Rangers’ Rebuild Accelerated by Shattenkirk’s Struggles

Kevin Shattenkirk may no longer be a New York Ranger, but his contract with the team continues to shape the Blueshirts’ roster as the team rebuilds.

The Rangers are currently in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division and will likely be sellers at the trade deadline for the third season in a row. Two years ago, with the trade deadline approaching, the team sent a letter to fans saying that they were entering a rebuilding phase. The prior offseason, the Blueshirts had Stanley Cup aspirations and made headlines when they signed Shattenkirk to a four-year, $26.6 million contract.

Shattenkirk’s 2016-17 Season

The blueliner is a New York native and he wanted to play for the Rangers. Shattenkirk had 13 goals and 43 assists in 80 games during the 2016-17 season – his offensive production led some teams to consider him a coveted free agent, while others considered him overrated because of his poor defensive play.

Kevin Shattenkirk - Rangers
Kevin Shattenkirk, New York Rangers, September 27, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Shattenkirk had a disappointing postseason in 2017 after the Washington Capitals acquired him from the St. Louis Blues just before the trade deadline. He finished with one goal and five assists, but was a minus-four and was often benched because of defensive struggles and giveaways.

Rangers 2017-18 Season

Shattenkirk’s first 18 games with the Rangers were as advertised – he had 5 goals and 12 assists but looked dreadful when he was forced to defend. Despite his hot offensive start, the team played mediocre hockey and struggled to win games.

From there, everything went south for Shattenkirk and the Blueshirts. Over the next 28 games, Shattenkirk failed to score a goal and had just six assists. He was relegated to playing on the team’s third defense pair as he struggled with his skating, had too many giveaways and his defensive coverage was subpar. Shattenkirk ended up needing knee surgery for a meniscus tear in January 2018 and missed the rest of the season.

The team’s playoff hopes were fading as the trade deadline approached, and it became clear that veterans with expiring contracts would be gone before the deadline. Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, and Nick Holden were all traded.

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and New York Islanders left wing Josh Bailey (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

The Rangers were also in a bind regarding cap space. Ryan McDonagh’s contract was set to expire after the 2018-19 season, and his stellar play meant the team would have to give him a big contract extension to keep him. J.T. Miller’s contract was set to expire after the 2017-18 season – his strong play meant he deserved a big raise if the Blueshirts decided to re-sign him.

The team elected to trade McDonagh and Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Vladislav Namestnikov, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, a 2018 first-round pick and a conditional 2019 first-round pick.

The rebuild was on.

Rangers 2018-19 Season

Despite recovering from the knee injury that had plagued him in 2017-18, Shattenkirk continued to struggle with the Rangers. He had fewer giveaways but still didn’t defend well in his own zone and failed to produce big numbers offensively. Shattenkirk finished with 2 goals and 26 assists, and was a minus-15 in 73 games last season.

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Mats Zuccarello needs to consider his future. [photo: Amy Irvin]

The Rangers finished with a losing record for the second consecutive season. This time they traded Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes just before the trade deadline.

Rangers Buy-Out Shattenkirk’s Contract

After two disappointing seasons, the team bought out the remaining two years on Shattenkirk’s contract last offseason. The buyout will cost the Blueshirts less than $1.5 million against the salary cap this season but will cost them more than $6 million next season, before going back down under $1.5 million in 2021-22 and 2022-23.

Implications at the Trade Deadline

After signing Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba to big contracts in the offseason, the Rangers have little cap flexibility, and having to pay Shattenkirk more than $6 million in 2020-21 will not help. This makes it likely that the team will have to move pending unrestricted free agent Chris Kreider, despite his excellent play of late. It means the team could also move other players to save cap space – Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, Pavel Buchnevich, Alexandar Georgiev and Jesper Fast have all been mentioned in trade rumors.

Looking Back

When the Rangers signed Shattenkirk in 2017, they were taking a big risk because of his poor defensive play. In hindsight, the contract was a mistake that has shaped the team’s current roster. Perhaps the Blueshirts would have re-signed McDonagh and tried to rebuild on the fly if they hadn’t signed Shattenkirk. Maybe they would have used the money spent on Shattenkirk to sign another free agent instead.

Artemi Panarin New York Rangers
Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Maybe the rebuild was just what the team needed, though. The Rangers now have Panarin, Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin and Kaapo Kakko. They are a young team on the rise.

What is clear, though, is that owing Shattenkirk money has put the Rangers into a bind and as a result, they will not be able to bring back all of their current players next season. The only question is who will remain a Blueshirt and who will be traded elsewhere.

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