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Why adding Kevin Shattenkirk makes the Capitals the team to beat

The Capitals landed Kevin Shattenkirk to serve as a complementary player, not a go-to piece. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The player for whom the Capitals ceded a 2017 first-round pick, a conditional second-rounder, and former Boston College forward Zach Sanford played just 17:50 in his debut on Tuesday, two fewer minutes than he was averaging in St. Louis.

Kevin Shattenkirk’s workload in Washington is by design.

The Capitals made the most significant transaction in the trade market by landing the former Boston University defenseman to serve as a complementary player, not a go-to piece.

The package general manager Brian MacLellan sent out the door was hefty, especially for a rental the Capitals have little chance of re-signing. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and ex-Bruin Brett Connolly are restricted at season’s end. Kuznetsov is due to double his current $3 million average annual value. The 25-year-old Orlov will look to Torey Krug’s $5.25 million annual payday as a comparable. Connolly could hit 20 goals, which would give him valuable ammunition in arbitration.

All those things add up to Shattenkirk being a short-term Washington visitor instead of one with Supreme Court-like tenure. Even so, the thing that makes Shattenkirk a shrewd investment for the Capitals is how they project to use the 28-year-old: similarly to how the Blues deployed the offensive-minded blue liner.


“I thought there was one guy we were going to pursue that could make our team better,” MacLellan said on a conference call. “And it was him.”

John Carlson is Washington’s No. 1 defenseman. He and longtime partner Karl Alzner are a do-it-all tandem for Barry Trotz. The Washington coach then sends out Orlov and Matt Niskanen as his second pairing. In Shattenkirk’s debut, he manned the right side of the No. 3 pairing against the Rangers alongside Nate Schmidt. It is the ideal slot for Shattenkirk, who likes to push the pace, dish for his teammates, but otherwise cedes shutdown responsibilities.


It was the same way in St. Louis. Alex Pietrangelo is the Blues’ No. 1 defenseman. Colton Parayko, the right-shot defenseman with whom the Bruins’ Brandon Carlo shares some attributes, is the defensive muscleman and offensive puck pounder. Having Pietrangelo and Parayko sharing right-side smothering shifts freed Shattenkirk to do what he does best: run the power play and sniff for scoring chances. In 61 games with his former team, Shattenkirk scored 11 goals and 31 assists, including a team-high 20 power-play points, while averaging 19:51 of ice time.

Fittingly, Trotz did not waste time putting Shattenkirk in a position to succeed. Washington always has had a flammable power play, and with good reason. Nobody can stop Alex Ovechkin’s one-timer. Nicklas Backstrom is one of the best setup men in the league. Marcus Johansson is a good right-side presence. T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams are dependable as bumpers in the middle of the setup.

In 61 games with his former team, Kirk Shattenkirk scored 11 goals and 31 assists.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Against the Rangers, Trotz placed Shattenkirk at the top of the formation. In the third period, the Capitals scored on the power play. As Backstrom controlled the puck on the right half-boards, Shattenkirk stretched out New York’s penalty-killing box by standing just inside the blue line, stick ready to fire. Kevin Hayes had to respect Shattenkirk as an option, which gave Backstrom enough of a lane to curl toward the net and fire a shot past Henrik Lundqvist.

“One of the top PP guys in the league,” MacLellan said. “Offensive defenseman, breakout passes. Those are his strengths.”


Shattenkirk makes Washington the team to beat, even more so than it was before the deal. The Capitals are the best team in the Eastern Conference because the roster has been years in the making. The core pieces have been in place for years, all assembled from within: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Alzner, Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Braden Holtby. MacLellan added to the foundation with smart trades, such as Oshie for Troy Brouwer and Lars Eller for picks, and selective signings: Niskanen, Connolly, Williams, and Brooks Orpik.

In other words, acquiring Shattenkirk wasn’t imperative. It was the cherry atop the sundae — one that will begin melting soon.

This is the Capitals’ final push with the current iteration of their roster. The RFAs will earn their raises from the money MacLellan will save from letting his unrestricted players walk. UFAs-to-be include Shattenkirk, Alzner, Oshie, Williams, and Daniel Winnik. As much as Washington would like to retain Shattenkirk, MacLellan will not have enough cash available to sign the ex-Terrier to a megabucks deal such as Keith Yandle (seven years, $44.45 million) scored from Florida last summer. Next season’s lineup will not be as robust.

The Bruins could pursue Shattenkirk’s puck-moving touch on July 1. But they will have to clear bodies to make right-side room alongside Carlo and Charlie McAvoy. Kevan Miller or Adam McQuaid is likely to be taken in the expansion draft. Even so, it would leave the Bruins with two surplus right-shot defensemen along with Colin Miller. They also would have to move money to free cash for David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner, who will be restricted.


