Who says you can’t go home?
And who’s to say where home is, anyway?
Seeking the kind of shake-up that could turn around a moribund season or at least bring life to a desolate locker room environment, the Blues should pursue the following trade:
Kevin Shattenkirk & Tampa Bay’s second round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft
New York Rangers receive:
Alexander Steen & Jordan Schmaltz
First and foremost, the contractual squabbles: according to CapFriendly, Steen has a full no-trade clause and Shattenkirk a 10-team no-trade list. The teams on Shattenkirk’s list aren’t publicly known, and nor is there information that suggests whether Steen would go to New York. However, history shows us that in the NHL, those clauses are more frequently used as leverage than actual blockers. Each player, finding himself in a bad situation, may well be amenable to a change.
The Blues are right up against the NHL’s salary cap. At the time of this writing, CapFriendly shows them with approximately $447K in space; the Rangers have approximately $1.13 million. The Blues would be shedding $6.45M in salary in the deal and resorbing $6.65. The extra $200K fits, just barely.
The mechanics, then, are doable. So what about the logic?
Shattenkirk, by any measure, has underperformed since signing with the Rangers in the summer of 2017. After an uneven stint with the Washington Capitals, injuries limited him to 46 games in his first season with the Rangers. He recorded only 23 points and was a -14 in that stretch, and has followed it up with only one goal and eight points in 25 games this season. His struggles have been made more embarrassing by the decision of Rangers rookie head coach David Quinn to make Shattenkirk an occasional healthy scratch. Quinn was an assistant coach at Boston University when Shattenkirk was a player there, adding another difficult layer to the situation.
Steen has 10 points in 17 games this season and recently missed time with a suspected concussion. More to the point, though, he recently moved on to his fifth head or interim head coach (Andy Murray, Davis Payne, Ken Hitchcock, Mike Yeo, Craig Berube) since being traded to the Blues ten years ago. As a member of a leadership group that’s been under scrutiny for their lack of, well, leadership, moving Steen would represent an opportunity for Doug Armstrong to send the message to the dressing room that he’s been searching for.
It’s also not as though Steen is himself beyond reproach. The morning the Blues announced they were moving on from Hitchcock, Steen found himself cornered in the dressing room by Bernie Federko and dressed down in front of the media - though mostly out of earshot - for his attitude in the run-up to the firing. Rumblings about his discontentment with not being named Blues captain have persisted since Alex Pietrangelo was given the nod, and this particular trade would allow the Blues to bring back a player who was extremely popular in the locker room during his tenure in St. Louis.
Indeed, in February of 2017, it was Shattenkirk who faced down the media each day of a road trip through eastern Canada. While covering the team on that trip, a member of the Blues organization gestured to Shattenkirk holding court and said to me, “I don’t know who’s going to do this shit once he leaves.” Despite his move at that deadline being imminent, it was Shattenkirk who was willing to stand up as a public face of his team and offer encouragement and defense of then-new coach Mike Yeo.
For his part, Schmaltz was the last player drafted in the first round of the 2012 entry draft to make his NHL debut. Though he’s shown flashes of promise, he’s never quite caught on as a regular in St. Louis. His uneven play in a disappointing loss to the Red Wings was apparently so alarming to team brass that Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported today that the team was prepared to recall Jakub Jerabek (1 GP, 2 PIM, -3 in less than 8 minutes of ice time) from San Antonio to play in his stead if Robert Bortuzzo had been unable to go.
Shattenkirk and Steen have identical term remaining on their contracts; each has two years after this year. Schmaltz has one more year on a deal that operates as a two-way contract this year and a one-way contract next year. Steen, at this point, holds the most value in the package and also costs nearly a million dollars less than Shattenkirk against the cap. The draft pick, then, is meant to balance those scales; the Rangers currently hold Tampa Bay’s second round pick in the coming draft with conditions that could cause it to become a first round pick, though those conditions could be relinquished if the pick was included in a trade to the Blues.
Dumping Shattenkirk’s deal and returning one solid forward and one defensive project might have some appeal for the Rangers, who find themselves holding a playoff spot despite allegedly being in the early stages of a rebuild. With veteran forwards Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes both reaching free agency this summer, the Rangers could benefit from a stop gap up front. Steen, a Swede, has also played on national teams with Rangers stalwart goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and could be something of a mentor for forward Lias Andersson, a countryman and top prospect.
From the perspective of the Blues, returning to Shattenkirk would allow them to reclaim a vocal leader who had the respect of teammates and the ability to rally the locker room during his tenure here. Respect for Shattenkirk was evident in all corners, and his voice could allow others to find theirs. Shattenkirk was also playing perhaps the best hockey of his career before his trade to Washington, and in Joel Edmundson, would have a strong defensive partner that could allow the best parts of his game to flourish. In addition, re-acquiring Shattenkirk could give the Blues the flexibility to make yet another big move and consider a trade of Colton Parayko or even Alex Pietrangelo while still being covered on the right side.
St. Louis has long been infatuated with players in all sports with a history in the city, but a move for Shattenkirk wouldn’t simply be an expression of longing for glory days. Trading for intangibles may feel like folly, but in the case of a Blues team that’s desperate to refresh their identity, a trusted soldier may have more value to them than to anyone else around the league.
Shattenkirk would be given an opportunity to get his career back on track in an environment that’s served him well before, and the Blues would finally capture the elusive shake-up that’s been easy to seek but hard to describe and execute.