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Capitals go all-in with trade for Kevin Shattenkirk

GM Brian MacLellan pays heavily for defenseman, hopes he fuels long playoff run

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

Imagine being Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan and having two voices in your head with the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline (March 1, 3 p.m. ET) approaching.

The first voice sounds like Alex Ovechkin and is saying, "Just get someone." The second voice sounds like Nicklas Backstrom is saying, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, don't."

These were essentially the two sides of the debate MacLellan was waging internally when he pursued defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, perhaps the best rental player available before this year's deadline. Those are also the exact words MacLellan said Ovechkin and Backstrom -- the yin and yang of the Capitals' leadership conscience -- usually tell him when he asks what they think he should do before the deadline.

This time, Ovechkin's voice won out. Sensing this was the time for the Capitals to go big or risk going home early in the Stanley Cup Playoffs again, MacLellan acquired Shattenkirk in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on Monday.

"I thought if there was a guy we were going to pursue that could make our team better it was him," MacLellan said Tuesday, "and I wasn't sure what the cost was going to be."

Video: Elliotte Friedman on the Kevin Shattenkirk trade

The cost was high. The Blues got promising 22-year-old forward Zach Sanford, minor league forward Brad Malone, a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and conditional draft picks (one of which could be a 2019 second-round pick). The Capitals also received minor league goaltender Pheonix Copley.

But MacLellan's main target was Shattenkirk, who is expected to make his Capitals' debut against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; SN1, SNO, SNP, TVA Sports, MSG, CSN-DC+, NHL.TV).

Shattenkirk, 28, has 42 points (11 goals, 31 assists) in 61 games this season. His contributions as a right-handed shot who excels playing the point on the power play were particularly attractive to the Capitals, although they already rank sixth in the NHL at 21.8 percent.

Shattenkirk has 20 power-play points (seven goals, 13 assists) this season. Washington's defenseman have combined for 26 power-play points (three goals, 23 assists): John Carlson has 11 (one goal, 10 assists), Matt Niskanen has nine (one goal, eight assists) and Dmitry Orlov has six (one goal, five assists).

MacLellan envisions Shattenkirk taking shots from the point and sending passes to Ovechkin for one-timers from his usual spot in the left circle.

"He's one of the top power-play guys in the League," MacLellan said. "He's an offensive defenseman, a great puck mover. The power-play breakout passes, the power-play passes for one-timers for Ovi, the shot on the power play, those are his strengths. He's a real good puck mover 5-on-5.

"I think it's just an opportunity for us to add a quality defenseman to our lineup."

Even before acquiring Shattenkirk, the Capitals were one of the Stanley Cup favorites. They entered Tuesday in first place in the League standings at 41-13-7 with 89 points.

Video: Shattenkirk highlights as he comes to Washington

But MacLellan kept going back to what happened to the Capitals last season, when they won the Presidents' Trophy but lost to Pittsburgh Penguins, the eventual Stanley Cup champions, in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

The Penguins' depth at forward, particularly their third line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, was the difference in the series offensively. MacLellan addressed that by retooling the Capitals' third line, acquiring center Lars Eller in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens at the 2016 NHL Draft and by signing left wing Brett Connolly as an unrestricted free agent.

Defensively against the Penguins, the Capitals' lack of depth was exposed (a word MacLellan has used repeatedly) when Brooks Orpik was suspended for three games and Karl Alzner struggled playing through a groin tear.

If MacLellan needed a reminder, he got one when Niskanen sustained a lower-body injury against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 22. Although Niskanen's injury was not serious and he is likely to return Tuesday, losing him for two or three games in the playoffs would be a significant blow.

"Your depth through defense takes a hit and then you don't have an answer for guys to move up," MacLellan said. "They can do it temporarily, but you don't have a permanent answer. I think [trading for Shattenkirk] gives us insurance if something like that happens where one of our top guys misses a few games."

When MacLellan sat down with the media last week to talk about his approach to the trade deadline, he sounded as if he was leaning heavily toward Backstrom's way of thinking when he said, "If we could upgrade on the fringes, we might do it." 

But the sentiment behind Ovechkin's stance was understandable considering the Capitals' past playoff failures -- they haven't advanced past the second round since they made their lone Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998 -- and MacLellan's previous statements that this is the second year of a two-year window for this group of players to win.

Right wing T.J. Oshie, Alzner and Shattenkirk can become unrestricted free agents on July 1. With Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Orlov expected to receive significant raises as restricted free agents, the Capitals won't have the salary-cap space to keep their roster intact.

Video: STL@WPG: Shattenkirk makes nifty move to notch goal

Throw in the fact that Ovechkin will turn 32 before next season and MacLellan can hear the Capitals' Stanley Cup clock ticking. So when he says his definition of a successful playoffs this season is, "Winning a championship," you can understand why he listened to his inner Ovechkin.

"I think we started last year with the time to win is now," MacLellan said. "I thought we had a good team last year, we got exposed a little bit in the Pittsburgh series and I think we've addressed the issues and now we're ready to take another run at it. I don't know how it plays itself out, but I think we've done as much as we can do to help us be successful moving forward."

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