I wrote about Kevin Shattenkirk the other day as part of NHLN’s Future Free Agents series. With Brent Burns signed to an extension and off the market this summer, Shattenkirk easily becomes the class of 2017’s free agent defencemen by a country mile. He’s good, produces at an elite level, fancy stats, blah blah blah, all of that is obvious. We all know he’s an excellent player and most of the league will likely kick tires on him come July.
But a common rumour that doesn’t seem to want to go away is the idea that Shattenkirk wants to return home to New York this summer and play for the Rangers. Elliotte Friedman mentioned this in 30 thoughts recently, other teams pulled out of trading for him because he wouldn’t sign an extension, and his damn Twitter profile explicitly says “New Yorker at heart.”
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’ve got some insider knowledge on Kevin Shattenkrik and what he wants to do with his free agency this summer. What I will do, though, is take a look at the Rangers’ cap situation and try to determine if this whole thing is even feasible.
Forwards: Nash, Stepan, Kreider, Zuccarello, Vesey, Miller, Hayes, Grabner, Buchnevich. (Nine signed for $35 million)
Defencemen: Staal, Girardi, McDonagh, Klein, Holden, Skjei. (Six signed for $21.375 million)
Goaltenders: Lundqvist, Raanta. (Two signed for $9.5 million)
Total cost: $65.875 million
RFAs: Zibanejad, Pirri, Fast, Puempel, Lindberg, Jooris, Hrivik, Clendening.
At a quick glance, signing Shattenkirk is going to be impossible unless the Rangers do some serious salary cap dancing. If nothing happens, and they roll into 2017-18 with the same group intact as the one they have this season, they’ll be so busy dealing with crop of RFAs that need new contracts that they won’t even have time to answer Shattenkirk’s phone calls.
They currently have just under $66 million tied into a nearly fleshed out roster, with nine forwards, six defencemen, and two goalies locked up into 2017-18. We aren’t sure where the cap ceiling will end up next season, but it’s likely not going to be much higher than the $73 million figure it’s at right now. That means the Rangers will have, say, $10 million to work with this summer. I won’t go into a bunch of detail about what their RFAs are going to cost, but it’s likely going to eat up most of that free space, meaning, like I said, there won’t be room for Shattenkirk unless some contracts are moved.
The common thought back in the summer was that the Rangers would let Rick Nash — who, at the time, was coming off of a horrid 36-point season — go exposed in the expansion draft, and that Vegas would likely bite on him, freeing up a cool $7.8 million in cap room. It’s been confirmed that the Rangers must protect Nash, since he has a no movement clause. They can ask him to waive it, but I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that Nash doesn’t like drinking and gambling enough to spend his final pre-UFA season on a team comprised entirely of castaways.
Sticking with the expansion draft for a moment, the Rangers are also stuck protecting their two worst contracts, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, because of the no movement clause thing. With those two automatically being protected, the Rangers don’t really have a get out of jail free card in this situation. I mean, letting Vegas grab Derek Stepan or Mats Zuccarello would free up some wiggle room, but neither are players the Rangers would just realistically want to simply give up for free, even if it meant improving their odds of signing that coveted elite offensive defenceman.
Buying out Staal would shrink his cap hit from $5.7 million to $2.133 million in the short term, while doing the same with Girardi would bring a hit of $5.5 million down to $2.611 million immediately. In total, that would be a savings of roughly $6.5 million in 2017-18, which still ultimately leaves them in a tight position. Besides, it’s hard to imagine the Rangers signing on for buying out two large contracts at once. One? Sure. Both? No way.
What realistically has to happen in order for the Rangers to be able to sign Shattenkirk is a Nash trade. I mean, obviously there’s others things that are possible, but the Nash option makes the most sense. Nash is a good player, brings a lot to the team, and, like I said, has had a nice bounce back after a poor season. But he’s turning 33 years old in June, has one more year left on his contract, and is likely nearing the end of his days in New York regardless. Based on the team’s long-term picture, with J.T. Miller on a bridge deal and a wealth of young forwards on cheap contracts, it’s hard to imagine Nash signing a new deal in 2018 to continue playing in New York.
The other nice thing about a Nash trade beyond freeing up enough cap room in the short-term to fit Shattenkirk into their roster is, if it’s done before the expansion draft on June 18, the Rangers will have another protection slot so they can keep one of Brandon Pirri, Michael Grabner, or Kevin Klein around, which they likely won’t be able to do otherwise. In a perfect world where things are clean and easy, Nash gets dealt, little salary is retained or returned, and boom, there you go. But this isn’t a perfect world. No teams in a cap league are going to come and take a huge contract to an aging winger off the Rangers’ hands just because it’s a polite thing to do.
The second option if a reasonable Nash deal can’t come into fruition would be moving Stepan. I mentioned earlier that the Rangers surely don’t want to give away a 26-year-old centre who’s good for 50 points every season to Vegas for free, but they would be dealing from a position of strength and are more likely to get something of value in return for him than they are for Nash. Also, Stepan’s contract goes until 2012-22, which obviously helps them deal with the longer term implications of a major Shattenkirk contract being signed.
However you slice it, getting Kevin Shattenkirk back home this summer at market value isn’t going to be easy. It could be trading Rick Nash, it could be biting the difficult bullet and leaving Derek Stepan exposed in the expansion draft, or hell, it could just be jettisoning a bunch of middling contracts and buying out Dan Girardi. Who knows. What we do know, though, is that even if Shattenkirk takes some kind of hometown discount to play at Madison Square Garden, which he certainly could, something pretty major is going to have to budge.