To trade or not to trade? That has been the question surrounding the St. Louis Blues front office with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk for pretty much the entire 2016-17 season.
The 28 year-old defenseman is on the final year of his four-year, $17 million contract with the St. Louis Blues. During this extension, he has earned All-Star and Olympics recognition and emerged among the Blues top performers.
St. Louis acquired Kevin Shattenkirk in the midst of his rookie season from the Colorado Avalanche for former No.1 overall draft pick Erik Johnson. Half a decade later, he remains an intriguing target that prompted trade talks with the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers last summer.
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Such anticipation around a move could re-intensify as the new month unfolds. The Blues face some uncertainties that could make a trade more plausible, particularly standing in a position three points away from a divisional playoff spot, but only a single point away from falling out of Western Conference playoff contention.
As the NHL trading deadline approaches on March 1, the Blues have to consider the opportunity and cost that comes with whatever decision awaits the bona fide blueliner. Whether St. Louis keeps or ships Shattenkirk, there is reason to feel satisfied about both potential outcomes.
The case for keeping Shattenkirk
Kevin Shattenkirk is not like a box of chocolates. You pretty much know what you’re going to get, and his steady output is an area of prowess that the Blues highly value.
He has collected between 43-45 points and at least 30 assists every full season with St. Louis besides the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign. As an added bonus, he will occasionally drop the gloves and score in shootouts.
Only 10 defensemen across the NHL have more points over the past five seasons than Shattenkirk. Among this group, only Brent Burns and Shattenkirk have Corsi Factor ratings above 52 percent each season within this same timespan.
It’s also worth noting that the trade market has not offered the friendliest returns for Blues defensemen in recent history. In particular, Chris Pronger brought Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch to St. Louis following the 2004-05 lockout season.
Pronger would go on to win a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, while the trio acquired only played 484 combined games as members of the Blues. Of course, St. Louis was in a different position then compared to today and Pronger had different set of tangibles than Shattenkirk. Still, moves like this demonstrate how tricky it can prove to value a defenseman in trade talks.
More importantly, Shattenkirk has remained a valuable commodity through his playoff contributions. Not only has Shattenkirk improved upon his point totals over his last four playoff campaigns, but he is also one of only six players who has remained with St. Louis throughout the entirety of its five-year playoff streak.
If the front office believes the Blues will be able to compete with its upper division foes or the Pacific Division leader, Shattenkirk then becomes an asset that St. Louis may desperately need to respond to last year’s Western Conference Finals exit.
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The case for moving Shattenkirk
There’s more truth behind the possibility of a trade aside from St. Louis’s slipping chances to make a playoff run. In fact, moving Shattenkirk could provide a stronger opportunity for the Blues to improve in the future, if completed within reason.
Deciding how to maintain a contract-year player of Shattenkirk’s caliber would be tough given some difficulties the Blues already face with salary cap. St. Louis is less than $2 million under the league’s cap hit, but the active defensemen who make up more than $21 million of the team’s current salary have provided mixed results.
The five-year, $27 million contract given to the team’s oldest player, Jay Bouwmeester in 2013, makes it difficult to interpret how much an experienced player should earn now based on inevitable declines in performance. Additionally, sophomore blueliner Colton Parayko will eventually need an extension to avoid restricted free agency.
The chances of retaining the Connecticut native could be slim to none unless an extension is reached, especially considering that St. Louis has never signed a free agent defenseman to a multi-year deal since Tom Stallman bought the franchise in 2012.
These complications suggest that the Blues may find it vital to explore how much they could acquire for Shattenkirk before the possibility of losing him to free agency and ultimately receiving nothing in return.
Perhaps the Blues could try to discuss a deal with a non-conference borderline contenders such as the Tampa Bay Lightning or New York Rangers. According to one NHL Rumors post, both offer a surplus of offensive weapons, prospects or draft picks that could appeal to the Blues and increase their individual chances in a significantly tighter Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Theoretically, a Shattenkirk trade could help the Blues construct a more physical defense that could tighten up the team’s approach. This could mean removing the platoon barrier between Joel Edmundson and Robert Bortuzzo or provoking the team to recall experienced veteran who recently agreed to a deal with AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves in James Wisniewski.
Even if the Blues trade their former All-Star, it does not necessarily guarantee the team would miss playoffs in short-term. Also, more opportunities could stem from moving on long-term.