NEW YORK—Although Matt Niskanen is expected to return Tuesday night against the Rangers, his absence the past two games made one thing abundantly clear to Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan: he needed bolster the blue line in the event a key defenseman gets hurt in the playoffs.
So, on Monday night, MacLellan made a bold move, acquiring former All-Star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Blues.
“We’ve always talked about defensive depth,” MacLellan said on a conference call with reporters. “If a top-4 guy goes down, what are we going to do? I think that played a big part in the decision. The timing of Nisky’s injury where he missed two games maybe created the urgency to pursue it more aggressively.”
MacLellan added: “This gives us insurance if something like that happens where one of our top guys misses a few games.”
The Blues’ asking price, according to MacLellan, was “in line” with the cost for similar top tier rentals in recent years. As part of the deal, the Caps sent a first round draft pick, prospect Zach Sanford and a conditional pick to St. Louis.
“Every year, to me, it’s a first plus a prospect for the top [unrestricted free agent] guys, and it goes from there,” MacLellan said. “I think the market is fairly similar to what it’s been in the past. So this is in line with what’s happened previously.”
MacLellan said he expects the coaching staff to use the final 21 games of the regular season to figure out where Shattenkirk best fits into the lineup, at even strength and on the power play.
Shattenkirk is expected to meet the team in New York and make his Capitals' debut at Madison Square Garden.
MacLellan also said he consulted T.J. Oshie and Brooks Orpik prior to making the deal. Oshie played with Shattenkirk in St. Louis; Orpik played with him on Team USA.
“I’ve done as much homework as I can on the person,” MacLellan said. “I’ve talked to T.J. Oshie. I’ve talked to Brooks Orpik [about] what kind of guy he is, how would he fit in, what’s his personality like, do the guys like him. I did as much as I could on that side of it to reassure us that he’s a good fit personality wise.”
MacLellan acknowledged that bringing on a big minute blueliner such as Shattenkirk could diminish other players' roles. But he hopes those players will be able to see the bigger picture.
“When you bring in a player of this stature, there’s an excitement, an energy that goes throughout the room,” MacLellan said. “Everybody gets pumped up for the last part of the season. They get excited. You can never tell what it does to the chemistry.”
“As far as the on-ice stuff, there’s a degree of uncertainty,” he added. “It changes roles a little bit. People get less ice time. People get less power play time. I guess the hope is players and coaches and everybody manages it, and that the overall philosophy is everyone is doing what’s best for this team to be successful.”
And what constitutes successful at this point?
“Winning a championship,” MacLellan said.