The NHL’s trade deadline isn’t until Wednesday afternoon but the biggest deal of the season may have gone down a few days prior. On Monday night, the Capitals swung a blockbuster deal for St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
Shattenkirk, one of the most talented available pieces on the market, is headed to league’s top team, and that should have the rest of the field worried.
Whether he’s enough of an upgrade to help the Capitals find the playoff glory that has been so elusive to the franchise over the years remains to be seen.
But there’s good reason to believe that Washington’s acquisition of the 28-year-old defenseman was a big step towards that goal, even if they have to go through what has typically been their Achilles heel in the Penguins come playoff time.
Here’s a quick rundown of why Shattenkirk could be a major piece in Washington down the stretch.
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He's a force on the power play
It’s no secret that Shattenkirk is a major asset on special teams. This season, 20 of his 42 points – including seven of his 11 goals -- have come on the power play.
The Capitals already have the sixth-best power play percentage in the league at just under 22-percent, but adding Shattenkirk should make them that much more dangerous and relentless with a man-advantage.
They now have a few guys who can quarterback the power play unit from the blue line and that’s going to make life hell for opposing teams.
Teams that make mistakes and take penalties against the Caps will very often suffer the consequences. Taking advantage of those opportunities will be a major factor come playoff time.
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The Caps will allow him to utilize his strengths
Shattenkirk isn’t the best defenseman in his own end. He can be a liability, but luckily the Caps don’t need him to be a shutdown guy.
Even before acquiring Shattenkirk, the Capitals’ defense was tops in the league. Their 2.10 goals-against-average is lowest in the entire NHL, a full two-tenths of a point lower than the next closest team (Minnesota Wild).
Some looked at the deal as an unnecessary one considering the already-excellent defensive unit in place – Shattenkirk joins a right side that also includes John Carlson and Matt Niskanen.
But that depth is exactly what will allow Shattenkirk to be more dangerous than ever. The Caps can compensate for his shortcomings while allowing him to focus on the strongest parts of his game.
In addition to being a force on the power play, Shattenkirk slides into a system that will value and exercise his ability to move the puck and push play towards the offensive end.
Considering the Capitals are also already one of the better goal-scoring teams in the league (the best at even strength), that’s going to be very beneficial.
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They snatched him from direct competitors
It’s great that the Capitals were able to add (another) very talented player to their roster, but it may be just as valuable that they were able to take him away from their competition.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers were among the teams who reportedly made aggressive pushes to land Shattenkirk prior to the deadline. Both of those teams are Metro Division rivals and possibly future playoff opponents of the Caps.
With Washington already ahead in the Eastern Conference arms race, acquiring Shattenkirk further distances them from their direct competition and forces those opponents to explore other (and likely less valuable) options.
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He’s playing for a new deal
In all likelihood, Shattenkirk will be just a half-season rental for the Capitals. He’s on the final year of his contract and is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
It’s why the Capitals were able to secure his services for a package -- Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, and draft picks – that was less spectacular than what many anticipated.
But it’s also why Shattenkirk will be extremely motivated to perform well in Washington. He’s already due for a large payday this summer but he can certainly do himself a favor and put some extra money in his pocket with a strong performance down the stretch, especially in the postseason.
If he can contribute and help end the Capitals’ playoff woes this spring, a team feeling a similar sort of postseason desperation – like, say, the New York Rangers – may just pass him a blank check and tell him to write a number.
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Capitals are going to win the Stanley Cup.
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but it's their year. Seriously, it is.
Washington was already the league's best team heading into the deadline, and then they managed to pull off a move making them significantly more dangerous heading into the most important part of the year.
Say what you want about the franchise's past postseason shortcomings, but this team has all the tools you look for in a playoff juggernaut. They're explosive, they're deep, they're well-coached and are strong in all three zones.
Looking at the number of key players that are approaching free agency this summer, the Capitals were already all-in on a championship this year. They had to be. The Shattenkirk deal just further emphasizes that.
They're desperate, as they should be. If it's ever going to happen for them, this has to be the year. And it will be. (My preseason Stanley Cup prediction was Lightning-Stars. You can trust me.)