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Hartnett: Rangers In Prime Position To Land Game-Changer Shattenkirk

By Sean Hartnett
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For a long time, Kevin Shattenkirk held the hammer when it came to controlling where he could be traded.

He still does, but now we have a pretty clear idea where he wants to go.

The Big Apple, apparently.

Though the multi-talented 28-year-old defenseman does not have a no-trade clause in his contract with St. Louis Blues, he has essentially dictated where he could go because the Blues had been looking for a big package contingent on him signing a long-term extension with a potential suitor.

Now, however, the Blues are resigned to the fact that they have to move him as a rental, meaning whoever trades for him prior to Wednesday's 3 p.m. deadline would be taking a risk because he would be under no obligation to re-sign and, thus, would in all likelihood test unrestricted free agency this summer.

But he apparently really likes the Rangers -- so much so if he did get dealt to New York he might never leave.

Multiple teams have tried to pry the offense-generating defenseman from the Blues over the past eight months, only to have their hopes dashed due to Shattenkirk turning down lucrative long-term extension offers.

But the Blues remain motivated sellers. General manager Doug Armstrong saw captain David Backes and Troy Brouwer walk for nothing on the first day of free agency last summer. He can't make the same mistake again with Shattenkirk. The current asking price the Blues are demanding for Shattenkirk as a rental is believed to start with a first-round pick, a top prospect and more, though that could change as the days drag closer to the deadline and the Blues become increasingly desperate to sell.

Blues D Kevin Shattenkirk
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk shoots the puck during practice for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2017, in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

In the case of Shattenkirk being a pure rental, GMs across the league are likely to get cold feet about surrendering assets for a player they know will ultimately bolt on July 1. However, if Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman is correct about Shattenkirk having the Rangers in the poll position spot and the Boston Bruins as his second choice, the Blueshirts are in an ideal situation to land a player they desperately need.

Now, what should they give up?

First off, let's pour cold water on the notion of GM Jeff Gorton parting with one of J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider or Kevin Hayes. That's not happening. Armstrong may have demanded Miller in return for Shattenkirk, but that's the kind of posturing GMs do to send out vibes around the league to strengthen their bargaining position.

But in reality, everyone knows that the Blues have their backs against the wall. They have to move Shattenkirk before the deadline, or else Armstrong will be forced to trade his prized defenseman's rights during the summer for a minimal return or get nothing and watch him sign elsewhere on Day 1 of free agency.

The Blues are currently 31-25-5 and hold the second wild card position in the Western Conference. They have a three-point lead over the Los Angeles Kings. Armstrong could opt to keep Shattenkirk around for a playoff run, but that decision would backfire if the Blues fall out of the race. So, there's a lot of pressure on Armstrong to find an acceptable package for Shattenkirk in the coming days.

In the end, Shattenkirk's determination to end up a Ranger could further weaken the package Armstrong receives. The power play ace could pull a power move like Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis before him and force a trade to Broadway by making it clear he has a one-team list.

The following is also very important: Shattenkirk is a native of New Rochelle and grew up idolizing legendary Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch. During his youth, he was coached by former Rangers captain and current broadcaster Dave Maloney at Brunswick School in Greenwich, Connecticut. Maloney served as an assistant while his two sons played at the esteemed prep school.

If they don't land Shattenkirk, there will be other less costly deals for the Rangers and Gorton to contemplate, but let's not mince words here. Shattenkirk is the kind of game-changing addition this franchise needs. His arrival would fix the right side of the defense, boost a middling power play and would elevate the Rangers to serious Stanley Cup contenders. Through 61 games, Shattenkirk has recorded 42 points. He's currently 10th in the NHL with 20 power play points.

Either through a deadline deal or via this summer's signing period, it seems like all roads lead to an eventual Shattenkirk-Rangers marriage. The two sides have been exchanging glances at each other from across the room. It's time for the Rangers to get serious and get down on one knee.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey

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