Kevin Shattenkirk


Hartnett: Rangers Were Forced To Buy Out Shattenkirk's Contract

Sean Hartnett
August 01, 2019 - 12:48 pm

Kevin Shattenkirk’s two-year stay at Madison Square Garden was a tale of sour luck and misfortune. What was supposed to be a feel-good story filled with promise unraveled quickly.

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Back in July 2017, the New Rochelle native’s homecoming excited the Rangers’ fan base. At the time, it was difficult to locate a fan or analyst who didn’t like the idea of one of the league’s most productive defensemen joining the Blueshirts on a below-market contract. Shattenkirk left longer-term deals and higher salary offers on the table to fulfill his childhood ambition of playing for the Rangers.

Plenty of analysts – including yours truly – considered the four-year, $26.6 million deal a “no risk” proposition for the Rangers. They were getting an elite defenseman without a backbreaking seven-year commitment that would have stretched into Shattenkirk’s mid-30s.

This wasn’t a classic overpay like the six-year, $39 million pact the Rangers handed out to a 31-year-old Wade Redden in 2008. Nor was it reach like when the Rangers gambled on the viability of Dan Boyle past age 38. The contract covered Shattenkirk’s remaining prime years and the Rangers planned on partnering him with franchise defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh.

A McDonagh-Shattenkirk pairing could have potentially been the envy of much of the league. Oddly, the partnership only lasted four periods before it was abandoned by head coach Alain Vigneault. A preseason torn meniscus played havoc with Shattenkirk’s speed, timing and confidence.

Shattenkirk underwent knee surgery in January 2018 that eventually ended what was left of his first season on Broadway. He finished year one of the contract with a respectable 23 points in 46 games.

“My left leg is starting to get a lot weaker," Shattenkirk said at the time. "(It’s) not allowing me to play my game and have the escapability and the explosiveness in my skating that I think anyone will tell you is a big part of my game. I feel like recently, it's been something that's really been glaring."

McDonagh was traded in February and the Rangers underwent a youth-driven rebuild. Year two of the contract saw David Quinn replace Vigneault behind the bench. Shattenkirk was unable to bounce-back in terms of regaining his quickness or playmaking edge. He finished year two in New York with 28 points in 73 games. His 0.38 points per game were the lowest of his career.

The recruitment of no. 1 defenseman Jacob Trouba, the emergence of Tony DeAngelo and the promise of Adam Fox left Shattenkirk without a defined role on the 2019-20 roster. As all three are younger, right-handed defensemen with upside, it was inevitable that the Rangers would buy out Shattenkirk to address a salary cap crunch. At least with Brendan Smith, the Rangers have options given his versatility to play on either side of the blue line and the contractual option of stashing his contract at AHL Hartford.

Some fans called for 32-year-old Marc Staal to be the buyout candidate. Do I think Shattenkirk has more to offer at this stage of his career than Staal? Yes. But this decision came down to Shattenkirk not having a role on a right side that boasts Trouba, DeAngelo and Fox or a clear role on the power play – which is his bread and butter.

Though regression has hit Staal hard, he could be a serviceable third-pairing defenseman in a sheltered role. His shorthanded minutes need to be limited. Staal led the Blueshirts with 228:22 shorthanded minutes last season and the Rangers’ penalty kill ranked 27th overall with a 78.2 penalty kill percentage. That’s not a coincidence, but that’s a topic for another day.

Do I think Kevin Shattenkirk still has the ability to be an excellent, difference-making defenseman? Yes. Will his body allow him to regain the explosiveness of his youth? That’s a question that another team will be able to answer with little risk once Shattenkirk is officially bought out.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Shattenkirk join a contending team on a minimal salary, one-year “prove it” deal. My gut is telling me that some team is going to get good value on a one-year Shattenkirk flier and that’s going to cause Ranger fans to be upset – but the Rangers were forced to swallow hard and eat the buyout’s dead cap space as more salary-shedding moves are soon to follow.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey