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Buying Out Kevin Shattenkirk Would Be A Huge Mistake

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It is understandable to want more from Shattenkirk, but there are other defenders more deserving of a buyout.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Prior to Saturday’s victory over the New Jersey Devils, Larry Brooks published a story entitled “Kevin Shattenkirk is fighting for his Rangers life”.

Brooks went on to say:

Too dramatic a scenario? Not really, for if the 30-year-old defenseman does not markedly improve his play this final month, management will have no other choice than to seriously consider a buyout of No. 22’s contract halfway through its four-year term.

When I first read this sitting at my seat at Madison Square Garden before puck drop I internally said to myself, “WTF?”

First and foremost, it is obvious that the Rangers expected more than 46 points out of Shattenkirk through his first 105 games on Broadway, but there are a number of reasons why a buyout of the New Rochelle native would be a huge mistake.

The first of which is that Shattenkirk hasn’t really been all that bad, he hasn’t been one of the team’s worst defenders, and there are a number of teams who would trade for him with some salary retention.

We’ve discussed Shattenkirk’s first season a great deal and highlighted how his injury derailed his game last year, and even the lingering effects onto this year after playing with a torn-meniscus for as long as he did.

For reference, the vertical lines in the below chart reference the eight and ten-week marks, which is when Shattenkirk noted his injury really caused his game to deteriorate.

But since that’s been discussed at length already, let’s focus primarily on this season.

The Rangers have had eight defenders suit up for at least 10 games this season. Of that group, Shattenkirk ranks second in shot share (Corsi) at 49.84%, first in relative Corsi at 3.82%. He also has the second-lowest PDO on the team at 98.4 which is a combination of an on-ice shooting percentage of 7.21 and a save percentage of 91.15.

Here’s a chart which visualizes the Rangers with (blue box) and without (red box) Shattenkirk on the ice by @IneffectiveMath of HockeyViz (who you should support on Patreon here if you can).

Shattenkirk alone has just one goal at even strength on 82 shots, and it is fair to say that for the remainder of his career he’s likely going to shoot better than 1.22%. According to Evolving-Hockey, Shattenkirk has scored goals at a rate of 0.07 per 60 at even strength, and has an expected goals per 60 rate of 0.19; so right now he should be 0.12 better which may seem small, but would be a big deal for Shattenkirk. Despite this bad luck, he’s third among Rangers defenders with 13 points in 59 games, two back of Skjei who has 15 in 64 and five back of Tony DeAngelo who has 18 in 49.

So the short story here is that among all Ranger defenders, Shattenkirk is one of the best at driving possession and making sure the Rangers are controlling the play instead of reacting to it. He’s also had one of the unluckiest seasons of his career, and isn’t fully being rewarded for his efforts.

Using Evolving-Hockey’s goals above replacement stat, Shattenkirk rates well at even strength. His even strength GAR of 2.3 is second among rear guards on the Rangers with Tony DeAngelo leading the group at 5.9. When it comes to shorthanded GAR, Shattenkirk ranks fourth with a GAR of 0.9.

Where Shattenkirk struggles is the power play, and part of that has been a reduction of minutes. Earlier this year he was booted off the top unit, and for a decent while Neal Pionk held that spot; the disparity in caliber players between units has been clear all season. Still, the expectations on the man-advantage for the right-handed defender are high because of what he’s accomplished this year on the power play, so it’s both him needing to be more decisive and quicker, and him needing to be surrounded by better players. All of that considered, Shattenkirk’s PP GAR unsurprisingly comes in low at -2.7, which ranks last on the team.

With all of those components together, Shattenkirk comes in with a total GAR of 0.9 which sits behind Fredrik Claesson, Brady Skjei and Tony DeAngelo on defense.

While Shattenkirk certainly could be playing better, he’s been way better than two players who should be considered for a buyout in his place if management is truly considering buying out one of their players this offseason.

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Those two players are Marc Staal (age 32, $5.7 million for two more seasons) and Brendan Smith (age 30, $4.35 million for two more seasons). Smith, like Shattenkirk, is someone who I could see drawing interest from other teams if some salary were retained. His usage lately has been curious, and I wonder if that has been the Rangers way of trying to showcase his versatility. This is not to make light of his numbers, but all things considered he still has some value that can be salvaged.

Staal, on the other hand, would likely have little to no interest, and that’s because he’s not a good hockey player anymore. At this point of his career, Staal brings veteran leadership. and David Quinn made him the team’s de facto captain as he’s the only player who has worn a letter for every game. Up until Saturday he had also been the only defender to appear in every game, and that is something Staal really hasn’t deserved — especially not earlier in the season.

