Is the Lightning’s Shattenkirk Gamble Already Paying Off?

The start to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2019-20 regular season has been relatively rocky compared to the success that they experienced throughout the 2018-19 season. So far, the Lightning have looked human, losing games while struggling to find consistent performances in each game.

Despite their early-season struggles as a team, however, Kevin Shattenkirk has been playing some vintage hockey for Tampa Bay. Through nine games, he has already scored four goals, doubling his total from the 2018-19 season.

Kevin Shattenkirk
After his poor play and bloated contract led to a buy out by the New York Rangers this offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning quickly swooped in and signed Kevin Shattenkirk to a team-friendly, one-year, $1.75-million contract. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

When Shattenkirk was signed by the Lightning this offseason, the move felt like less of a gamble and more of an insurance signing. If things went well, then Tampa Bay had a top-six defenseman on a cheap contract. If they went poorly, then they could simply waive him or trade him to a team in need of a veteran defenseman. Now, three weeks into the NHL season, Shattenkirk is proving that he is far more than just insurance for the Lightning.

Shattenkirk’s Role with the Lightning

The reason for Shattenkirk’s early-season success is simple: he is playing a smaller role for Tampa Bay. When he was with the Rangers, he was asked to be a leading defenseman, which oftentimes exposed his defensive inefficiencies. This only got worse as New York started a rebuild, jettisoning top defensive talent like Ryan McDonagh from the franchise for future compensation.

Kevin Shattenkirk and Maxim Mamin
While he was with the Rangers, Shattenkirk was being paid like a top-pairing defenseman. Two years into that contract, it was clear that he simply wasn’t able to be that player for New York. (Courtesy Canadian Press)

With the Lightning, Shattenkirk is able to play more of a secondary role. Even if he were to reach peak career scoring this season, he still would be considered the third-best defenseman on Tampa Bay’s roster, behind both Victor Hedman and McDonagh.

In this reduced role, Shattenkirk is able to focus more on his offensive game, which is what makes him a good NHL defenseman. His talent shines when he is shooting the puck from the blue line, forcing the goaltender to make a save or give up a juicy rebound.

How Has Shattenkirk Struggled?

It hasn’t been all positive for Shattenkirk, though. Despite finding his offensive game once again, one thing he has not been able to perfect is his defensive play. So far, he has both a Corsi for and Fenwick for below 50%, sitting at 48.4 and 47.8, respectively.

What this means is that Shattenkirk is still struggling to play defense. At times, he has found himself out of position in the defensive zone, setting up the opposition for an easy shot on net or a prime scoring opportunity. Other times, he will commit too much in the offensive zone, leaving his defensive partner out to dry on a breakaway opportunity.

Tampa Bay Lightning Kevin Shattenkirk
While he has contributed on the scoresheet for the Lightning, Shattenkirk has also found himself giving up prime scoring chances due to poor defensive play. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)

Now, this isn’t exclusively a Shattenkirk issue. The Lightning have been sloppy in general to start out the season, so hopefully, this issue can be resolved throughout the season. It is a bit concerning, however, to see one issue that led to his buyout starting again so early on.

Lightning Hit Gold with Shattenkirk

Despite his defensive shortcomings, Shattenkirk has already been a big win for the Lightning. He has provided the team with a needed veteran scoring presence all for an incredible value.

Related: Bolts Breakdown: Shattenkirk, Poor Defense and High-Danger Chances

In an NHL world dominated by the salary cap, the Lightning couldn’t have done much better than Shattenkirk, especially given his start to the season. If he can continue to put up points, he could be the biggest steal of the 2019 offseason.