Photo: Charles LeClaire - USA TODAY Sports

The curious case of Kevin Shattenkirk

Is it worth signing the 28-year old defenseman?

Brayton Wilson
June 29, 2017 - 7:15 pm

The Buffalo Sabres have been relatively quiet on the free agency market over the past few years. Last season, however, Buffalo made one of the bigger splashes on the market with the signing of forward Kyle Okposo to a seven-year, $42 million deal on July 1st.

Heading into this NHL Free Agency period beginning Saturday, the Sabres have been linked to another top name on the market. 28-year old defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has reportedly been coveted by the Sabres, and have apparently made a the move to try and lure him to Buffalo.

"I think Buffalo has made a big play for him," said Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman on Thursday with Bob Staufer on CHEN 690 A.M. in Edmonton. "I still think Kevin Shattenkirk would love to be a [New York> Ranger. I don't know if it's gonna fit. The Rangers have made it very clear they're not gonna be as crazy on the open market as they've been in the past. I don't know if there's a fit there, but from what I understand, Buffalo is one of the teams that's made a really big pitch for him."

Friedman first reported the Sabres' interest in Shattenkirk last week, which was followed later that same day with TSN's Darren Dreger confirming Buffalo's link to him with The Instigators.

Shattenkirk hits the free agent market after spending most of last season with the St. Louis Blues before being acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline by the Washington Capitals. In 61 games with the Blues, Shattenkirk scored eleven goals and registered 42 points. After his trade to Washington, he scored twice and registered 12 assists in 19 games. His combined 56 points in 80 games was a career-high total, and it put him fourth in NHL scoring among defensemen. However, Shattenkirk had a sub-par performance in the postseason with just a goal and six points in 13 games.

Washington paid a price to acquire the offensive, powerplay specialist for their playoff run. It was Shattenkirk and former Capitals goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley going to the nation's capitol in exchange for prospects Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, a 2017 first round pick and other conditional draft picks. After winning a hard-fought six-game series with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Capitals were eliminated in the second round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.

There is no doubting the amount of talent that Shattenkirk has. He is a high-scoring, smooth skating, efficient puck-moving defenseman. However, Shattenkirk is often times questioned for being a liability in the defensive end.

Prior to his trade to the Capitals, it was reported that Shattenkirk rejected a trade to the Tampa Bay Lightning that would include a contract extension of seven years worth $42 million. The belief is that Shattenkirk wants a deal that has that seven-year term, but with an average annual value around $7 million.

Since coming into the league in the 2010-11 season with the Colorado Avalanche, Shattenkirk has been a top-10 scoring defenseman in the NHL with 298 points in 490 games. Shattenkirk has surpassed the 40-point mark four times and the 50-point mark once in his seven-year career, while averaging around 74 games played in six 82-game seasons.

On the surface, the numbers he produce look very appealing. When you take a closer look, one can see that a majority of his production has come on the powerplay.

At even strength, Shattenkirk scored five goals and registered 23 points to put him tied for 21st among defensemen in the NHL. While Shattenkirk is also likely to average over a point per-60 minutes at even strength, goals-for percentage has fluctuated over the past few years. In the 2014-15 season, Shattenkirk put up his best percentage at 64.4-percent, averaging an impressive 3.090 goal-for per-60 minutes. The next season saw a significant dip in his goal-for percentage, falling to 46.3-percent. This past season was a better year for Shattenkirk, which saw his goals-for percentage increase to 52.3-percent.

Overall, his defensive numbers have been up and down while playing at even strength. While Shattenkirk can produce and be efficient while at even strength in the offensive zone, his defensive inconsistencies can be a cause for concern.

On the powerplay, Shattenkirk is arguably one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He finished second in the NHL with 24 points with the man-advantage, and was third in the league with 5.91 points per-60 minutes on the powerplay. New Sabres defenseman Nathan Beaulieu was second in the league in average points per-60 minutes at 5.99, while Rasmus Ristolainen was fifth at 5.62. And while Shattenkirk is more of a puck-moving quarterback on the powerplay, he makes the most of his shots on the powerplay with 16.33-percent of his shots finding the back of the net.

While his play in the defensive zone can be inconsistent at times, Shattenkirk is certainly capable of playing against some of the better players in the NHL and being able to defend well. Often times, Shattenkirk faced more players in a second or third line role, but he was a second / third-pair defenseman with both the Blues and Capitals. Can Shattenkirk be a top-pair defenseman in the NHL? He has gotten time with others who play top minutes, but not at a consistent basis.

When looking at the Sabres' current situation, they certainly have the salary cap space to bring in the puck-moving defenseman. As of Friday, the Sabres have about $19.9 million of cap space before re-signing their restricted free agents and other moves they make this offseason.

With the long-term outlook, the Sabres will need to lock up players like Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart to new deals after this upcoming season. If Evander Kane is in the long-term plans for the Sabres, he's another player who will need a new deal after the 2017-18 season.

It may seem difficult to picture the Sabres being able to fit in a long-term, high paying deal to a 28-year old defenseman like Shattenkirk, but Botterill was the "cap guru" with the Penguins organization. If anyone is capable of painting a picture with the Sabres' salary cap, it's him.

Looking at the current roster, Shattenkirk could certainly slot into the second-pair, right-handed defenseman slot behind Ristolainen on the top pair. Shattenkirk could play some minutes that Ristolainen chewed up last season, and that would allow Zach Bogosian to slide down to the third pairing. It is unclear as to who you could peg to play with Shattenkirk on the left side, but the Sabres would have options.

Shattenkirk is also going to add some much-needed scoring from the blue line. Last season, the Sabres' defensive group combined to score 17 goals and failed to score a goal until mid-November. Shattenkirk alone scored 13 goals last year, and scored his first goal in his first game of the season.

Even though assistant coach Bob Woods has left the organization to join the Minnesota Wild, Shattenkirk will certainly fit in on the NHL's top powerplay from last year. He could play the point on the top powerplay unit with guys like Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly to dish the puck off to, or he can help quarterback the second powerplay unit and give that unit more of a punch.

In addition, with the style of play that head coach Phil Housley wants to instill with the Sabres, it may fit Shattenkirk's style of play very well. Housley has said that he wants his defensemen playing on the attack and playing up in the offensive zone. Shattenkirk has shown his ability to skate and move the puck in a way that can make him a weapon in Housley's system.

Since starting this article, the Sabres have made a trade with the Wild to acquire left-handed defenseman Marco Scandella and former Sabres captain Jason Pominville for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Scandella has a cap hit of $4 million for the next three seasons. This likely changes how the Sabres approach Shattenkirk on Saturday, but you never know.

Adding Shattenkirk may be a nice get for the Sabres to shore up their struggles on the blue line from the 2016-17 season. The concerns are his defensive inconsistencies and the possible future strains to the Sabres salary cap, but what he brings may be just what the Sabres need to contend in the playoffs once again.

Get to know Shattenkirk more with Blues analyst Darren Pang as he joined Howard Simon and Jeremy White on Friday:

06-30 Blues and NHL analyst Darren Pang with Howard and Jeremy on Kevin Shattenkirk.mp3

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