This is because Staal ranks dead last among Blueshirt defenders in a number of categories including Corsi (43.86%), relative Corsi (-3.46%), Goals For % (41.84), relative goals for (-7.87%), and GAR (-6.7). Somehow, he’s second overall in total ice time with 1,310 minutes this season and an average of 19:33 a game. Just for league-wide reference, Staal’s CF% of 43.86 is 8th worst among the 221 NHL defenders who have logged at least 300 minutes of ice time.

While the numbers are bad, they are an improvement over last year’s numbers which included a team-worst CF% (38.95) and relative CF% (-11.12). For reference, last year his GAR was 1.7, his GF% was 46.15, and his relative GF% was -0.55. The summary here is that he’s improved in shot metrics, but it hasn’t translated to better goal metrics.

Here’s the same chart as earlier showing the Rangers struggling when Staal is on the ice (blue box) and still bad but better when he’s off the ice.

In addition to a less than stellar body of work, Staal has a no-movement clause which limits what the Rangers could do with him, so the only real way out of his contract is a buyout.

Here is what a Marc Staal buyout would look like according to Cap Friendly.

Cap Friendly

This really isn’t that terrible for the Rangers in terms of dead money, and something that would make sense given the fact they don’t have a ton of money committed to salaries going forward. Mika Zibanejad and Brady Skjei are the only players with long term contracts at this moment.

Here’s what Smith’s buyout would look like.

Cap Friendly

Again, it represents an immediate savings and then two years of a not so terrible cap charge to hold on to. It would be an understandable move in the event there were no takers via trade.

Lastly here is what Shattenkirk’s buyout would look like.

Cap Friendly

What stands out here is the immediate space the Rangers would gain before ultimately having two years of dead money. This would be a move that makes sense only if the Rangers were a contending team up against the cap looking to make an upgrade. That doesn’t apply to the current iteration of Rangers, and if they needed to free themselves from the contract that badly they could do so by retaining 50 percent ($3.325 million) in a trade with the assets acquired making it worth the team’s while to have that dead space. The Rangers could also do that in conjunction with buying out Staal, but keeping Shattenkirk for now makes the most sense.

It is completely understandable that the Rangers and fans expected more from Shattenkirk, but it is disingenuous to only get on his case while ignoring the other problems on the team.

Shattenkirk is known for being an offensive defender, and he’s done that since joining the team in comparison to the rest of the defense — even though it’s not saying that much considering their blue line.

Points By New York Rangers Defensemen 2017-18 to Present

Natural Stat Trick

This factors in the time period in which he was practically playing with one good knee, but he still ranks No. 1 despite playing 105 games.

If you sort by P/GP, he is second in total and first among active Rangers, so the larger point stands that he hasn’t been as bad as he’s been made out to be. You can also look at this and see that youngsters like DeAngelo are performing well and he represents the future at a considerable savings. I exclude Pionk here because his offensive game has really taken a dive — that and his underlying numbers have been dreadful. All of that said, the Rangers don’t have many right-handed defenders in the system who are ready to step in, and the only way I could see them getting rid of Shattenkirk at all costs is if they were looking to replace him with Erik Karlsson. That is a whole other can of worms to be addressed at a later date.

2018 GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition - Accuracy Shooting Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It is possible to say that Kevin Shattenkirk has been OK with the Rangers while simultaneously expecting more out of him. It’s also fair to be disappointed in how he’s played given his price tag, but given the state of the team he isn’t getting in the way of them adding someone else to be competitive, and if that were the case there is the ability to move him unlike Staal.

This ultimately could be the Rangers way of using the media to motivate Shattenkirk, but as the numbers show there other defenders who could use the motivation more.

If Wonder Woman had her lasso of truth around me and asked me the question “Do you think Shattenkirk will finish his contract with the Rangers?,” I would answer no. I firmly believe that in the summer Shattenkirk will once again work with Ben Prentiss to get into tip top shape. I think the Rangers will start a makeover of their blue line and Shattenkirk will perform better in year two under David Quinn, and he will be put into a position in which he becomes an attractive player to add at the deadline. At the very least if he’s not moved at the deadline, he becomes an option at the 2020 draft, or on July 2, 2020 after his final $2 million signing bonus is paid out.

It goes without saying that every player has different expectations, and often times it is in the context of looking at rookies vs. veterans and vice versa. But in this situation, Shattenkirk is in virtually the same situation as Smith and Staal as a veteran player making a considerable amount of money.

Again, you can be disappointed with how he’s played, but the numbers speak for themselves. He hasn’t been the worst, and he has tangible skills that other teams would want.

In no world should Shattenkirk be considered for a candidate for a buyout before Smith or Staal, and if this is the road the team ultimately goes down, it would be a regrettable move. It is all but guaranteed that a team would pounce and scoop up Shattenkirk in free agency and the Rangers would end up looking pretty foolish.

Stats via Cap Friendly, Evolving-Hockey, Hockey Viz, and Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted.