It might not have been crystal clear, but rest assured Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan knew the repercussions if Kevin Shattenkirk ended up on an Eastern Conference rival — say, the Rangers.
So MacLellan pulled the trigger, making the blockbuster trade Monday night to bring the game-changing righty defenseman out of St. Louis to his league-leading team in Washington. The move kept Shattenkirk away from the Blueshirts, who coveted his services and desperately could have used them to bolster their weak right-side defense.
“First of all, we don’t know what was going on the other way. Not sure who the teams were or how aggressive or what was going on on the other side,” MacLellan said on a conference call Tuesday morning, just hours before Shattenkirk would suit up for his team in the Garden, of all places, to face the Rangers.
“Most important thing was the focus on, ‘Does this player fit with us, and does it make our team better?’” MacLellan said. “Those were the conversations we had. There was very little of, ‘What if he goes here, or what if he goes there?’ It was, ‘What’s best for our team, and does it make our team better?’”
The Capitals sacrificed quite a bit to get the 28-year-old Shattenkirk, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. MacLallen sent highly touted prospect Zach Sanford, plus a first-round pick in 2017 and a conditional second-round pick — the conditions of which are terrifically complicated — in exchange for Shattenkirk and No. 3 goalie, Pheonix Copley. The Blues also will retain 39 percent of what remains of Shattenkirk’s $4.25 million salary-cap hit this season, which enabled the deal to get done under Washington’s tight cap ceiling.
Shattenkirk is a native or New Rochelle, in Westchester County, and grew up as a big Rangers fan with Brian Leetch as his idol. There is still a good chance he signs with the Rangers this offseason. By not making the move now, GM Jeff Gorton avoided losing prime assets off the current roster, pieces he could use in another deal before the deadline comes at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
MacLellan hardly sounded like he had done any sort of substantial work in exploring an extension with Shattenkirk, who likely will demand something in the seven-year term for an average around $6.5 million per.
“I don’t know how that would work,” said MacLellan, who also has pending unrestricted free agents T.J Oshie and Justin Williams, among others. “We’re going to have three of the top UFAs in the free-agency market. I think a lot depends on what happens down the stretch, how everybody’s role pans out, and we’ll make decisions when it’s all over. And the players will, also, whether they like their role or they like the organization, or they like being around here. I think everything is going to factor in after the season ends.”
Now the Rangers have even a bigger obstacle in the Capitals, who likely will cruise to the Presidents’ Trophy for the second straight year. Superstar Alex Ovechkin never has made it out of the second round of the postseason, and the Washington organization never has won a Stanley Cup, making it to the finals only once.
But now, there is only one thing that can define a successful postseason for the Capitals.
“Winning a championship,” MacLellan said.
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