Future Free Agents is a semi-regular feature on NHLNumbers profiling players from 2017’s potential free agency class.
The St. Louis Blues’ right-handed, puck-moving defenceman is now far and away the best blue liner set to become available on the free agent market this summer. While Shattenkirk isn’t quite the generational talent that Burns is, he’s still one of the game’s best at producing offence from the blue line and would be a welcome addition to just about every team in the league.
Unfortunately, if speculation is correct, there may actually only be one team he’s interested in playing for.
How good is he?
Ever since breaking into the league with the Colorado Avalanche back in 2010, Shattenkirk has been one of the league’s best offensive defencemen. He scored 43 points with the Blues and Avs in his rookie season, and has since put up at least 0.50 points-per-game every season since then.
Over the past three seasons, his 107 points ranks 15th among defencemen, and his 0.70 points-per-game over that span puts him sixth in the league behind only Karlsson, Letang, Burns, Subban, and Josi. You know, the names that always come up when talking about elite offensive defencemen.
Shattenkirk’s shot attempt numbers over the past three seasons are right where you’d expect them to be based on his boxcar stats, as his 53.4 Corsi For percentage ranks 18th among defencemen over the past three seasons. But he does play for the Blues, who are consistently in the running for the Corsi Hockey League championship trophy. So how much credit should he be given?
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) September 6, 2016
He certainly isn’t the possession driving engine behind the Blues machine, but he also isn’t just along for the ride. He has positive relative possession numbers, helping the Blues generate more shot attempts when he’s on than they do when he’s off. But, unsurprisingly, the team gives also up more shot attempts against than they do when he’s watching.
What this suggests is that the Blues open up their game when Shattenkirk (and the team’s other offensive players) are on the ice. It also validates the common result you’ll get from using the eye test on Shattenkirk, which is that while he does produce at a high level, he’s prone to some terrible, mind-boggling turnovers and defensive lapses. But that’s the reality of opening it up and being a player who creates. Many times it works in your team’s favour, but you’re inevitably going to give something up the other way.
I mean, obviously it’s difficult to say exactly how much individual value he has to driving the team’s offence, but however you shake it, the team generates more chances and scores more goals with him on the ice than they do when he isn’t.
How much is he going to cost?
There are two pretty solid comparables that immediately come to mind when thinking about possible contract for Kevin Shattenkirk. Kris Letang and Keith Yandle, two other defencemen known for their ability to produce offence, both signed long-term deals that ate up exclusively unrestricted free agency years somewhat recently.
Letang signed an eight-year extension worth $7.25 million annually with the Penguins back in July 2013 a year before he was set to hit unrestricted free agency, and Yandle signed a seven-year deal worth $6.35 million annually with the Panthers last summer in his first time hitting the open market. Shattenkirk isn’t quite as good as Letang, who sits just behind Erik Karlsson for point-per-game among defencemen over the past three seasons, but he’s better than Yandle based on both underlying numbers and production.
The place to start is somewhere in the middle between Letang’s $7.25 million and Yandle’s $6.35 million annual salaries with a similar term of seven or eight years. So let’s say $7 million annually over seven years for Shattenkirk’s free agent contract.
Can St. Louis afford it?
There are two things going on here that suggests Shattenkirk will not be playing for the Blues beyond the end of this season. The first is easy enough to recognize when looking at their current cap situation. The second requires a little more investigation and is open for some interpretation. I’ll tackle the first one now and get to the other one later.
The Blues already have a significant amount of money tied into their core, long-term investments. Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera, Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Jake Allen are all locked up for at last two more seasons after this one for a combined cap hit of roughly $42 million. Add in Paul Stastny and David Perron’s contracts that each have one more year left on them and that number quickly jumps to $53 million.
And then you have Colton Parayko. A third-round pick back in 2012, Parayko kind of popped out of nowhere if you aren’t somebody who pays attention to the Blues closely. He broke into the NHL last year after playing three NCAA seasons with Alaska-Fairbanks, scoring 33 points in 79 games while leading the Blues with a ridiculously impressive 54.8 Corsi For percentage at even strength.
Parayko’s entry-level contract expires at the end of the season, and the Blues are obviously going to want to lock him up to a long-term deal. While he doesn’t have the draft pedigree of someone like Seth Jones or Aaron Ekblad, both of whom signed long-term, post-ELC deals recently, he’s in that same category of young, excellent all around defencemen.
So if you take that $53 million figure attached to the Blues’ seven core players, toss in Shattenkirk’s realistic new annual cap hit of $7 million from earlier, you don’t even have to start crunching numbers on Parayko to realize this isn’t going to work.
I mean, sure, it’s conceivable that they could move or dump some contracts to older players and squeeze in both Shattenkirk and Parayko to this already tight financial puzzle, but if the Blues had realistic faith in their ability to fit Shattenkirk into their long term cap picture, his name probably wouldn’t come up in trade rumours every week.
If he hits the open market…
Even if the financial stuff make sense, which it doesn’t, there’s reason to believe Shattenkirk wants to use his free agency to play elsewhere. Here’s where we get to the second reason he won’t be with the Blues beyond this season that I mentioned earlier.
This summer, a report came out that claimed Shattenkirk expected the Blues to trade him before the beginning of the season. This largely had to do with the fact Shattenkirk wasn’t interested in signing an extension at the time, and general manager Doug Armstrong wanted to get something of value for him before he walked away for nothing the following summer.
Last week, Elliotte Friedman mentioned Shattenkirk in 30 Thoughts, claiming that teams believe that the defenceman is interested in signing with the New York Rangers in free agency. That certainly isn’t surprising, considering Shattenkirk grew up in New York, he refers to himself as a “New Yorker at heart” in his Twitter bio, and spoke glowingly about the chance to play in front of family and friends at Madison Square Garden in an article on nhl.com in 2014.
Of course, like the Blues, the Rangers don’t exactly have the most rosy cap situation, and fitting Shattenkirk to an already expensive blue line is going to require some wheeling and dealing. Also, this whole going home thing could also just be a bunch of nonsense and wishful thinking, as we’ve seen many, many times before with star free agents rejecting the homecoming narrative and sticking with their original club.
There’s also many, many other teams that are going to be lining up to throw a fat wad of cash at Shattenkirk this summer if they get the chance. Just like I pointed out in the Burns free agency article, right-handed, offence-producing defencemen are a highly coveted asset. In that 30 Thoughts article, Friedman mentioned multiple teams had already tried to acquire Shattenkirk from the Blues last summer, and I’m sure those teams will also be getting in touch with his agent on July 1, 2017.
What we can say for sure is that Kevin Shattenkirk is going to be a highly coveted free agent this summer. With Brent Burns signed, he’s far and away the best defenceman on the market, and, as we know, a handful of teams in the NHL will be tripping over themselves to try to get a highly productive, right-handed defencemen on their team.
Also, we can assume with some certainly that the Blues simply can’t afford to keep Shattenkirk around. They already have a tremendous amount of cash tied into a core group of players, and they also need to figure out a new deal for young star defenceman Colton Parayko.
Multiple teams, including the Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, and Arizona Coyotes showed interest in him last summer when he was available via trade, but nothing panned out. Whether those deals fell flat because St. Louis was asking for too much or because Shattenkirk explicitly stated he wouldn’t sign an extension with any of those teams is up for debate, but there is some reason to believe that he has a destination in mind and wants to take a crack at a New York homecoming.