The Rangers will also be in the hunt. Shattenkirk, a native of New Rochelle, N.Y., would give the Rangers more pop on the right side to mix with stay-at-homers Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein. Ideally, GM Jeff Gorton would have liked to have added Shattenkirk for this year’s stretch run. Not only did MacLellan improve his team, he kept one of his division rivals from landing Shattenkirk.

Now the Capitals have no excuse not to win.


Bruins’ Cehlarik a forward thinker 

Peter Cehlarik has given the Bruins an option they weren’t sure they’d have heading into this year.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

In his abbreviated NHL stay, Peter Cehlarik has shown signs of playing like Loui Eriksson. Like the ex-Bruin, Cehlarik is a left-shot forward. He is a good skater. Cehlarik wields a quick, active stick. He knows where to be. He’s settled into life as David Krejci’s wing.

And even though Cehlarik is Slovakian, he learned the game in Eriksson’s native Sweden.

“That two years I played pro in Sweden, it helped me a lot,” Cehlarik said of being employed by Lulea of the Swedish Elite League. “We played a lot of one-on-one, two-on-two small games. You learn when to have the puck on your tape, when you want to look for a pass, when you can beat your guy. I think those years in pro there helped me a lot.”

The 21-year-old Cehlarik, the Bruins’ third-round pick in 2013, has had a good start to his first year in North America. In 40 AHL games, Cehlarik had 18 goals and 15 assists. Prior to his recall Feb. 18, Cehlarik was Providence’s No. 1 right wing alongside Jordan Szwarz and Wayne Simpson. Since landing in the NHL,Cehlarik has played on the left side, further proof that he can think the game properly regardless of position.


“One of the biggest surprises of a skilled young winger to come up has been his ability to sort it out away from the puck,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “In D-zone coverage, he’s put out a few fires by being in the right place. You’re generally thinking that the kid is going to come up and that’s going to be an issue, not a strength. With the puck, he sees the ice. He’s made good plays. His IQ is very good in all situations. For him, it’s just a matter of being a little stronger on pucks in certain situations and manage it between the blue lines. That’s the area where we’ve reminded him that there’s room for improvement.”

Sweden is known for producing players who process the game well. Cehlarik, who grew up watching the cerebral and physically imposing Slovakian Marian Hossa, has seemingly taken to his training. Ideally, the Bruins would prefer a left wing with more experience and presence on the second line. It is one of the areas they’d like to upgrade during the offseason.

But Cehlarik has given the Bruins an option they weren’t sure they’d have heading into this year. As he gets older and becomes stronger, he’ll play with more heaviness and be more dangerous in creating his own offense. But the Bruins have no concerns about the way Cehlarik has used his hockey sense. It’s made for a good connection with Krejci, his creative center.

“He’s a give-and-go type of player, and we thought that’s what David needed the most at the time,” Cassidy said. “It turned out to be a good marriage in that regard. He still does move the puck well. David’s enjoyed playing with him.”


Habs decide to get physical

Jordie Benn is the kind of defenseman Canadiens coach Claude Julien prefers.Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

It’s been a tough season for Jordie Benn. The defensive defenseman, like all of his ex-teammates in Dallas, has been under assault. As a Star, Benn’s five-on-five per-60 numbers, according to corsica.hockey, were not pretty: a team-high 64.2 shot attempts allowed, 49.3 Corsi For rating, and 9.7 scoring chances given up.

Benn played better, however, when his ex-team wasn’t as leaky. Last year, when the Dallas blue line had Alex Goligoski (now in Arizona) and Jason Demers (Florida), Benn allowed 58.5 shot attempts. He was in a better spot to play a simple, defense-first game with higher-end defensemen doing the work of clearing pucks and going on the attack.

Above all, Benn is a stout and thick 6-foot-2-inch, 200-pound defenseman, the kind Canadiens coach Claude Julien prefers over offensive-minded alternatives such as 5-11, 191-pound Nikita Nesterov. There is no mistaking Benn’s identity, which is why Montreal GM Marc Bergevin targeted the defenseman and four other players before the trade deadline. Benn, Brandon Manning, Dwight King, Steve Ott, and Andreas Martinsen play heavy hockey.

Bergevin’s roster churn is not insignificant. Adding five players before the deadline while saying goodbye to the well-liked David Desharnais is a big change in the dressing room and in the lineup. It is a lot for any team to absorb, especially one with a new coach.

But Julien and Bergevin believed players with bite and who are strong on the puck were better suited to execute what the new coach is selling.

