Kevin Shattenkirk had watched one former team, the Washington Capitals, win the Stanley Cup in 2018. Then he watched another former team, the St. Louis Blues, win the Stanley Cup in 2019.
That sort of thing gets to a player, he said.
If that wasn’t enough, the once highly coveted defenceman, a right-handed shot, found himself unexpectedly a free agent after being bought out by the New York Rangers.
“Last summer, that was a tough phone call to get when you receive that information (about getting bought out) and you don’t really know which way is up or how the chips are going to fall,” Shattenkirk said. “It was tough to watch my former teams win Stanley Cups, groups of guys I’d been with and been close with, it makes you wonder, it makes you think.”
As he started to put his career back together, he was determined to prove himself rather than chase dollars.
“The phone calls started coming in,” he said. “(I) talked to (Tampa Bay defenceman) Ryan McDonagh, just heard what they were building, where their head space was at after their loss to Columbus in last year’s playoffs.
“It seemed like we all shared that same drive, had that same chip on our shoulder to prove something this year.”
Shattenkirk and the Tampa Bay Lightning are two wins away from the Stanley Cup, with Game 4 against the Dallas Stars on Friday and Game 5 on Saturday. Steve Stamkos’s status remained up in the air after a return from a 210-day layoff that lasted one period.
On Thursday’s day off, Shattenkirk reflected on his season.
“It’s been fun to be back on a winning team, back in a winning culture,” he said. “There were some hard years there in New York. But when you jump right back into a team that is Stanley Cup-ready, it drives you as a player to be your best.”
Shattenkirk, now 31, started out with Colorado in the 2010-11 season and was traded in his rookie year to St. Louis, where he established himself as a top-tier puck-moving defenceman. He was traded to Washington at the deadline in 2017, but the Capitals fell short that year.
Shattenkirk cashed in as an unrestricted free agent, signing a four-year $ 26.6-million (U.S.) deal that paid him an average of $ 6.5 million. While the Capitals and Blues won without him, the Rangers struggled and Shattenkirk shouldered the blame.
With New York paying him $ 1.43 million annually until 2023 under the terms of the buyout agreement, Shattenkirk signed a one-year deal with the Lightning for $ 1.75 million. A bargain-basement price to some.
“His value was obviously down. When you get bought out, that tends to happen,” said NHL analyst Brian Lawton, a former player, agent and general manager. “In the salary cap era, there’s this incredible ability to gyrate massively in your value. It’s not uncommon to be a $ 5-million player and then drop down to $ 1 million or $ 2 million and rebuild your value.
“That’s all that happened to Kevin.”
In the flat-cap era, Shattenkirk’s tale is somewhat of a lesson for the likes of Maple Leafs defenceman Tyson Barrie, who was expected to be a big-money free agent until he had an off year in Toronto, as Shattenkirk did in New York. Or for a player like Arizona winger Taylor Hall, a former MVP and an elite scorer all his career until his numbers trailed off this year.
“There’s a lot of guys who are going to have to take cuts,” Lawton said. “It’s not a year to cash in big. So they’re going to have to do what Kevin did. They’re going to have to pick destinations where they can do really well, where they can win.
“They’re going to have to put their normal big-money deal off for a year. That’s what we’ll see in the free-agent market. When it opens, people are going to be shocked.”
Lawton feels the criticism of Shattenkirk was unwarranted.
“People don’t recognize that Kevin is one of those players you’re asking to handle the puck and make plays, which inherently means you’re going to be the last guy back trying to do things,” Lawton said. “So when you cough it up, your boo-boo tends to be a lot bigger than the next guy’s.
“He’s a tremendous player. He’s miscast in terms of how people view him. He’s done a lot to return his value back.”
For now, things are working out just fine for Shattenkirk.
“I don’t think anyone could have envisioned it. My goal was to get myself in a position to prove myself and show that I could still be a player in this league. The added bonus was landing in Tampa,” he said. “Things have gone well. Found a team that I fit very well with. Being a right-handed-shot defenceman I get to play with McDonagh or Mikhail Sergachev or Victor Hedman in any given game. It kind of spoils you. It’s been a crazy year.
“I don’t forget about what happened last summer and use that to drive me and finish this thing off.”