Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract is about to expire and he is set to become one of the top free agents of the summer. With the Capitals expected to be right up against the salary cap, their top priority will be to re-sign their restricted free agents. Even if they do still have enough cap space left for a big UFA, T.J. Oshie will be the team’s top priority, not Shattenkirk.
Shattenkirk even made it clear on breakdown day that he was intrigued at the thought of being a free agent saying, “I do have to weigh out my options,” the 28-year-old said. “I really have to be patient with the whole process. I’ve waited this long, so it kind of makes sense to wait a little longer.”
In short, Shattenkirk’s not going to be with Washington next season. But that doesn’t mean he can’t have a significant effect on the team’s roster.
In a normal offseason, Shattenkirk and the Caps would simply part ways, Shattenkirk would sign with a different team and his signing would have no impact on Washington. This, however, is not a normal offseason.
After the Stanley Cup is awarded, the NHL will go from 30 teams to 31 with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights and Vegas will have a roster to build. To do that, there will be an expansion draft in which every team in the NHL will lose one player to Vegas.
For a team with as deep a roster as the Capitals, that presents a problem. Teams hate to lose valuable assets for nothing, but that is what the Caps are facing with lots of talent among their forwards, four strong defensemen in John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt and a backup goalie in Philipp Grubauer who is turning into a budding NHL starter. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters he will use the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie which will mean multiple valuable forwards, at least one of their top four defensemen and Grubauer will all be exposed to Vegas.
Here’s where Shattenkirk comes in.
As part of the expansion draft, Vegas can negotiate and sign pending UFAs who are left exposed starting at 10 a.m. on June 18 up until 9:59 a.m. on June 21. Vegas is the only team allotted that right, all other teams will have to wait for the normal free agency window. The most important thing to remember is that if Vegas signs a free agent during the expansion draft, that free agent will count as their selection from that team.
To summarize, if Vegas signs Shattenkirk during the 72-hour expansion draft window, he will count as the team’s selection from the Caps.
Why would Vegas do this? Would it not be smarter to reach a handshake agreement with free agents, select another player and then sign the free agents on July 1? Yes…if that player was not expected to be one of, if not the top free agents available this summer.
For any Caps fans wondering why Shattenkirk would be so highly sought after considering how much he struggled with Washington, let's try to remember that he had a long successful career before the two months he spent with the Caps. He is a highly skilled puck-moving defenseman capable of putting up 40+ points per season and is in the prime of his career. Two months of trying to adjust to a new team on the fly does not simply erase what he has done over the course of his career. He is not the first player to struggle as a deadline acquisition and he won’t be the last.
For Vegas to get first dibs on one of the top free agents on the market is an incredible opportunity. Shattenkirk is better than most of the defensemen that will be exposed in the expansion draft and would be a huge signing for that team. Sure, they have money to spend and could probably outbid most other suitors if he did get to free agency, but it would be in George McPhee’s best interest to sign Shattenkirk before other teams have a chance to give him their pitches.
Why would Shattenkirk agree to sign? Based on what he had to say about free agency, he may want to wait another two weeks to be courted by other NHL teams, but Vegas offers a unique opportunity that no other team can. He would essentially be the cornerstone of the franchise on the blue line, the top defenseman on the NHL’s newest team. If he wanted a bigger role – which he told Wasington reporters he did – it does not get much bigger than that.
As a UFA, Shattenkirk really holds all the cards here. There may be another team he has his heart set on or perhaps a chance to win right away is more important, something Vegas most likely will not be able to offer. But if he were to sign with the Golden Knights, it would ultimately be the best possible scenario for the Caps. Instead of losing a valuable piece of their roster, they would instead lose a player who would have left in free agency anyway.
MORE CAPITALS: Barry Trotz and family help renovate ice rink