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Photo Credit: Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports

Shattenkirk wants to finally be ‘The Guy’, and he can be in Toronto

It’s very likely the two free agents who will see the biggest paydays in July will come from the Washington Capitals’ roster. In terms of contract length and total dollars, Timothy Jimothy Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk should command the most attention when unrestricted free agency opens and will pull in the most lucrative numbers among forwards and defencemen respectively.

We know this isn’t a great free-agent class by any means, and even some of the notable names out there that will also get their share of headlines – Thornton, Marleau, Sharp, and Williams for example – are a bit on the older side and will be looking at some shorter term deals. For those reasons, it’s easy to speculate that Oshie and Shattenkirk will likely be the only players we see land up in the $40-million range on long-term deals.

Shattenkirk’s situation will certainly continue to be of interest to Leafs fans, just as it has been over the last year or so. Regardless of the level of truth to it, we’re likely going to see him linked to Toronto a lot as July 1st approaches, since there’s a natural fit for a high-end right-handed defenceman to join the group. And, well, he is one.

As we get closer to the market opening, don’t be surprised to hear New York, Boston, and Toronto be reported as Shattenkirk’s potentially biggest suitors. Why those three? Shattenkirk is from New York, played college hockey in Boston, and if you want to get eyes on your site or television station, just throw Toronto into the mix.

But if Shattenkirk has these connections elsewhere, can the Leafs really be a viable option? I believe they can, because more than any other team they can likely deliver to him the role he’s looking for on a team that’s truly trending up.

So how does Shattenkirk, now 28-years-old, fit in with what the Leafs currently have?

Usage Chart via Corsica.Hockey

Shattenkirk has a similar deployment profile as that of Jake Gardiner in terms of competition faced and his relative Zone-Start Ratio (ZSR), but this season he didn’t own as much share of his group’s icetime at even-strength as you’d probably expect, despite being so strong in the run of play (the blue indicates a positive relative Corsi, red being negative). Gardiner, Rielly, and Zaitsev in this chart all have the same sized bubbles as each other because at evens their minutes all hovered above 17 per game. Shattenkirk played nearly two minutes fewer than that per night, averaging a hair more than 15-minutes in the same game state.

Here’s how that looked within the Capitals’ group (note that these are his entire season’s numbers, but his 5v5 icetime didn’t really change after the trade from St. Louis to Washington):

5v5 numbers via DataRink

Shattenkirk obviously wants to be a number one guy because he feels he hasn’t been used in that role to this point. And the numbers bear that out. But what’s going on here? Are coaches seeing him as a potential liability against tougher competition? I’d have a hard time buying that since there’s nothing to suggest he’d do poorly in an increased role.

Maybe it’s just circumstance. The other right-handed defencemen on the Blues were Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, and in Washington, Shattenkirk was coming in to take a cut of minutes from Matt Niskanen and John Carlson – both long-established players in that organization. He’s really been on two Cadillacs of teams when it comes to right-shooting blue-liners. Toronto isn’t even close to those teams in that regard.

If Shattenkirk was to sign with the Leafs, his main competition for minutes on the right side is Zaitsev. And while Zaitsev has done alright there considering his freshness to the league and deployment against heavy competition, I’d bet my house on Shattenkirk doing better in the same scenario. Even if  Babcock wanted to keep running Rielly-Zaitsev out there for the toughs (though he really shouldn’t), a Gardiner-Shattenkirk pairing would presumably be an absolute play-driving force.

Somehow we’ve gotten this far without talking about Shattenkirk’s dominance on the powerplay. Let’s not forget we’re talking about one of the most productive defencemen in the entire league coming off a 56-point season. This past year he played over 3-minutes per night on the powerplay, more than any Toronto defender (the closest was Gardiner at 2.5), and far outperformed anyone in that group.

