The idea of hometown discounts in sports has often been romanticized. On Saturday, the Rangers were the beneficiaries of a player actually wanting to go through with one, landing the top free agent on the market while filling a huge void.
Kevin Shattenkirk could’ve gotten more years, more money someplace else. But the New Rochelle native, whose favorite player growing up was Brian Leetch, wanted so badly to be a Ranger that he was willing to take a contract that better suited the team he loved as a kid.
And so here he is, the 28-year-old offensively gifted, right-handed defenseman who should become Ryan McDonagh’s top-pair partner, signing a four-year, $26.6 million contract to make fantasy a reality.
“I know there may be some term and some money left on the table, but when you have an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream like this, it’s an opportunity that may only come once in my career,” Shattenkirk said on a conference call. “And I felt like this was my chance.”
Shattenkirk, a player the Rangers have wanted for some time, put up 56 points in 80 combined games with the Blues and Capitals last season, the fourth-most points among NHL defensemen. Twenty-seven of those points came on the power play, his bread and butter. He’s never been a shutdown pair player, but he’ll get his chance with the Rangers’ workhorse in McDonagh.
“My goal is to come in here and be a phenomenal defensemen in all aspects of the game, and I think Ryan McDonagh is gonna help me achieve that,” Shattenkirk said.
After signing Shattenkirk and bringing in Henrik Lundqvist’s new backup, signing former Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec to a one-year, $1.3 million deal, the Rangers have approximately $8.35 million in cap space. They still have to sign restricted free agents Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast.
Shattenkirk’s cap hit is hefty, though just a shade more than what Derek Stepan’s was, but the four-year term isn’t crippling. It could create a cap conundrum within the next couple of years, however. At the end of next season, Brady Skjei, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey will all be restricted free agents, and at that point captain McDonagh will have one year left on his deal, which carries a $4.7 million cap hit and will warrant a significant raise.
Those are issues Jeff Gorton will deal with later on. To continue to build the 2017-18 Rangers into Cup contenders he needs to bring in at least one center, though it’s possible Miller shifts from wing to center full-time.
“We have some ongoing things to try to help us at center,” Gorton said. “We know it’s a need and a hole we’re trying to fix. I would say that we also have the luxury of J.T Miller, who we feel is a natural center. At some point we’re hoping to make that move when he’s able to make that move. That gives us a little flexibility. But we’re looking.”
The totality of the Rangers’ Summer of Change thus far: They are minus Stepan, Antti Raanta and Dan Girardi — who signed with Tampa Bay for two years, $6 million — and plus Shattenkirk, Anthony DeAngelo, Pavelec and Lias Andersson, the No. 7 overall pick they acquired in the Coyotes trade. The Rangers also signed minor-league forwards Paul Carey and Cole Schneider on Saturday.
They will now boast a defensive top four of McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith, who was re-signed on Wednesday.
Quite formidable, and only possible because of the hometown discount.
“I think you’ve got to give Kevin credit on this one,” Gorton said. “He wanted to come here.”