By William McInerney
The Rangers signed Kevin Shattenkirk on July 1 and greatly improved their defense in the process. The top six will likely be Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, Anthony DeAngelo, and one of Alexei Bereglazov, Neal Pionk, Sean Day, or Ryan Graves (probably Bereglazov, in my opinion), which is a huge improvement from last year.
However, there have been reports the Hurricanes are open to trading Justin Faulk, who is their top offensive defenseman. The Rangers are out on him after signing Shattenkirk, and were probably never in on him.
But there have been some suggestions Faulk would be a better pickup for the Rangers than Shattenkirk. Is that true? Is Faulk a better player than Shattenkirk?
The main advantages to Faulk are he is younger than Shattenkirk (25 vs 28), under contract for another three seasons at a cap hit of $4.83M, while Shattenkirk is owed $6.65M per year over the next four years, and Faulk thought to be a slightly better defensive defenseman than Shattenkirk.
Shattenkirk is underrated defensively, though. He isn’t a lockdown defenseman by any stretch, but he plays adequate defense considering how much offensive talent he brings. Other advantages are he scores more points than Faulk. Over the past two years Faulk has scored 37 points each year while Shattenkirk has scored 44 and 56 points. In fact, Shattenkirk has scored at least 40 points every year of his career, except for the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
The biggest area Shattenkirk will help the Rangers is with the power play. As great of a defenseman as McDonagh is, and, in my opinion, he’s one of the top 15-20 all around defensemen in the NHL, he isn’t a great power play quarterback. Additionally, Skjei, although he has the potential to quarterback the power play, doesn’t quite have the experience in the NHL yet where you can trust him to run your top unit.
Shattenkirk has put up at least 25 power play points in each of the past four years, and has at least 19 power play assists in each of those years, showing an ability to be the playmaker. Meanwhile, Faulk has produced 20 power play points only once in his career, and hasn’t hit double-digit power play assists in two years. Shattenkirk is exactly what the Rangers need in that role, while Faulk, while a good player, isn’t the force on the power play Shattenkirk is.
None of this considers what the Rangers would have had to give up for Faulk in a trade. While picking up a younger player generally sounds like a good idea, Shattenkirk is a better fit, and arguably a better player in general than Faulk. Signing Shattenkirk over trading for Faulk was the right decision for the Rangers.