Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SPORTS
Without looking at the standings, you’d assume that, even with the Leafs’ strong run of late, the St. Louis Blues are still well ahead of them. Even if they can never seem to get it done in the playoffs, the Blues have been a mainstay near the top of the west for what seems like eternity. The reality is that Toronto is actually clipping along at a slightly better points-percentage this season (.595 to .567), and have been a stronger team in terms of driving play as well. It’s obviously tough to say how these two clubs will shake out in the final standings, but this sort of rise-and-fall does add some intrigue to the sweepstakes for inarguably the best pending free agent of the 2017 class.
The market for Kevin Shattenkirk is going to be a big part of hockey coverage for the next few months, and there’s no reason to believe the Leafs should be excluded from that sort of talk. If anything, they’re probably the team most primed for making an offer..
There have been a few teams linked to Shattenkirk, going back as far as last summer. The Bruins, Rangers, and Oilers have been the most common names popping up through a lot of the insider segments and such. Toronto hasn’t really been mentioned by anyone with much of a following, but there’s a case to be made that they’re probably the nicest fit. They’ll have the cap space (nearly $20-million opening up this summer) and, based on reports of what Shattenkirk could be seeking in free agency, can offer him an overall situation that just makes sense.
Personally, I’ve been a booster of the Leafs going after Shattenkirk for a while now, but even I’ve had some hesitation about how that might get out of control. With so much data out there to suggest when players start to decline, it’s not unreasonable to take pause over the idea of handing a 27-year-old defenceman nearly $7-million AAV up until age 34. The better play is to ‘overpay’ on a shorter deal, especially for a team like Toronto with oodles of cap space opening up for a two-year period before the kids get paid. And luckily for them, that isn’t the type of deal Shattenkirk is ruling out, apparently.
From Frank Seravalli at TSN.ca:
Last summer, Shattenkirk’s camp was given permission by the Blues to speak with two or three potential suitors – including Edmonton – about parameters of a long-term contract extension, but he was unable to find a fit. He will be in range for a payday nearing $50 million over seven years. The door is now wide open. Shattenkirk is now believed to be interested in testing a short-term fit with a playoff contender. The Blues, who were once more comfortable keeping Shattenkirk even if it meant letting him walk for nothing on July 1, seem to realize their current team isn’t quite as strong as those in recent years.
This could be taken a couple ways, but since the Blues are still considered a playoff contender currently, it’s reasonable to think Shattenkirk could be seeking a huge payday in the 2-3 year range when the summer hits. This would allow him to strike the market again for a 7-8 year deal at age thirty. That’s something that would be perfect for the Leafs, with Matthews and Marner set for restricted free-agency in 2019. An eight or nine-million dollar cap hit (perhaps even more) through two years would probably be a target, if we’re spit-balling numbers here.
As for the “playoff contender” portion of Shattenkirk’s ask, Toronto might already be there. And if they’re not right now, they will be taking a huge step in the 2017-18 season. That you can bank on. Landing a player of this caliber would really solidify the load-up portion of this build.
We get caught up in picturing this perfect rebuild where the Leafs gradually climb for five seasons and then emerge as this galvanized contender for another five, but that simply isn’t the way this league works. Toronto has franchise players finally in the fold, but they’re good now. Like, today.
There might be numerous contention windows that open up over the careers of Matthews, Marner, and Nylander with the Leafs, and I think we’re seeing one start. Whether the Leafs will be successful in adding a piece as major as Shattenkirk over the next few months is obviously up in the air, but they’d be justified in any attempts to do so, both money-wise and in keeping with their overall plan.