The Washington Capitals made a major move Monday night, acquiring top-four defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues, a source confirmed. The return package to St. Louis was not immediately clear, but ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that it includes a 2017 first-round draft pick and rookie forward Zach Sanford. Shattenkirk is expected to be in the Capitals’ lineup against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.
Earlier, another Eastern Conference contender, the Ottawa Senators, also made a major move — acquiring veteran forward Alex Burrows from the Vancouver Canucks for prospect Jonathan Dahlen.
The Shattenkirk swap reinforces that Washington is in win-now mode, paying what could be considered a hefty price to reinforce its defensive corps. Shattenkirk will be the third right shot on the team to go along with Matt Niskanen and John Carlson, and he can play on the team’s power play.
Through 61 games this season, Shattenkirk, 28, has 11 goals and 31 assists. He will provide the Capitals with an offensive threat from their blue line who will fit in with the league’s stingiest defensive team. Shattenkirk is a rental, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he was the top defenceman on the trading block. He carries a cap hit of $4.25 million (U.S.), but the Blues are believed to be retaining some of his salary.
Speaking with reporters late last week, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan indicated he wouldn’t be making a blockbuster move like this one before Wednesday’s trade deadline. He said any upgrades would be “on the fringes” because he didn’t want to tinker with lines nor defensive pairs on a team that leads the NHL with 89 points.
But with 10 Capitals players in a contract year and the core of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom getting older, MacLellan also acknowledged a pressure to leave no stone unturned in what could be Washington’s best remaining chance to win a Stanley Cup with Ovechkin.
An injury scare to Niskanen last week, which exposed Washington’s lack of top-end right shot defencemen, might have pushed MacLellan to make this move. Niskanen is expected to play against New York after missing three games, but MacLellan acknowledged that the team didn’t have a blueliner with top-four upside if Niskanen or Carlson went down in the playoffs.
“I think it’s always tough because, ideally, you just like to go with what you have, but if someone gets hurt, it’s like, ‘Well, why didn’t you get someone?’ “ MacLellan said. “I mean, you’re always going to be opening yourself up to that. ... We don’t have a specific need that we’re trying to address. We’re trying to just say, ‘If something happens, what’s the best way to cover that?’ The insurance.”
But MacLellan added that depth “concerns every team. I mean, nobody has five, six top-four defencemen.” With the acquisition of Shattenkirk, an NHL all-star in 2014-15 and a member of the U.S. Olympic team at the 2014 Sochi Games, Washington now does.
If the move doesn’t result in a Stanley Cup, then the Capitals have left themselves with few top end draft picks in the near future. Though the 2017 draft is considered weak, the team already traded two second-round picks in a trade for centre Lars Eller this summer.
Washington won’t have a pick until the fourth round of the upcoming draft. Sanford was one of Washington’s top forward prospects after the Capitals signed him out of Boston College this past summer, and he has two goals and one assist in 26 games played in the NHL.
With the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers also considered to be bidding for Shattenkirk, trading for him might have been partly about blocking Metropolitan Division rivals and potential playoff opponents from acquiring him.
Last week, MacLellan said this is the best team that has ever been around Ovechkin. His move on Monday night made it better.
“I think we’ve tried to create a sense of urgency here, even starting last year that this is it here,” MacLellan said. “You have two years to figure it out, this group. That doesn’t mean that going forward we’re not going to be good, but . . . something’s got to give because of the roster we have. Something’s got to fall out, and I’m not sure what it’s going to be, but it’s not going to be the same.”
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