Thursday, June 22, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Kevin Shattenkirk

Kevin Shattenkirk

“Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.”
-- Tennessee Williams

Seventy-two days, 32 games, regular and postseason.  That is the “moment” spent in Washington by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who played his first game with the club on February 28th and his last on May 10th.  In that brief time he became the only Capital defensemen in team history to play in fewer than 20 regular season games (19) and record more than ten points (14).  He is one of only three defensemen in team history to play in fewer than 40 regular season games and record more than ten points, Lee Norwood (34 games/18 points) and Chris Felix (35 games/13 points) being the others.  He is the only Caps defenseman in franchise history to appear in fewer than 15 career postseason games with the club (13) and record more than five points (6).

You could say he was impactful...maybe.

But if the Caps were very good before Shattenkirk arrived, it’s hard to know if they were better – or at least more successful – after he came to town.  Washington was 13-5-1 in the 19 games in which he played for the Caps down the stretch (he missed games against Anaheim and Minnesota), a 117-point pace over 82 games, 42-14-7 before he got there and in his two absences, a 118-point pace.

Fearless’ Take… There have been 133 defensemen in Capitals history to dress for ten or more games.  Kevin Shattenkirk finished the season in second place in points per game in that group (0.74, behind Larry Murphy’s 0.76).

Cheerless’ Take… The Caps were 5-2-1 in games in which Shattenkirk did not record a point, 8-3-0 in games in which he did.  Six o’ one, half dozen o’ the other.  And, they won all three games in which he did not record a shot on goal. 

Odd Shattenkirk Fact… Kevin Shattenkirk had 14 points in 19 games with the Caps.  That puts him in a tie with Roman Hamrlik and Frantisek Kucera for 76th place in franchise history scoring among defensemen.  The thing is, Hamrlik needed 72 games for his 14 points, and Kucera needed 56 games for his.

Postseason: 13 games, 1-5-6, minus-4

Up above we said that Shattenkirk was “impactful.”  Well, here is another side to that.  Only three Capital defensemen in franchise history appeared in more than 10 games in a single postseason and had a worse plus-minus than Shattenkirk – Brooks Orpik (minus-7 in 13 games this season) and Dennis Wideman (minus-7 in 14 games in 2012).  It was attributable to an horrific start to his postseason, going 0-3-3, minus-7, in his first eight games, not finishing better than even in any of them and not recording an even strength point. 

If there was a strangeness to his postseason, it was in how little the Caps’ fortunes were influenced by his performance numbers, save one.  Washington was 3-3 in games in which Shattenkirk had three or more shots on goal, 4-3 when he had fewer; 3-3 when he skated at least 18 minutes, 4-3 when he skated fewer; 3-2 when he was credited with three or more hits, 4-4 when he was credited with fewer; 3-4 when he recorded two or more blocked shots, 4-2 when he had fewer.  However, the one area that did matter – and it was really what he was brought here to provide – was scoring.  The Caps were 5-1 in games in which Shattenkirk recorded a point, 1-6 when he did not.

In the end…

One way of thinking about deadline deals (and you may think otherwise) is that everybody loses a deadline deal except the team that makes one and wins a Stanley Cup.  It’s just some teams lose less than others – making the second round is better than missing the playoffs entirely.  If you subscribe to this point of view, then the trade to secure Kevin Shattenkirk was a loser, even if perhaps a small one.  On the other hand, it was precisely the sort of deal a team makes when it is looking for that last impactful piece for a Stanley Cup run.  In that sense there is no fault in the Caps acquiring Shattenkirk.  The numbers suggest he did just about all he was expected to do, to a point.  

The fact is, he was acquired to make that deep Stanley Cup run.  But last year’s playoff run with St. Louis was repeated in an eerie sense with the Caps.  In 2016, Shattenkirk was 2-9-11 in 20 games with the Blues, but six of his points came on power plays (all assists), and he was a minus-8.  This year it was 1-5-6 in 13 games, but four of those six points came on power plays (including his only goal), and he was a minus-4.  There was an even strength element that seemed missing, last year and this, and not to single him out, because one could identify any number of players or elements of whom one could ask, “what if,” a little more production at even strength might have been the difference between a second round exit and a long postseason run.  In that respect, his “moment” in Washington, assuming he departs for free agency, might not be one to dwell on too long.

Grade: B-

Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America