If you look at the Leafs’ current roster, in terms of pure talent, they’re probably lacking the most in their forward group. While Babcock has been able to roll over lines that are much better than expected in terms of pushing play in the right direction, it’s been no secret that finishing power and any sort of major playmaking ability is still what they need the most. However, if you view things from a little higher up, it’s actually the blue line where this organization as a whole is the weakest.
Outside of Gardiner and Rielly as the two key long term top-four cogs with the big club, and Travis Dermott, who, as a second-round pick, is still a long shot to be a real high-end NHL player down the road, the Leafs aren’t exactly looking at much in terms of real top-flight defencemen. This isn’t news, we’ve been talking about it for what seems like years. With the short and long term future in mind, they still need to find a way to land a top-pairing guy, and now there happens to be one hitting the market.
Since the trade market seemed to turn up a few notches after the turn of the year, the St. Louis Blues have apparently been prepared for offers on Kevin Shattenkirk. This has been reported by a few legit insiders, and the story goes that St. Louis basically needs scoring help up front and also doesn’t want to pay him in 2017. It’ll likely be a poor move by them to trade him, but hey, we’re not here to argue that.
The Blues have been heavily linked to Jonathan Drouin through his current situation with Tampa, so the idea of them pursuing some scoring obviously has legs. But it’s unclear whether Shattenkirk is much of a fit with the Lightning due to Yzerman looking to bring back a younger cheaper player, and there’s the potential for their own offensive concerns to arise if both forwards Drouin and Stamkos leave town.
If Shattenkirk is really in play, and the Blues want some added scoring, Kadri and van Riemsdyk make sense as options from the Leafs (though it should be noted van Riemsdyk’s injury now makes him questionable as being able help much this season).
If the Leafs could come up with something that makes sense for Doug Armstrong, could this be worth kicking tires on for a building team? It was believed the Johansen for Seth Jones deal this past week was almost Johansen for Shattenkirk, so you can see how Kadri’s name especially might make sense here, given his similar output and age to the former Jacket.
From Frank Seravelli at TSN:
Shattenkirk has one more season left at a manageable $4.25 million. It’s unlikely that the budget-conscious Blues will ultimately sign Shattenkirk to a new deal with a higher AAV than Pietrangelo’s $6.5 million, which is Shattenkirk’s market value.
If a move like this was going to make sense, the Leafs would obviously go into it with the intention of paying Shattenkirk the money St. Louis won’t next summer. At 26-years-old, he should have plenty of good years ahead of him, so he’ll be worth it. The big thing for management in Toronto would be how they feel about their chances of shedding other money in the form of players like Phaneuf and Lupul, for example.
It’s easy to oversimplify the Leafs’ rebuild approach and say they shouldn’t make any moves like this and instead just hold on and draft and draft and draft, but no team does that, especially the winning ones. There has to be risks involved. The Hawks took a big one prior their Cup window with Brian Campbell, the Bruins did the same with Chara, the Wild with Suter, and so on. Those were free agent additions, sure, but the point is it’s hard to argue with putting a premium on building your blue line, and that’s perhaps even truer these days.
Here’s a quick look at how Shattenkirk has done possession-wise since entering the league in 2010, to go along with a 0.60 point-per-game pace for his career, or about 49 points per season – the same output as Nazem Kadri…as a defenceman.
A top-pairing guy like Shattenkirk with strong underlying numbers and a lot of offensive punch is exactly what any team needs to build with (obviously), and since his name is now surprisingly out there, the Leafs more than anyone should at least be looking at if they can make something work.