- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Many teams will chase the services of Capitals defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk if he hits the market as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Among the issues Shattenkirk will weigh is his role.

Shattenkirk told reporters last Friday that since his time with the St. Louis Blues, he has wanted a role as a top defenseman.

“I want to take on that challenge,” Shattenkirk said. “There’s a lot of great players here and there’s a lot of guys who are locked in here and I understand that and if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. But that’s what I have in mind for me. I want to challenge myself to become an elite defenseman and I have to assume a bigger role and more responsibility.”

Shattenkirk said he knows he’s “not Shea Weber,” a physical defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens who is aggressive on the boards. Shattenkirk, though, added he would like to get back out on the penalty kill, a role he got away from in St. Louis and Washington.

When the Capitals acquired Shattenkirk at the trade deadline from St. Louis, he was seen as an all-in rental to get the Capitals to the Stanley Cup. The defenseman, who spent seven years with the Blues, was supposed to bolster the Capitals’ depth and provide an addition to the team’s power play.

But Shattenkirk struggled at times with the Capitals. He was paired with Brooks Orpik in the Capitals’ third defensive pairing and together, they struggled in the playoffs. At one point, Shattenkirk was a team-worst minus-7 in the playoffs and Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Shattenkirk needed to play better.

To Shattenkirk’s credit, he stepped up afterward. The 28-year-old had a game winning overtime goal in Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Shattenkirk also played considerably better once Trotz paired him with Nate Schmidt for the last three games in the Pittsburgh series.

“I think it was successful,” Shattenkirk said of his time in Washington. “I think I fit in well here. I think the style of play that these guys play every night, it bodes well for my game and I think over time it was easy to kind of feel comfortable and feel confident in that system.”

Shattenkirk said he would love to return to the Capitals. But money could make that a challenge.

The Capitals have nearly $23 million in cap room, but also have 11 free agents, six of whom are restricted. Of those six, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Andre Burakovsky and Schmidt are most likely to see considerable pay increases. Washington also has to balance what moves will help propel them past the second round.

The Capitals, though, are the only non-expansion team that has the option to negotiate with Shattenkirk until free agency begins on July 1. The Vegas Golden Knights can reach out and negotiate with Shattenkirk for two days from June 18-20, if he isn’t protected in the expansion draft.

Shattenkirk met with Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan on Friday and had a productive meeting focused on Shattenkirk’s future.

Shattenkirk could wait until July 1 to open the bidding up to other teams, but he will give the Capitals consideration before then.

“At some point between now and July 1, I expect to have a conversation with Brian,” said Jordan Neumann, Shattenkirk’s agent.

As for the salary Shattenkirk will command, he’s likely to seek a long-term deal considering he’s 28 and hasn’t entered free agency before.

The standard rate to sign top defensemen around Shattenkirk’s age to long-term deals is high. The Penguins gave Kris Letang, then 26, an eight-year, $58 million contract in 2013, although Letang is a core piece in Pittsburgh. Keith Yandle, who was then 29, signed a six-year, $44.45 million contract with the Florida Panthers last June.

In recent years, defenseman Brent Seabrook signed an eight-year, $55 million extension with the Chicago Blackhawks. Dustin Byfuglien also signed a five-year, $38 million extension with the Winnipeg Jets. Both players were 30.

At the trade deadline, Shattenkirk was almost traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning instead of Washington on a condition that the parties could work out a long-term extension for Shattenkirk to sign. The trade fell through once a deal couldn’t be reached, TSN reported.

Shattenkirk’s 56 points (13 goals, 43, assists) were fourth among defensemen this season.

“I feel like I really enjoyed my time here, enjoyed the group of guys,” Shattenkirk said. “But, like I said, I think I do have to weigh out a lot of my options, I have to talk to some teams and see who else is interested. And really be patient with the whole process. I’ve waited this long and it kind of makes sense to wait a little bit longer.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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