The Leafs are in a position to make a huge run at Kevin Shattenkirk

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Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SPORTS

Without looking at the standings, you’d assume that, even with the Leafs’ strong run of late, the St. Louis Blues are still well ahead of them. Even if they can never seem to get it done in the playoffs, the Blues have been a mainstay near the top of the west for what seems like eternity. The reality is that Toronto is actually clipping along at a slightly better points-percentage this season (.595 to .567), and have been a stronger team in terms of driving play as well. It’s obviously tough to say how these two clubs will shake out in the final standings, but this sort of rise-and-fall does add some intrigue to the sweepstakes for inarguably the best pending free agent of the 2017 class.

The market for Kevin Shattenkirk is going to be a big part of hockey coverage for the next few months, and there’s no reason to believe the Leafs should be excluded from that sort of talk. If anything, they’re probably the team most primed for making an offer..

There have been a few teams linked to Shattenkirk, going back as far as last summer. The Bruins, Rangers, and Oilers have been the most common names popping up through a lot of the insider segments and such. Toronto hasn’t really been mentioned by anyone with much of a following, but there’s a case to be made that they’re probably the nicest fit. They’ll have the cap space (nearly $20-million opening up this summer) and, based on reports of what Shattenkirk could be seeking in free agency, can offer him an overall situation that just makes sense. 

Personally, I’ve been a booster of the Leafs going after Shattenkirk for a while now, but even I’ve had some hesitation about how that might get out of control. With so much data out there to suggest when players start to decline, it’s not unreasonable to take pause over the idea of handing a 27-year-old defenceman nearly $7-million AAV up until age 34. The better play is to ‘overpay’ on a shorter deal, especially for a team like Toronto with oodles of cap space opening up for a two-year period before the kids get paid. And luckily for them, that isn’t the type of deal Shattenkirk is ruling out, apparently. 

From Frank Seravalli at TSN.ca:

Last summer, Shattenkirk’s camp was given permission by the Blues to speak with two or three potential suitors – including Edmonton – about parameters of a long-term contract extension, but he was unable to find a fit. He will be in range for a payday nearing $50 million over seven years. The door is now wide open. Shattenkirk is now believed to be interested in testing a short-term fit with a playoff contender. The Blues, who were once more comfortable keeping Shattenkirk even if it meant letting him walk for nothing on July 1, seem to realize their current team isn’t quite as strong as those in recent years.

This could be taken a couple ways, but since the Blues are still considered a playoff contender currently, it’s reasonable to think Shattenkirk could be seeking a huge payday in the 2-3 year range when the summer hits. This would allow him to strike the market again for a 7-8 year deal at age thirty. That’s something that would be perfect for the Leafs, with Matthews and Marner set for restricted free-agency in 2019. An eight or nine-million dollar cap hit (perhaps even more) through two years would probably be a target, if we’re spit-balling numbers here.

As for the “playoff contender” portion of Shattenkirk’s ask, Toronto might already be there. And if they’re not right now, they will be taking a huge step in the 2017-18 season. That you can bank on. Landing a player of this caliber would really solidify the load-up portion of this build. 

We get caught up in picturing this perfect rebuild where the Leafs gradually climb for five seasons and then emerge as this galvanized contender for another five, but that simply isn’t the way this league works. Toronto has franchise players finally in the fold, but they’re good now. Like, today. 

There might be numerous contention windows that open up over the careers of Matthews, Marner, and Nylander with the Leafs, and I think we’re seeing one start. Whether the Leafs will be successful in adding a piece as major as Shattenkirk over the next few months is obviously up in the air, but they’d be justified in any attempts to do so, both money-wise and in keeping with their overall plan. 

  • Builder Lego

    Shattenkirk would be a great add, but not interested if it comes at the cost of shortening our competitive window. I personally like what I have seen on the right side with Zaitsev and think Carrick can continue to grow into his top-4 d role.

    • Greg Fenton

      Exactly.

      Either a rental price (a non-top prospect and mid-round pick) for him as a rental. Or JVR and a prospect if they get him locked up following the trade.

  • STAN

    3 seasons at $7.8M per and a team option for a 4th season at $8M, and a buyout of $1M if management decides to go in another direction. That’s all I’d offer, because look what happened to the 7 and 8 year deals for Phaneuf and Kessel – there was no incentive to actually play up to the guaranteed contract. As for who to send St. Louis’ way, I’d offer a Marlies D-man, Matt Martin or Ben Smith and a 2nd rounder. No more.

    • benjaminries

      does the current NHL CBA actually allow for “team option for a _th season at $_” or contracting over the cost of a buyout? I was under the impression that, for the purposes of the cap, we need a known AAV and then that determines the cost and length of a buyout…

    • Harte of a Lion

      Stan, Lamoriello wouldn’t bother with an offer like that as it would be an insult to John Davidson and the Blues. There is going to be a bidding war leading up to trade deadline as well as the off season. The newest rumour is RNH for Shattenkirknd and that’s something I can see Chirelli doing. Better than the Larsson/Hall return but still a dumb deal for Edmonton. Remember Chirelli is the guy who traded Kessel, Seguin, Wheeler, Schultz and others while trading for Reinhart amongst others. Other than the Kessel trade where he stole Burkes shorts, most of the returns were average at best. I think Chirelli is already feeling the pressure but he needs a better return if his desire is to dismantle the team by trading the entire core pre McDavid.
      If we have to give up Nylander, I say pass.

