By Sean Hartnett
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Season after season, the Rangers have been big game hunters around the trade deadline. The goal of replicating scenes from 1994 and surrounding generational goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with the supporting cast to push hard for the Stanley Cup is this franchise's mission statement.
So, it will be very strange when fans take their seats at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night and see Kevin Shattenkirk whirling around the ice in a freshly-sewn No. 22 Washington Capitals sweater.
Every year that passes adds uncertainty to how long Lundqvist can keep up his act as one of the league's most remarkable and clutch netminders. The enduring Swedish stopper will turn 35 a day after the March 1 trade deadline. Nothing lasts forever, but arm Lundqvist with the right ensemble and he's fully capable of guiding the Rangers back to the Stanley Cup Final.
That's why the Rangers needed to go all-in on Shattenkirk, an offense-generating defenseman who could have fixed their problematic right side and given their mediocre power play a much-needed boost. Whether the New Rochelle native ultimately joins the Blueshirts as an unrestricted free agent in the summer is a topic best saved for another date.
Right now, the NHL-leading Caps made themselves even stronger and delivered a major blow to their Cup-chasing rivals. Washington already possesses four quality lines, the league's most stingy defense and the third-best offense. The thought of Shattenkirk linking up with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the power play should send chills down the spine of any opposing coach.
On Monday night, the Capitals were able to land the very best available player on the trade market for a not-so-overwhelming package of a 2017 first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick, 22-year-old winger Zach Sanford and minor-league center Brad Malone. The Caps also received minor league goaltender Pheonix Copley, while the Blues will reportedly retain 39 percent of Shattenkirk' remaining cap hit.
Caps general manager Brian MacLellan swung for the fences and hit one out of the park with this deal. Now, it remains to be seen what Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has up his sleeve in the coming hours to counter a move that has vaulted Washington to the very top of the list of Stanley Cup favorites.
By not paying the price to land Shattenkirk, Gorton has taken a more measured approach compared to the aggressive dealings of predecessor Glen Sather. Perhaps there's a deal in the works to pry left-handed defenseman Brendan Smith from the Detroit Red Wings, but is Smith really an upgrade over right-handed Adam Clendening? And how would he fare if asked to play on his off-side?
You get what you pay for in this league. Maybe Gorton is saving his chips to make a run at Carolina Hurricanes right-handed blue liner Justin Faulk, who is four years younger than Shattenkirk and has the security of four years remaining on his current deal at $4.83 million in average annual value.
Faulk, Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets, Sami Vatanen of the Anaheim Ducks and Dougie Hamilton of the Calgary Flames are all 25 or younger, right-handed and have offensive shine to their game. Acquiring any of these youngsters, now or in the summer, would come at a greater cost than what the Caps paid for Shattenkirk.
Gorton now has work to do to round out Alain Vigneault's roster. You're probably not going to see anything earth shattering like some of the targets mentioned above, but, then again, you never know. That's the beauty of the trade deadline.
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