Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said he’s not sure how he’s going to fill the void created by Matt Niskanen’s stunning retirement, but he knows the value of adding another proven veteran — both in the locker room and on the ice.
And if that veteran happens to be righthanded, well, all the better.
Kevin Shattenkirk, 31, who won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay recently, checks all the boxes and figures to be on the Flyers' radar.
On Monday, Fletcher hinted he would like to add a veteran defensemen, and Shattenkirk is just one of several prospective unrestricted free agents who are expected to be available Friday.
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Niskanen will be missed for a lot of reasons: His leadership, the way he mentored defensive partner Ivan Provorov, his toughness (84 blocked shots) and the way he played in all situations and helped the penalty kill make big strides. Having won a Stanley Cup with Washington, he also had an air of confidence that seemed to spread to his teammates.
The Minnesota native will also be missed by the media because he was a straight shooter, someone who, when analyzing a game or a botched play, spoke truthfully instead of with political correctness.
In other words, whoever the Flyers add to their weakened defense, he will have big skates to fill.
As for Shattenkirk, he had two disappointing years with the New York Rangers — injuries played a role — and was bought out after the 2018-19 season. He then signed a one-year, show-me deal with Tampa Bay for $1.75 million.
After a solid season, he will probably double his annual salary as an unrestricted free agent. Shattenkirk collected eight goals, 26 points and a plus-22 rating while playing in all 70 games for Tampa last season, averaging nearly 19 minutes a game while playing mostly on the third pairing. But he also spent a significant amount of time paired with Victor Hedman on the top pairing.
The 6-foot, 206-pound Shattenkirk isn’t as good as he was during his days in St. Louis, but he would be a good fit with Ivan Provorov on the Flyers' No. 1 pairing — until the blossoming Phil Myers is ready to assume that role.
It is also worth noting that Shattenkirk, a righthanded shooter, was steady during the postseason, collecting 13 points (3-10) and a plus-8 rating in 25 games. Niskanen had a very good regular season but struggled in the postseason as he had just two points (1-1) in 15 games.
Shattenkirk, a native of New Rochelle, N.Y., had a pair of goals and two assists in the Lightning’s six-game win over Dallas in the Stanley Cup Finals. Both of his goals were game winners, including an overtime tally.
There are several other righthanded defensemen who can become unrestricted free agents Friday, including Alex Pietrangelo, who is the cream of the crop, Tyson Barrie, Justin Schultz, and our old friend, Radko Gudas. (Torey Krug, a lefty, is among the pending UFA defensemen.)
Gudas, you may recall, was traded to Washington last year for Niskanen. Gudas, whose physicality and shot-blocking became his calling card, played with much more discipline in his final season with the Flyers and was named the Barry Ashbee Trophy winner as the team’s top defenseman in 2018-19.
But he doesn’t have the respected resume Shattenkirk would bring if he’s interested in coming to Philadelphia.
The NHL draft will be held Tuesday (Round 1) and Wednesday (Rounds 2-7), and the Flyers should get a quality prospect at No. 23. It would not be surprising if they moved down (slightly) in the draft to acquire another pick.
Here are the Flyers' picks:
Tuesday: First-round of NHL’s draft, which will be held virtually starting at 7 p.m. on the NBCSN.
Wednesday: Second day of NHL’s draft (Rounds 2-7), starting at 11:30 a.m. on the NHL Network.
Friday: The NHL’s free-agency period starts at noon.
Do you think Niskanen retiring keeps Ghost (Shayne Gostisbehere) off the trade block — @VeRBaLKeNT4202 via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question. Ghost will still be available for a couple reasons. For one, they can only protect three defensemen in next year’s expansion draft for Seattle, and they figure to be Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Phil Myers. So it makes sense to deal Gostisbehere instead of losing him and not getting anything in return. In addition, they need to upgrade the offense, and Gostisbehere is a valuable trading chip. He had a disappointing season but was bothered by a knee injury, and he could bounce back and be a key offensive defenseman, especially on the power play.