      • Brandon

        Talk of trading Nylander makes me very uncomfortable. It’s his first full year and he’s already great. Why would the Leafs trade him now when we don’t know if he’s anywhere near his peak? Everyone knows that defenders mostly need time to develop. I’d like to the see the Leafs take that approach, or free agency, rather than trying to add by subtraction.

  • Richard

    I don’t watch the west at all so I haven’t really watched him play but I see he is -13 and -14 this year and last on a fairly decent team that is -7 overall….do we really want to tie up 7 million a year for a guy with figures like that? After digging out from under those type of contracts you want to go right back there again?

  • Jaker

    Personally I don’t see the leafs making any big free agent signings unless the value is just too good to pass on, which it never is for a RHD in his prime. Making the playoffs this year or even next would be nice, but I think they need to continue building and evaluating. The time for free agent signings is when they need that last piece to really put them over the edge, and they just aren’t there yet. I think with patience (which shanny and co. have shown), better opportunities will arise when it is more appropriate.

  • GreatSave

    This is the danger with playing well in a season which was supposed to have growing pains. Now people will want to move futures and sign FAs. What should be happening…. is let the natural progression go. DO NOT TRADE ANY ASSETS or PICKS!! In another season or two this team will be dominant for a decade.

    • Greg Fenton

      What pick or prospect do they need to make them dominant?

      Fact is, the core/franchise pieces are already here – Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Rielly. No one expected Matthews and Marner to start out as strong as they did, thats why they’ve jumped forward on the time table.

      As with every trade, it all depends. If Shattenkirk agrees to an extension with the Leafs, then JVR and a winger prospect……good value. If he is a rental, a 2nd or 3rd pick, thats not terrible.

  • Stan Smith

    I’m thinking two things, first, if I’m Shattenkirk, why sign a short term deal now, and risk injury, or a falling off of skill level. It looks more likely that it will take around $7M over 7 years to sign him, handcuffing the team when it comes time to pay Matthews, Marner etc.

    The second is the Blues are putting him out there for the highest bidder, and it is going to take a lot more than some fourth line players, or aging veterans to get him.

    To me this is exactly the type of deal the Leafs have been adamant they don’t want to make.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      Hockey Feed has this to say. Shattenkirk’s ice time has diminished this year. He is the odd man out on the right side of the Blues’ defensive core as Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko are both solid top-4 blueliners.

      In my opinion paying $7 million for 6 or 7 years for an elite defenceman is not unreasonable. Paying that much for a slightly better than average offensive D-man would be a mistake.

      Shattenkirk is averaging 20 minutes per game. He has 9 goals and 21 assists for 30 points, in 45 games played this year. His Plus/Minus is -11

      Gardiner has 6 goals and 18 assists for 22 points in 42 games. -Plus/Minus of plus 10

      Comparing him to Gardiner. are we looking at in Shattenkirk, a slightly better offensive defenceman but a much worse defensive defenceman? Could Babcock improve his defensive game? Is it our unsigned bottom pairing where we are looking to replace or resign? Have we given up on a 22 year old Carrick already?

      • Kanuunankuula

        If the Blues were smart, they’d be moving Pietrangelo and keeping Shattenkirk. If you have something to complain about Shatty, it’s his QOC, he’s been pretty sheltered.

      • AussieBoy

        “Have we given up on a 22 year old Carrick already?”

        I sure hope not,Luke…
        He is only going to improve and if traded,will be viewed down the track with regret,as
        “The one that got away”.
        We should under no circumstances give up on Connor Carrick.
        That’s my ten cents worth.

  • benjaminries

    If the Leafs trade assets for Shattenkirk now and then sign him to a 2-3 year extension before the season ends, don’t they then have to protect him in the expansion lottery… and expose Carrick?

    If they do that, I don’t see a better player for Vegas to take from Toronto than Carrick.
    Specifically: using https://www.capfriendly.com… with the 7F/3D/1G model, protect:
    G: Anderson
    D: Reilly, Gardiner, [ONE OF Carrick OR Shattenkirk]
    Forwards:
    – definitely Kadri
    – 4 of 5 RFAs Rychel, Brown, Leipsic, Leivo, Froese
    – 2 of 3 2018 UFAs: JVR, Bozak, Komarov

    …I think they expose Byron Froese and then whomever gets the least possible trade return among JVR, Bozak, and Komarov – also exposing one of those guys is necessary to meet the 40/70 requirement for forwards (unless they extend Ben Smith who hits the requirement in 12 more games, or call up and extend Froese who would also hit the requirement in 12 games).

