The best team in the NHL got better, at least on paper, as the Capitals acquired Kevin Shattenkirk and goalie prospect Pheonix Copley from the Blues on Monday night. The 28-year-old Shattenkirk, who is due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, has 11 goals and 31 assists in 61 games and was considered the top defenseman on the trading block.
NHL experts lauded Capitals GM Brian MacLellan’s latest move, which involved sending forwards Zach Sanford and Brad Malone, Washington’s 2017 first-round draft pick and a conditional draft pick or picks to St. Louis.
“This is a great addition for the Capitals, who appear poised for their long-awaited postseason breakthrough,” wrote ESPN’s Craig Custance, who gave Washington an “A” for the trade.
“They are S-T-A-C-K-E-D,” The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin wrote. “But MacLellan realized (a) they’ve never been stacked enough over the past decade and (b) that, despite such a talent-rich roster, they did lack mobility and true offensive creativity after [John] Carlson on the back end. Shattenkirk is an absolute luxury, but that’s what the Caps evidently need to get over the playoff choke hump. Doing so, conquering the Pittsburgh Penguins, requires overkill.”
“By keeping Shattenkirk away from both the Penguins and Rangers — the two teams who booted Washington from their last four playoff appearances — MacLellan sent an unmistakable message to his Capitals and the NHL,” TSN’s Frank Seravalli wrote. “This is the year.”
“Washington general manager Brian MacLellan is sending a clear and direct message to his team, especially to his core players, by acquiring the best rental player on the market less than 48 hours before the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline: This is the year to win the Stanley Cup,” NHL.com’s Dan Rosen wrote. “No more disappointments. No more early exits. No more Game 7 flops. No more wondering why they can’t get past the second round. Now. The time is now. This year.”
And if this isn’t the Capitals’ year, because math says the league’s best team probably won’t win the Stanley Cup?
ESPN’s Scott Burnside suggests Monday’s trade means nothing unless Washington wins it all, but that doesn’t mean MacLellan shouldn’t have made the deal, or that he will regret it down the road. In hindsight, the same can’t be said of the last time the Capitals went “all-in” at the trade deadline, when former general manager George McPhee sent top prospect Filip Forsberg to the Predators for left wing Martin Erat and Michael Latta in 2013.
Memories of that deal, which turned out to be one of the worst in D.C. sports history, are still fresh. Forsberg has 83 goals over the last two-plus seasons, including one last week to go along with two assists in the Predators’ 5-2 win over Washington. Erat scored two goals in 62 games for the Capitals before requesting a trade the following season and is now out of the league.
When reports emerged Monday that a deal was in place to bring Shattenkirk to Washington, Capitals fans could be forgiven for worrying, even just a little bit, that the team had given away too much for a rental player. This all-in move is different, for a few reasons.
Unlike this year’s Capitals team, which leads the league in points and was in “win now” mode before Monday’s deal, Washington was 17-17-2 at the 2013 trade deadline. With 12 games remaining in the lockout-shortened regular season, the Capitals had climbed to within two points of a playoff spot after a 2-8 start that had the team looking like probable sellers. Rather than trading away unrestricted free agents such as Mike Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks, McPhee acquired Erat to address a need on the left side.
“I wanted to help this team now,” McPhee told reporters after the trade.
“I hope to go all in because I don’t ever want to write off a season or anything like that,” defenseman Karl Alzner said at the time. “The fact that we’re on the upswing right now and playing good hockey, it doesn’t matter where we finish.”
Washington would go on to win the Southeast Division, but lost to the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs in seven games.
Shattenkirk is also a better player than the 31-year-old Erat was when the Capitals acquired him, and while Sanford is a promising player, he isn’t the prospect that Forsberg was. HockeysFuture.com projects Sanford, who was signed out of Boston College after his sophomore season, as a third-line forward. Forsberg was the top-rated European prospect in the 2012 NHL draft, when the Capitals selected him 11th overall, and was projected as a first-line forward.
Adding a player of Shattenkirk’s caliber without having to give up more highly touted prospects Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey or Ilya Samsonov was a no-brainer for MacLellan. On a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, the Capitals’ GM said he felt comfortable giving up a first-round pick as part of the deal because of the organization’s depth. On the same call, MacLellan also said that “winning a championship” is what will constitute a successful playoff run for his team.
The Capitals may not win the Stanley Cup, but there’s little reason to worry that, four years from now, Monday’s trade will prompt the use of four-letter words in the same the way a four-letter former trade deadline acquisition does.