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Shattenkirk’s strong start in Tampa evidence of Rangers poor asset management

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The former Ranger has started the 2019-20 season with a bang

Nashville Predators v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Tuesday marks the first time the New York Rangers will face Kevin Shattenkirk since the team bought him out during the offseason and he subsequently signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Rangers’ decision to drop the axe on the veteran defenseman remains controversial, although it was seen by many to be a necessary amputation to create room to fit the heavy contracts of Artemiy Panarin and Jacob Trouba. The divorce between the New Rochelle-native and the Rangers was far messier than the veteran puck-moving defenseman deserved after he left millions on the table to sign with his hometown team on July 1, 2017.

Going by the numbers, Shattenkirk was one of the Rangers top two defensemen last season, which made the heavy-handed approach head coach David Quinn took with him rather surprising. Jeff Gorton’s decision to buyout his contract and take on a $6,083,333 penalty for the 2020-21 season was perhaps even more surprising.

With all of that being said, it has come as little surprise to see Shattenkirk flourish in his first month with Tampa Bay. To say that the Lightning got a bargain when they signed him to a one-year, $1.75 million contract would be an understatement.

Tampa’s head coach Jon Cooper has not hesitated to feed Shattenkirk prime minutes at 5-on-5 this season and he’s been rewarded for it. Thus far, Shattenkirk’s most frequent defensive partners at evens have been Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh. In fact, Shattenkirk and McDonagh have already played together more in Tampa than they did as Rangers in the 2017-18 season before Gorton dealt McDonagh.

Shattenkirk is averaging more than a minute more of 5-on-5 ice time (16:33) than he played with the Rangers last season. Of course, the number that jumps off the page from his first 10 games with the Lightning are his three goals at 5-on-5, after he scored just two goals in New York in 1,860 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey a year ago. It’s early and his shooting percentage is unsustainably high (15.8% at 5-on-5 compared to his career average of 3.9%), but there’s no denying that he’s been an impact player for the Lightning.

The 30-year-old leads Tampa’s blue line in shots (27), goals (4), and primary points at 5-on-5 (4). He also has the highest xGF% (55.85) among Lightning defenders and ranks third in Rel CF%. While it’s true that he’s been on the ice for the same number of goals for than he has for goals against, the same is true of Hedman. Plus, his expected goals — which measures the likelihood of a shot being a goal — has been exceptional to this point.

It comes as no surprise that Hedman is seeing the lion’s share of the ice time on Tampa’s first power play, which has resulted in Shattenkirk seeing time on the second unit primarily with Mikhail Sergachev, Yanni Gourde, and Tyler Johnson. That means thus far Shattenkirk has made his biggest impact at even strength — much like he did last year with the Rangers.

Despite the criticism he received from Quinn and many of the Garden Faithful, Shattenkirk was the common thread on the Rangers’ top three pairs in the shot share last season (among pairs that clocked at least 100 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey) and the top three pairs in Rel xGF%. So, it comes as little surprise to see him succeed at even strength on a team that is undoubtedly a cut above both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Rangers.

NYR D-Pairs 2018-19 (min. 100 TOI at 5-on-5)

Player Player 2 GP TOI TOI/GP CF% Rel SF% Rel GF% Rel xGF/60 Rel xGA/60 Rel xGF% Rel SCF% Rel HDCF% Rel HDGF% Rel PDO
Player Player 2 GP TOI TOI/GP CF% Rel SF% Rel GF% Rel xGF/60 Rel xGA/60 Rel xGF% Rel SCF% Rel HDCF% Rel HDGF% Rel PDO
Kevin Shattenkirk Fredrik Claesson 31 336.72 10.86 1.88 5.33 2.9 -0.27 -0.77 5.42 2.12 4.07 -1.79 0.99
Kevin Shattenkirk Brendan Smith 55 310.35 5.64 6.72 6.75 -0.12 0.48 -0.03 5 2.92 3.12 -4.55 0.98
Kevin Shattenkirk Brady Skjei 69 274.38 3.98 3.6 2.79 -2.2 0.22 0.01 2.19 2.93 -1.48 -16.95 0.981
Brady Skjei Tony DeAngelo 57 319.10 5.60 1.12 0.22 9.77 0.1 0.07 0.42 -1.65 -0.18 6.86 1.035
Marc Staal Tony DeAngelo 58 389.05 6.71 -1.59 -0.97 -1.09 0.23 0.24 0.24 3.65 2.28 3.68 1.014
Adam McQuaid Brady Skjei 35 436.95 12.48 -4.31 -3.9 7 -0.26 -0.18 -0.92 -2.46 -3.65 2.31 1.017
Brady Skjei Neal Pionk 69 217.73 3.16 0.08 -1.35 1.63 0.29 0.49 -1.49 -2.4 -3.2 -2.3 0.998
Brendan Smith Tony DeAngelo 45 173.08 3.85 -2.06 5.93 14.6 -0.35 -0.21 -1.96 1.15 5.16 -17.18 1.021
Marc Staal Brendan Smith 60 103.80 1.73 -0.5 2.6 4.71 -0.12 0.17 -2.95 2.48 11.2 4.26 1.002
Marc Staal Neal Pionk 70 668.33 9.55 -5.68 -6.15 -6.85 -0.48 -0.05 -5.27 -3.92 -3.44 2.89 0.991
Brendan Smith Neal Pionk 58 103.18 1.78 -10.84 -14.76 -7.71 -0.3 0.23 -5.74 -9.78 -6.81 -13.33 1.017
Brendan Smith Brady Skjei 59 153.32 2.60 -2.76 -6.48 -20.07 -0.66 0.06 -8.79 -8.36 -20.07 -44.35 0.965
Data from naturalstattrick.com

Again, all of Shattenkirk’s numbers with Tampa Bay come attached to a sample size of 10 games, but it’s a promising start for a player that general manager Julien BriseBois is spending less than $2 million in cap space on.

At the end of the day, this boils down to BriseBois and the Lightning taking advantage of the Rangers’ poor asset management. Even if you believe that Shattenkirk was an unfortunate casualty of the Rangers’ transformative 2019 offseason, Gorton painted himself into a corner with the decisions that preceded the buyout. The contracts given to Brendan Smith, Ryan Spooner, and Vladislav Namestnikov all aged poorly, which compounded the issues created by the contracts that Gorton inherited from Glen Sather. The buyout of Shattenkirk was avoidable and likely should have been avoided because he is still a valuable puck-moving defenseman.

All contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.com. All data courtesy of corsica.hockey and naturalstattrick.com.