The chance to add a 40-point defenseman should have been an attractive prospect to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk signed a hefty four-year, $26.6 million contract with the New York Rangers just two years ago but things did not work out. He was available this week on the cheap. The Penguins could not entertain the idea because they are boxed in with their current blueline corps. And the salary cap. And therein lies their problems.
In full disclosure, a source immediately dismissed the Penguins interest as soon as Shattenkirk became available. Even if they had money, some in the Penguins organization were not enamored with the defenseman.
Shattenkirk, 30, was a perennial 40-point rearguard until he arrived in New York. The Rangers were rebuilding, and Shattenkirk wasn’t paired with a dynamic roster. Compounding matters in New York, the Rangers were marshmallow soft. Their TV announcers called them out. The New York brand of paddy-cake emboldened opponents which exacerbated Shattenkirk’s sometimes delicate game.
Last season, Shattenkirk scored only 28 points (2g, 26a) in 73 games and New York bought out the defenseman as the team hit a cap crunch. Sunday, Shattenkirk signed with powerhouse Tampa Bay for only $1.75 million, and the Pittsburgh Penguins missed another opportunity.
The Penguins really couldn’t offer Shattenkirk; not while they sit over the salary cap and still have sign RFA defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Even if they had a few bucks in the till, the Penguins are trapped with their current array of defenders. Each defensive pairing is carefully balanced for itself and the team. Remove one piece, and their Jenga tower would tumble. Slide Jack Johnson to the third pairing, and suddenly the Penguins wouldn’t have any puck skills on the pair. Move Marcus Pettersson to the second pairing with Justin Schultz, and suddenly they have a dangerously soft second pair.
Make one move, and the Jenga tower tumbles.
And so, Tampa Bay, which was so far in front of the field last season they lost sight of the pack in their rearview mirror by January, picked up a talented player on the rebound.
With former GM Steve Yzerman and current boss Julien BriseBois, it seems Tampa Bay has a pretty good track record with player acquisitions over the past several years. Tampa Bay also has unsigned restricted free agents Brayden Point and Adam Erne. Point reportedly declined Montreal’s offer for a big-time offer sheet in July, which Montreal then offered to Carolina RFA Sebastien Aho.
Call it a bad comparison if you will, but if Tampa Bay was interested, why weren’t the Penguins?
Shattenkirk’s availability and the Penguins inability, refusal, and disinterest highlights the Penguins trap and their current thinking. They have denied wanting to get bigger and tougher, but their actions speak otherwise. Jack Johnson and Brandon Tanev are their most recent UFA acquisitions. Nick Bjugstad was acquired in February. He is a towering center who plays a strong game, though not overly physical. The Penguins final trade deadline acquisition was hard-knuckled defenseman Erik Gudbranson.
Shattenkirk is not a tough defender. The Penguins glut of third-pairing guys, perhaps including both current second pairing defenseman Johnson and Schultz is part of the Penguins issue.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford called his defense, “good enough.” He also admitted his defense is “not the best in the league.”
So, with Pettersson unsigned, the Penguins over the cap, and a lack of offense on their blue line, the Penguins made it a hard pass on Shattenkirk. And that just seems to highlight their situation: the good (enough), the bad and the costly.