On Friday I wrote an article in which I questioned whether or not Jeff Gorton was looking to re-tool or rebuild in free agency. The question looms large this morning, of course, because free agency opens today, and with that, we will find the answers we seek. Mainly, we’re looking for answers on Kevin Shattenkirk, who’s acquisition would signal a smart re-tool rather than a rebuild.
In the above linked article I characterized the Rangers current situation as follows:
Despite all this, I don’t think the Stepan trade is actually signaling a rebuild on its own. Freeing up cap space is a great way to re-tool, and the potential addition of Kevin Shattenkirk would solve most, if not all, of the Rangers’ problems on defense, especially now that Brendan Smith is being brought back into the fold ... Now that Smith is locked up, the addition of Shattenkirk would allow the Rangers to have a true top-pair and a true top-four on defense.
Between that article and this writing, a few things have happened that have adjusted the current landscape for Shattenkirk.
Kevin Shattenkirk — the clear prize of this pool of free agents — was rumored to be heavily sought after by the Buffalo Sabres. Either Buffalo wasn’t as interested in him as everyone thought, or he made it clear to them that he wasn’t going to ink his name on the dotted line to move to Buffalo, because the Sabres shored up their defense with an unexpected trade.
No trade call done yet but assuming it proceeds without hiccups, it's Pominville and Scandella to BUF, Ennis and Foligno to MIN.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 30, 2017
With them out of the picture, the other heavily rumored non-Rangers team is the New Jersey Devils. This rumor seems to have been birthed by talk that the Devils were going to make a big push for him (read: offer him an enormous contract). Up until a few days ago, the Devils were on literally no one’s radar, and it’s hard to imagine Shattenkirk is going to chase the money with a team that isn’t exactly expected to be very good anytime soon.
Shattenkirk’s current team, Washington, isn’t going to be a player to keep him around after they finalized two enormous commitments to their free agents. They locked up T.J. Oshie to an eight-year, $5.75-million dollar albatross contract that in no way can backfire because Oshie is only 30-years-old and players that old don’t decline rapidly. Oh wait ... Anyway, they also locked up Dmitry Orlov to a six-year, $5.1-million dollar deal that leaves them with roughly $12-million to keep Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov. That doesn’t even include names like Justin Williams (who is probably gone anyway), Daniel Winnik, Karl Alzer (who is also probably gone), and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer. So, yeah, cross them off the list.
Then there’s Boston. The Bruins aren’t exactly in a great cap situation, either, and just bought out Jimmy Hayes (yes, the Hayes’ brothers are brothers) to boot. They have about $16-million left in space but have to lock up David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, and Tim Schaller before making decisions on Dominic Moore, Drew Stafford and John-Michael Liles. It also seems like they’re looking for a LHD not RHD, so Shattenkirk doesn’t feel like a player they’re going to break the bank for.
Tampa Bay has seen their name thrown into the mix again — but it’s worth noting here that Shattenkirk nixed a deal to the Lightning at the trade deadline (he refused to re-sign there so the deal blew up). Also, the Lightning are apparently in on Dan Girardi so, uh, yeah, maybe not the place you want to be.
That leaves ... the Rangers.
Let me ask a couple of questions here: Is it possible the two sides have been in agreement on a contract the past week (or longer, but that’s collusion, so the past week) and he’s letting teams know he isn’t interested as he goes through the process of the pre-July 1st talking window? Is it possible that it has been the media who have taken the Rangers’ silence on the matter (since they know he’s coming) and turned it into the rumors that they’re not interested?
If Jeff Gorton allowed the market to collapse on itself as other teams got a lukewarm feeling from Shattenkirk this week, and turned their respective moves away from him into a better deal for New York then you need to build a statue for him.
Or, maybe the Rangers are silent on the matter because, well, they’re always silent. The Rangers media doesn’t ever break news anymore, the team does. When news leaks about the Rangers it’s because other team’s beat writers beat the national guys to the punch. In this case, the two parties are the dead-silent Rangers and a free agent who can’t speak until July 1st. Where is the leak going to come from here?
However, Blueshirt Banter has learned, per a well-informed source, that Shattenkirk is not hiding the fact that the idea of being traded to the Rangers is very appealing to him. It's a move he very much would like. This is not to say that Shattenkirk is requesting a trade, or applying pressure for a move, or that he would not and will not sign anywhere else; St. Louis included. To put it simply, there's no fire here yet, but certainly a good amount of smoke.
It’s very possible that when St. Louis decided to trade him last year they called the Rangers first since they would presumably be able to re-sign him right away and thus would pay more for him. There are legal ways where Gorton would know of his interest without anything “illegal” happening. Or it’s possible that the two sides spoke as far back as Adam’s story two years ago.
Either way, the linking of Shattenkirk to New York isn’t new, it’s just loud now because he’s a free agent. And if we’ve known for two years, then Gorton has known for longer.
So maybe he accidentally fell into something. Maybe he played it this way on purpose. Or maybe Shattenkirk surprises us all and signs somewhere else.
Either way, it’s starting to feel like we’re about to see the end of a master plot that’s been years in the making.