Since last summer, Kevin Shattenkirk’s name had been a mainstay on the rumor mill. The 28-year-old former St. Louis Blues defenseman was set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and there wouldn’t have been a shortage of suitors for his services. The Boston Bruins had been mentioned as a possible landing spot. The New York Rangers appeared to be a heavy favorite to either land him at the trade deadline or during the offseason. Even the Pittsburgh Penguins were rumored to be a possible destination.
To the surprise of many, it ended up being the Washington Capitals who landed the services of Shattenkirk. And if the Caps are ever going to exorcise their playoff demons, now is the time.
On Monday night, Washington acquired Shattenkirk and goaltender Pheonix Copley from St. Louis in exchange for the Capitals’ 2017 first-round pick, conditional draft picks, and forwards Zach Sanford and Brad Malone. Since the day they drafted Alex Ovechkin first overall in 2004, Washington has laid the foundation for a powerhouse. Over time, they have progressively built themselves into a championship contender. But for all of their regular season success over much of the last decade, the Capitals have continually disappointed in the postseason. The last time they even made it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals? That would be 1998, when they were swept in the Stanely Cup Final by Detroit.
The acquisition of Shattenkirk is a bold move that already adds to a stacked roster, giving the Caps a talented right-handed defenseman that can move the puck, is underrated defensively, can produce on the power play, and provide offense. It’s a move that says, “We’re all in.” And why wouldn’t they go all in? Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Matt Niskanen are about to be on the other side of 30. T.J. Oshie, Karl Alzner, Daniel Winnik, and Justin Williams are about to hit the market as unrestricted free agents. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Connolly and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer are going to be restricted free agents and will command raises, Kuznetsov in particular.
In other words, while the core of this team will undoubtedly remain together, there’s a good chance that this roster will not be completely the same in 2017-18. Last season, the Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy and were favorites to take home a Stanley Cup title, only to run into a red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins team in the second round. This season, they look even better, and could challenge last season’s 120-point effort. They’re third in the league in goals per game, first in goals-against average, fifth on the power play, and sixth in killing penalties. Throw in the Shattenkirk trade, and a loaded roster just became that much better. Meaning the pressure is on more than ever in our nation’s capital, and the entire Capitals organization knows it. If they win the Stanley Cup for the first time ever, the Shattenkirk deal will have been worth it, even if he bolts town this summer and cashes in elsewhere. But if Washington fails to win the Cup this season, it would be a colossal disappointment, especially when you consider this franchise’s long history of playoff failure.
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