Shattenkirk, a native of New Rochelle, was five-and-a-half-years-old when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup. They became his team for life and Brian Leetch – the first U.S.-born Conn Smythe Trophy winner – became his idol.
On Saturday, hours after the opening of the NHL’s free-agent market, Shattenkirk became a Ranger, a dream he said he’d had from the moment he first tried on a pair of skates.
Like the old days, the Rangers landed the biggest fish in the free-agency pond. But this time they didn’t overpay.
Shattenkirk became the rare professional athlete to truly follow his heart and take a home-team discount. He signed a team-friendly four-year contract at a very fair price of $6.65 million annual cap hit.
Many believed Shattenkirk, the most coveted defenseman available at only 28 years old, would command a seven-year deal in the neighborhood of $7 million per, and most believed the Rangers wouldn’t go there at that term. And though several teams were bidding (including the Devils and Tampa Bay) were willing to go to seven years, Shattenkirk went with his dream.
“I think you’ve got to give credit to Kevin on this one,” Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said. “He wanted to come here. I think that (longer) term deal was there for him somewhere else … in this case, here’s a player that really wants to be here and that left money on the table. That sent a pretty strong message to us.
“Seven-year deals are generally there and he might have gotten one, but thankfully for us, it was a situation that we have a player that wants to play for the Rangers, that’s from here, that’s an excellent player and four years worked out for both of us.”
Shattenkirk, who had been traded from St. Louis to Washington at the trade deadline last March, called it “a lifelong dream” to play for “my lifelong favorite team” and said it was “an opportunity I couldn’t let go by.”
On a conference call, Shattenkirk said, “There were lots of thoughts of me coming this summer, and even (last season) once the trade deadline hit, but I didn’t really think to myself that I was going to be a New York Ranger until this week came along. There was no possibility of a trade. It was all in my hands, and I had to take it day by day this week and talk to all the teams and welcome all the different contracts that were coming my way. But until today came and the final offers were coming in, that was when I had to decide, ‘Do I really want to do this or not?’
“Obviously there were some sacrifices to be made, but in my mind, those sacrifices are what you leave on the table to live out a dream like this. Really, as much as it is a dream for me, it is exciting. I’m looking forward to joining a team capable of winning a Stanley Cup. That’s also a lifelong dream of mine. To do it in a city that’s dearest to me is the most exciting thing I could offer myself as a player.”
In terms of term, Shattenkirk’s ex-Washington teammate Karl Alzner got five years in Montreal, but Shattenkirk realized the opportunity to set himself up for another big deal when this one ends when he’s just 32.
So the Rangers got a player they needed, a top-pair, elite-level defenseman. They had no right-handed defensemen among their probable top seven, with the buyout of Dan Girardi and the likely retirement (or trade) of Kevin Klein. They haven’t had a real power-play quarterback, other than a brief Keith Yandle tenure, since Leetch. And Shattenkirk’s mobile, puck-moving style fits perfectly into the up-tempo game coach Alain Vigneault’s team plays.
“Kevin’s a player we’ve obviously coveted for a while, an offensive defenseman on the right side who can obviously do so many things for you – power play, as everyone knows, is as advertised,” Gorton said. “But the market is what it is. We try and stay away from those five, six, seven-year deals and figure out where the cap’s going as we move forward. We felt this was an opportunity to get a really good player for a term that we could live with and thought was fair for him and fair for us.”
At the Brunswick School in Greenwich, Conn., Shattenkirk was coached by ex-Rangers captain Dave Maloney, whose sons played there.
Maloney saw that the kid “had a chance” and pushed him. Maloney said he told Shattenkirk to play “so that the fans leave the building saying, ‘Who was that kid? Who’s that Shattenkirk?’”
Now everybody knows.
So, in effect, Gorton’s actions of the last week or so add up to this: Derek Stepan, Girardi, Antti Raanta for Shattenkirk, Anthony DeAngelo, top prospect Lias Andersson, backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec (whom the Rangers also signed Saturday) and still some cap space left over.
Shattenkirk likely will pair in Girardi’s old spot, on captain Ryan McDonagh’s right side on the top pair, with Brady Skjei and just re-signed Brendan Smith on the second pair, Marc Staal and either DeAngelo or Nick Holden on the third.
“Ryan McDonagh was a big part of my decision,” Shattenkirk said. “He’s someone who I think compliments my game well. I’m looking forward, hopefully at the possibility of playing with him and growing as a player myself. … I think really the opportunity on the power play is a place where I’m confident I can succeed and help this team. But my goal is to come in here and be a phenomenal defenseman in all aspects of the game. I think Ryan McDonagh is going to help me achieve that. That was a major part of me making this decision.”
Gorton acknowledged that he still needs to address the center position, with the loss of Stepan and Oscar Lindberg (to Vegas in the expansion draft).
He called it “a hole we need to fix” and mentioned the possibility of moving J.T. Miller back to his natural position, at center. Gorton said he’s had trade discussions with some teams, but that he was also looking at the free agent market.
Pavelec, 29, split time between Winnipeg and the Jets’ minor-league team in Manitoba last season. Another of the big goalies – he’s 6-foot-3, 215 – the Rangers believe that he can regain the form of his early career with the help of coach Benoit Allaire, aka the goalie whisperer.
He signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract to replace Raanta, who had been so terrific replacing Cam Talbot, who had been sensational replacing Martin Biron … all under Allaire’s tutelage.
The Rangers also signed minor-league forwards Paul Carey, 28, and Cole Schneider, 26.
It was a moving day for many ex-Rangers as well: Girardi (Tampa Bay), Brian Boyle, Matt Hunwick (Pittsburgh), Adam Clendening (Arizona), Benoit Pouliot (Buffalo), Chad Johnson (Buffalo), Michael Del Zotto (Vancouver), Josh Jooris (Carolina), Dominic Moore (Toronto) and Marek Hrivik (Calgary) all landed in new places on free-agency day.
Shattenkirk landed in a dream. He wore No. 22 in his previous stops, a number currently owned by Holden.
“Hoping that we can maybe work out some sort of deal,” Shattenkirk said “I might have to sweeten the pot a little bit. A couple of people have told me he’s a pretty good guy, so hopefully, he won’t shake me down too much.”
Whatever number he gets, Shattenkirk is already excited.
“There were lots of thoughts of me coming this summer, and even (last season) once the trade deadline hit, but I didn’t really think to myself that I was going to be a New York Ranger until this week came along,” he said. “There was no possibility of a trade. It was all in my hands, and I had to take it day by day this week and talk to all the teams and welcome all the different contracts that were coming my way.
“But until today came and the final offers were coming in, that was when I had to decide, ‘Do I really want to do this or not?’ Obviously, there were some sacrifices to be made, but in my mind, those sacrifices are what you leave on the table to live out a dream like this. Really, as much as it is a dream for me, it is exciting. I’m looking forward to joining a team capable of winning a Stanley Cup. That’s also a lifelong dream of mine. To do it in a city that’s dearest to me is the most exciting thing I could offer myself as a player.”