Adding Kevin Shattenkirk Strengthens the Capitals' Standing as the Stanley Cup Favorite
The Washington Capitals have dictated the flow of the NHL over the course of this season.
Their sense of dominance got even more defined on Monday night, when the Caps acquired Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues for forward Zachary Sanford, a first round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, and a conditional second round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
How good is Shattenkirk, and how does this move impact the Capitals' chances of winning it all?
The Rich Get Richer
Coming into play on Monday, Washington sat atop of the NHL's standings with a remarkable 41 wins and 89 points in 61 games played. Earlier this month we discussed the Capitals' dominance, which has been a result of their combination of an overpowering offense and superb goaltending from Braden Holtby.
With the acquisition of Shattenkirk, it seems that the Capitals have shored up their defense, the only area in which they were lacking. Taking look at a Shattenkirk-specific chart provided by HockeyViz, we can see that the puck-moving, power-play specialist should be just about a perfect fit in the nation's capital.
Brian McClellan, the General Manager of the Capitals, was quoted in an interview with CapsToday saying that the organization was "excited to welcome Kevin aboard" and that they think he will help their cause at even strength and on the power play with his skilled puck-moving ability.
McClellan is just about spot on in his assumptions. In roughly 20 minutes per game, the former St. Louis Blues' defender puts up a respectable number of points, and Shattenkirk is well above average in production when in special teams situations. As we can see below, his average power play points per 60 minutes of ice time is at a remarkable 2.7 goals and 0.8 assists, making him one of the top producing defenseman in the league.
In fact, per HockeyViz's scoring race for defenseman, Shattenkirk is ranked eighth based on goals, primary assists and noise (secondary assists).
This chart has to look pretty good to Capitals fans, because Washington now holds the rights to three of the players in the top 25 in defensive scoring, with Shattenkirk joining John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov.
The acquisition of Shattenkirk adds some deep scoring promise to the Capitals lineup. Shattenkirk is one of only four defensemen to be in the top 10 in goals (11), assists (31) and points (42) on the season -- joining elite company in San Jose's Brent Burns, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, and Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman. Shattenkirk is currently positioned to set new career highs in goals, assists and points this year.
The Aspect of Defense
We've seen all of his impressive offensive stats, but how does Shattenkirk stack up against the league in defensive categories? Taking into account the details from the skater card above, alongside data from Corsica, we can see that Shattenkirk provides an extra weapon of defensive promise to the already powerful Capitals blue-line.
Let's take a look at two With or Without You charts, which are developed from Corsica's data, to show the difference in performance of Shattenkirk and his teammates in categories like Corsi For Percentage and Expected Goals For Percentage.
Shattenkirk shows positive figures in both categories that only his numbers are involved and in categories where he and his teammates statistics were cohesively regressed together.
As an added bonus, we can take into account Shattenkirk's average game score values for his past three seasons, and his numbers do not disappoint.
This chart, which comes from Dom Luszczyszyn, compiles the average game scores of Shattenkirk over the past three seasons. Positive numbers are good indicators of excellent play, and darker colors are an indication of the intrinsic value of the player in question.
The numbers don't lie -- Shattenkirk is a great defensemen. His numbers rank him among the best in the league, and adding him to an already good team, Washington looks to be as poised as ever to break their curse and finally make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Does This Send the Caps Over the Top?
The Caps were already firing on all cylinders, and this trade only bolsters their standing as the favorite, particularly in the Eastern Conference. Per our models, the Capitals have a 22.28% chance of winning the Cup. The Minnesota Wild (18.08%) are a close second, but the next team on the list, the Pittsburgh Penguins, an Eastern Conference foe, boasts just an 8.72% chance of winning it all.
Our nERD metric gives the Capitals a 1.07 rating, meaning Washington would be expected to beat a league average opponent on neutral ice by 1.07 goals. No other team has a nERD rating over 0.80.
We project Washington to finish the season with a 54-19-9 record, which would make them one of the more dominant teams in the NHL's 100-year history. But does this outrageous amount of firepower guarantee a Stanley Cup? Certainly not. The playoffs can be a fickle beast, but the Caps are pretty clearly the best team in the league.
With a 22.28% chance to win the title, based on our mathematics, the Stanley Cup is very much within the reach of the powerhouse playing out of the Verizon Center, and the addition of Shattenkirk only strengthens Washington's standing as the top team in the league.