Powerplay Min/GP Powerplay Primary Points/Hour
Kevin Shattenkirk 3.1 3.9
Jake Gardiner 2.5 0.8
Nikita Zaitsev 1.9 0.7

That’s some mind-boggling powerplay production (second only to Victor Hedman among defencemen in the entire league), but of course, it raises a question about whether this is the type of help the Leafs really need. We know they’re an offensive team that can really push a quick pace, so the consensus seems to be that they should target a true shutdown guy to bring down the amount of shot attempts against. Toronto is somewhat unique in the fact they’re an above-water possession team but at a level where they’re producing a lot and allowing nearly just as much (Pittsburgh is similar).

There’s a lot going on in both directions for the Leafs, and they presumably want to tidy that up. That’s why we hear so much about them potentially going after players like Josh Manson or Chris Tanev – “shutdown defenders”. But Shattenkirk likely does enough for them in the possession game and brings along a boatload of offence to go with it. The Leafs converted on the powerplay the second-most of any team in the league this past season, so adding Shattenkirk to that is almost unfair. [Does anyone care if the Leafs win 5-2 instead of 2-0?]

If it’s really that top-billing that Shattenkirk is going for, Toronto is as good a destination as any. Boston and New York will be at the front of the line for him in six weeks when free agency opens, and there’s plenty of speculation that he’ll just opt to go home and slot in nicely on the Rangers’ top pair with Ryan McDonagh. Perhaps that’s the way this all plays out, but until it does you have to consider the Leafs as having a shot at landing him, should they pursue it. They definitely have that role he wants, and with the left-shot Travis Dermott being the only back-end prospect in the pipeline even arguably close to making the jump, it isn’t like that spot is going to be contested for quite a long time.

  • Stan Smith

    The Leafs are going to have enough of a problem with the salary cap once their big three rookie’s contracts come up. I think adding a multi-year $7M deal would just add to those woes.

  • Glen

    Ryan I need to ask, did you watch this years playoff series that Washington played? In the opinion of most people Shattenkirk did not impress. This is the type of deal the Leafs need to avoid in my humble opinion.

  • Gary Empey

    His statistics clearly show that he is a good defenceman. There are jobs open on defence at the moment. At 28 years old, one assumes he is looking for a long term contract. The big question really is does he fit into the Shanaplan? One can see our real core is all those rookies who made the team last year. A second question is, can you expect to acquire any top pairing D-man without committing long-term and high salary?
    PS. I think the free agent gravy train is about to end or at least slow down. General managers are finally realizing they can not cripple their ability to improve their teams by putting most of their eggs in one basket. My guess is Lamoriello might be interested if Shattenkirk would sign a 5 year deal at around $5 million dollars. That seems most unlikely. After paying $500 million for a franchise, Los Vegas appears to be prepared to spend some more, to start with a strong team.

  • jimithy

    The Leafs have enough defensemen who can’t score. Also, he’s from the United States. He would not understand the language. Babcock has enough trouble speaking broken English to the rest of the team of Europeans who are still having trouble learning how to ice the puck with panache.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Darren Raddysh could be that fast, smooth skating high scoring RHD that everyone insists we need immediately and all he coats is a SPC. With Barb Underhill working with him daily, I believe he could move from the Marlies to the Leafs before season’s end.

  • Petersversion

    Ya. I think if NY can afford his salary under the cap, then that’s where he’ll sign. But absolutely the Leafs should make a substantial offer. You people are crazy. ANY too pairing defender they acquire is going to command a high salary, but Shattenkirk is the only one that doesn’t cost you top prospects and first round picks in addition to that. Would much rather over pay by a million bucks or so in cap space (which they have) than overpay in prospects and players. The Leafs have no internal options. If you want the Leafs to get better next year (and in the future), Shattenkirk is the best way to do that. Easy.

    • Petersversion

      Looking into it a bit more, and the Rangers don’t have the cap space unless they offload some money. Vegas could be a big player in taking bad bad contracts for picks and prospects, so it could certainly happen.

  • AnthonyV

    People are so scared of free agensy after David Clarkson. If you have the opportunity to add a top 2 defenceman to your team for no assets you take it. The cap is going up, 7 million in a few years will be nothing