier said than done, because often times you want those veterans to be bridge guys so teams don’t have to rush prospects up before they’re ready. However, I think if they were to buy somebody out, I think Smith would have made more sense, because Shattenkirk still at least helps the power play, even if he ends up being a 3rd pair defenseman regularly.
The second benefit to keeping him, at least for now, is what I ended the last paragraph with, his power play potential. While the Rangers power play has never been great, it did well last season considering all the young forwards they have had. In Shattenkirk’s 2 years with the Rangers, the team power play was 14th and 17th in the league, which is impressive considering all the assets they purged as well as how bad the overall team was. In Alain Vigneault’s stint with the Rangers, the only other year the team power play was better was in the 2016-17 season, when they were tied for 10th. Even in the 2014-15 season when they were the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, their power play was ranked 21st, and that was when the talent of the defense was still strong too. In terms of the individual numbers, he was down last year like he was in everything besides even strength assists (20). However, in his first season with the Rangers, 2 of his 5 goals were on the power play, and 10 of his 18 assists were on the power play. With that in mind, he might be worth riding out the contract just for that, plus it could help a lot of the young wingers and centers flourish more on the power play, as they were already decent as youngsters in David Quinn’s first season. Shattenkirk at his best is one of the better puck-moving and power play defensemen in the league, and that would only elevate the rest of the teams’ numbers on the power play when healthy, even if he struggles as a regular defenseman.
The final reason I believe that buying him out was a bit impulsive is the Rangers inevitably get nothing back besides the money, which doesn’t guarantee anything in free agency. If Shattenkirk would’ve had a better season and maybe even gotten back to his form in his prime offensively, his trade value would certainly be raised where they could get picks or prospects back. With his iffy defense for a defenseman and his age, they would never get a first round pick back, but a nice season could spawn a second rounder or even a second-tier prospect. I think the Rangers were smart not trading him last year when he was down, expecting to ride him out until he has value. With him being 30 years old on a team that is rebuilding, his time with the Rangers wasn’t going to last long anyway. However, I believe they could have acquired some pieces if they were patient with him and, like I said in a previous paragraph, bought out Brendan Smith or Marc Staal instead, who would have zero value on a trade market. At least with Shattenkirk, he is a specialist who can still be a major contributor to a power play, and if a contending team has a power play that is strugglesome, such as the Nashville Predators last season who were last place at 12.9%, could pay up even more with a sense of urgency. So despite me not hating the buyout, I still believed because of this, there could have been potential for a trade to at least get something back.
Kyle Kloiber, @2Kgmenrule1080 on Twitter
Shattenkirk faceoff image- Matt Larkin, The Hockey News
Shattenkirk stick-handling image- Adam Hunger, USA Today Sports