Lightning better positioned 

Tampa Bay was in no position to re-sign Ben Bishop or Brian Boyle. GM Steve Yzerman was facing the headache of trying to distribute pocket change this offseason between Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat. But with the calm of his playing days, Yzerman ticked off multiple boxes on his to-do list, short- and long-term. For Bishop, Yzerman received Peter Budaj in a package from LA to back up Andrei Vasilevskiy. Boyle netted 25-year-old forward Byron Froese and a 2017 second-rounder from Toronto. Yzerman traded 32-year-old center Valtteri Filppula and two low-level picks to Philadelphia for Mark Streit, then flipped the veteran defenseman to Pittsburgh for a 2018 fourth-rounder. By wheeling Bishop, Boyle, and Filppula, three previously important pieces, Yzerman cleared the prorated remainder of $11.76 million in salary. The savings give the Lightning critical breathing room to account for the entry-level bonuses that Drouin, Vasilevskiy, and Brayden Point could earn this year. Filppula had a year remaining at $5 million annually, savings Yzerman can apply toward his restricted free agents. Yzerman did all this while crossing his fingers that his team continues its late sprint toward the playoffs, perhaps aided by Steven Stamkos’s return.

Bishop’s next move

It is doubtful that Ben Bishop is in the Kings' long-term plans.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Bishop will be a good short-term helping hand for Jonathan Quick, who is coming off a significant groin injury. Bishop, however, is doubtful to be in LA’s long-term plans. Bishop will be seeking what could be his final high-end payday. The Kings are paying Quick $5.8 million annually through 2023, so they’d be seeking an inexpensive No. 2. Calgary, which kicked the tires on Bishop before acquiring Brian Elliott last summer, would be a logical landing spot. Philadelphia and its usual goaltending issues would be another candidate. The Flyers signed Michal Neuvirth to a two-year, $5 million contract, partly to fulfill expansion criteria. But even if he stays, Neuvirth is not a long-term No. 1. Carolina also could be in the mix.

No rush for Arizona

Clayton Keller, Boston University’s talented up-front freshman, will be ready for the NHL after this season. But Keller, Arizona’s 2016 first-round pick, may serve himself and his future organization better by staying in school for one more season. Arizona GM John Chayka got his price from Minnesota when he traded Martin Hanzal: a 2017 first-rounder, a 2018 second-round pick, and a fourth-rounder in 2019. Chayka couldn’t get his asking price for Shane Doan or Radim Vrbata, his other pending UFAs. This will be the 40-year-old Doan’s final NHL season. Vrbata, 35, has one more contract in his legs. The Coyotes have a cornerstone defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and a good top-six forward in Max Domi. But unless Chayka adds capable bodies around the draft and free agency, Arizona may be looking at another rebuilding season in 2017-18. Keller could help, but it might be a tough call to burn a year of his entry-level contract in a bleak season.

Sabres swing and miss

Tim Murray is still thick in the middle of rebuilding the floundering Sabres.Gary Wiepert/Associated Press/File 2015

Buffalo GM Tim Murray hoped he’d have parties interested in Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson, both unrestricted at season’s end. But Murray encountered crickets when shopping the veteran defensemen, neither of whom moved before the deadline. It’s a big thud for Murray, who is still thick in the middle of rebuilding the floundering Sabres. Picks would have given Murray and his scouts more swings at the draft table. Instead, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and the rest of the young Sabres will suffer through another lost season with few guarantees about things getting better next year. The hard part about rebuilding is the culture of losing that accompanies high draft picks and early tee times.

Loose pucks

Anders Bjork, the Bruins’ fifth-round pick in 2014, is in the running to join the varsity once Notre Dame’s season concludes, and not just because he’s close to ready for NHL action. Bjork is a 20-year-old junior whose options would expand greatly if he returns for his senior season. The left-shot forward would then become the next Jimmy Vesey, free to sign with any club if he keeps his pen off Black-and-Gold stationery through Aug. 15, 2018. Burning a year off Bjork’s entry-level deal and getting him varsity action immediately would be the Bruins’ play at preventing a Vesey situation . . . Assuming Dallas lets Lindy Ruff go at the end of the season, the veteran coach would add to the Golden Knights’ options. Gerard Gallant and Jack Capuano already are in the mix . . . Former NHL scout Gary Eggleston has published a history of the annual schoolboy series between All-Stars from the Greater Boston Interscholastic League and Montreal Catholic High School. It is available to be mailed for $5 postage paid, or $10 postage paid with $5 going to the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame. To order a copy, send checks to Gary Eggleston, P.O. Box 414, Wakefield, MA, 01880 . . . Radek Faksa of the Stars submitted one of the year’s highlights on Thursday against the Islanders. While approaching the offensive blue line, Faksa jumped to avoid Scott Mayfield’s hip check, rode the American Airlines Center dasher, hopped back onto the ice to play the puck, and scored moments later. After scoring, Faksa returned his skateboard to the stick rack and turned his helmet to face forward again.

Dean of the deadline

The Kings’ Dean Lombardi is usually one of the busier general managers in the league at the trade deadline. This year, with Los Angeles hanging on the playoff periphery, Lombardi went out and acquired a second playoff-tested goalie — Ben Bishop — to pair with Jonathan Quick, as well as veteran forward Jarome Iginla. Since their Cup-winning breakthrough in the 2011-12 season, the Kings have become one of the NHL’s top teams from March on, in part because of Lombardi’s roster additions.

Compiled by Sean Smith

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.