    Point being: even with one of JVR, Bozak, or Komarov exposed with 1 year remaining on their contracts, doesn’t Vegas take Carrick (RFA 2018) or Shattenkirk (UFA 2020?) over any of them?

    Going to 8FD+1G to protect Reilly, Gardiner, Carrick, and Shattenkirk just compounds the problem of losing quality RFAs for nothing. You have to think they intend to protect Leivo, having basically lost Holland and Griffith for nothing to avoid waiving him. Downtown Connor Brown needs to be protected; Rychel and Leipsic seem pretty important too.

    Assuming they stick with 7F-3D-1G, I conclude the following:
    – best asset management is to move one of JVR, Bozak, and Komarov before this year’s deadline, without gaining any additional bodies in need of expansion draft protection, and protect the other two (so they can be either extended, or moved at the regular draft, or next year)
    – also: extend at least one of Ben Smith and Byron Froese through 2018 and ensure that guy gets 12 more games to meet our 40/70 requirement
    – if we pick up Shattenkirk, send Carrick back the other way?

    If you plan on heading to the end of the season with Reilly, Gardiner, Shattenkirk and Carrick, the options are:
    1. Go 8FD+1G and move as many forwards (for picks and exempt prospects) as possible
    2. Expose Carrick, but also expose someone who is clearly more valuable (or predict there are 8+ other teams with more valuable exposed defensemen)?
    3. Lose Carrick for nothing.

    These options all suck. #1: The market for forwards-who-need-protecting-in-expansion-draft will be at it’s weakest, because they are all potentially rentals. #2: If you have someone who is clearly more valuable to Vegas than Carrick, maybe he’s also more valuable to Toronto (so why let that guy go for nothing)?

    My impression is that Carrick’s value is as much in his potential as his current play. He’s cost-controlled. That’s not the type of player you want to lose in expansion.

    • benjaminries

      P.S. with no offense to Josh Leivo, does anyone else wonder why the current Leafs management seem so hell-bent on keeping this guy? Griffith has played on the Panthers’ top line for crying out loud (granted, because of injuries). He’s an asset they should think about moving before the deadline if they want to keep all of JVR, Bozak, and Komarov for a playoff run and then protect them in expansion.

  • Mike T.

    don’t you need to see what you have already? if things are ahead of schedule that’s good – doesn’t mean you need to rush out and buy free agents, maybe you already have guys that are similar and just need time

    • Greg Fenton

      Just because you didn’t expect to be where you are doesn’t mean you pass on a good opportunity either.

      Why would Shanahan, Dubis and Lou pass on a good trade option for a good player on a contract they can work with movign forward because they didn’t expect to be a playoff position this year?

  • James Rielly

    The Leafs do not need another small sized(albeit talented) offensive defenseman of which they have enough,They do need need a big bruising shut down specialist, that can be most effective in the last 10 minutes.

  • Greg Fenton

    It most cases, everything is dependent on the situation.

    First, yes the Leafs are “a head” of where we expected them to be. The good thing is, its because several of our young players are playing exactly like we expected them to in 2-3 years today. We aren’t, for example, seeing Brown carrying the offense this year which would carry the threat of him not being able to maintain that production. But if Matthews can’t continue to be our best player…….we’re in a lot of trouble.

    Second, no one can say that the Leafs shouldn’t (under all circumstances) or should (under all circumstances) trade for Shattenkirk or a player like him. Getting a good, top end veteran D-man would help the Leafs in a lot of ways, and if Shanahan and co. can get Shattenkirk in a trade they like, on a contract they like why wouldn’t/shouldn’t they?

    • benjaminries

      – because you might be able to add him for nothing in free agency
      – because you might be able to add a comparable piece through free agency, or through a different trade after the expansion draft, but also keep Carrick
      – because if you look at St. Louis’ expansion draft situation, it doesn’t seem likely that they would protect Shattenkirk in the expansion draft… they expect him to walk either way

      but hey, for the right price, sure

      • Greg Fenton

        – MIGHT being the key word. If he goes to free agency you have to compete with other teams and the contract will almost certainly be higher. Trading for him and getting signed before that can save you in the long run and you make sure you get the guy you want without risk of losing him to another team.
        – Again MIGHT. What d-man set to become a free agent is on his level? A different trade for a similar D-man will cost you something similar.
        – So what?

  • STAN

    Yeah, Steve, I was just riffing. Who knows if something along those lines would even make it to the door of LL and Shanny, let alone get through for an audition? Still, Shattenkirk fits the Leafs bill almost perfectly, and could be an anchor for the young guns for the next 3-5 seasons.

  • LeafsTakeFlight

    You need to give up good things to get good things back. It would likely cost JVR, Nielsen and a 2nd to get Shattenkirk. Leafs would be better off seeing who becomes a free agent. Maybe trade JVR/Bozak at the deadline or draft. Doubtful they blow up the prospect pool for a D-man