On July 31st, 2019, the New York Rangers bought out Kevin Shattenkirk. With the recent acquisitions of Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox, in addition to the emergence of Tony DeAngelo, the right side of the blueline had become crowded. Someone had to go.
In the summer of 2017, Shattenkirk was brought in to be a top-pair defenseman next to Ryan McDonagh. He was seen as the final piece to push the Rangers over the top for the Stanley Cup. Needless to say, that did not work out. Ironically, Shattenkirk and McDonagh did win a cup together, but with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unfortunately for the Rangers, things have not worked out as planned. A closer look at Shattenkirk’s performance, the financial implications of his buyout and the struggles of Trouba, the Rangers made a mistake buying out Kevin Shattenkirk.
Kevin Shattenkirk With the Rangers
During the beginning of his short Rangers tenure, Kevin Shattenkirk was dealing with a major knee injury that had devastating effects on his play. He tried to play through the injury, but he eventually made the decision to have surgery. Shattenkirk said, “I wasn’t at all able to play my game. I’ve been worried about a lot more things, trying not to disappoint a lot of people, so it’s hard to be leaving the team. But I also feel that what I was putting out onto the ice, I wasn’t giving the guys on my team the best I had.
Evidently, Shattenkirk’s injury was impacting his ability to perform to the best of his ability. His lack of confidence on the ice (due to injury) along with the high expectations that came with his contract resulted in an unfortunate start to his Rangers career. Despite the overall disappointment, Shattenkirk had 23 points in 46 games by the end of his first season, good for 0.5 points per game — not too bad for a defenseman playing through a torn meniscus. Overall, he did not have a good initial season in New York, but that can be attributed to unfortunate circumstances and lacklustre collective performances from the team.
The Rangers struggles continued into the 2018-19 season. There were very few bright spots. When the Rangers did play well, it was players like Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider that received credit (deservedly so). Unfortunately, Shattenkirk flew under the radar. On a team that ranked 27th league-wide in xEVD (expected even-strength defence goals above replacement), Shattenkirk was excellent in the defensive zone. He ranked first amongst Rangers defenseman in xEVD-GAR, and 24th amongst defenseman league-wide. Despite his great underlying metrics, the narrative that Shattenkirk was a defensive liability grew. Based most likely on his +/- of -15. However, the truth is that on a team with few bright spots defensively, Shattenkirk provided significant value.
In terms of offensive production, Kevin Shattenkirk generated many opportunities. Unfortunately, he struggled with finishing those opportunities. His point totals of 28 points in 73 games were not encouraging for his playstyle. Again, however, a closer look at the underlying metrics paint a better picture. His xGF/60 was a net positive, while his GF/60 was significantly lower. In addition, his PDO (shooting plus save percentage) of 97.4 was much lower than the standard of 100. Looking at these stats, despite his lack of point production, Shattenkirk was still a very valuable player for the Rangers.
Kevin Shattenkirk vs Jacob Trouba
Trouba holds the edge when it comes to age, physicality, and shooting. Shattenkirk is much better at defending, generating chances, and driving play overall. Shattenkirk provides more value to his team and has done so for both the 2018-19 season and the 2019-20 season. In the 2018-19 season, Trouba (with the Winnipeg Jets) had 50 points in 82 games. Shattenkirk’s totals were 28 points in 73 games. Trouba had a +/- of 8 compared to -15 for Shattenkirk. Once again, a deeper dive into their isolated metrics is reacquired in order to fully comprehend which player had a better season.
Offensively, Trouba was slightly better than Shattenkirk in 2018-19, but in terms of overall value provided, Shattenkirk was superior. He had an xWAR (expected wins above replacement) of 0.7, compared to -0.3 for Trouba. Shattenkirk had an xGAR total of 3.9, compared to -1.5 for Trouba.
As for the 2019-20 season, the margin between Shattenkirk and Trouba widened.
In each and every rate of the RAPM chart above, Shattenkirk was ahead of Trouba. Some may argue that it is due to Shattenkirk playing on a better team, but the stats are isolated, meaning extraneous are accounted for, and Shattenkirk was indeed better than Trouba.
The Rangers signed Shattenkirk to a four-year $26.6M contract back in 2017. His AAV was $6.650M. The Rangers acquired Trouba in 2019 and signed him to a seven-year $56M contract. At the time Shattenkirk had only two years left on his contract. While several things went into the contract for Trouba, financially speaking, its been a disaster for the Rangers so far. Shattenkirk provides more value than Trouba and at a lower cost. Still, there is some time for Trouba to bounce back and meet previous expectations. Regardless, The Rangers have a lot of the depth at right defenseman. With seven years of Trouba at $8M, the Rangers might be regretting handing out such a large contract to a player that has not lived up to expectations.
At the time of his buyout, Kevin Shattenkirk had two years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $6.65 million. In 2019-20, the buyout took up only $1,483,833 in cap space. For the 2020-21 season, the buyout will have a cap hit of $6,083,333. The dead cap space taken up by the buyout has impacted the Rangers financial flexibility. With the buyouts of Dan Girardi, Ryan Spooner, and recently, Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers already have enough dead cap on their hands limiting them. In addition to dead cap, there is also the obstacle of performance bonuses for players on their ELCs. As a result of these hurdles, the Rangers were unable to make major improvements to their roster and accelerate the rebuild. Overall, the Rangers are in a mini-dilemma with the salary cap, and the Shattenkirk buyout, for multiple reasons, does not help.