EDMONTON — Last summer, Kevin Shattenkirk had to be wondering, “Why me?”
He had to watch two of his former teams, the Capitals and Blues, hoist the Stanley Cup in 2018 and 2019, respectively, then got a phone call from the Rangers informing him they were buying him out — he was no longer needed.
That had to feel almost like a knockout blow, but Shattenkirk took his own shot and joined the Lightning on a one-year deal.
Now, the defenseman is getting his shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
“When you receive that information and you don’t really know which way is up at that point or where the chips are going to fall,” Shattenkirk said Friday, “it was tough to watch my former teams the last two years prior win the Stanley Cup and groups of guys I’ve been with and become close with. It makes you wonder, makes you think.”
Shattenkirk’s buyout wasn’t until Aug. 1, long after the league’s free-agent frenzy was over and most teams had their rosters built. The 10-year veteran had to wonder if he’d get another opportunity.
The Lightning signed him to a salary-cap-friendly deal of $1.75 million, and he has been a perfect fit among the defensemen as a veteran presence who provides a strong two-way game, whether that’s helping take some of the load off Victor Hedman or mentoring young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.
“The phone calls started coming in (after his buyout), and I talked to Ryan (McDonagh) and just heard what (the Lightning) were building and where their head space was at after their loss to Columbus in last year’s playoffs,” said Shattenkirk. “It seemed like we all kind of shared that same drive and that same chip on our shoulder to prove something this year.”
Shattenkirk recorded eight goals and 34 points in the regular season and has shown he’s still capable of being the all-around defenseman he has proven to be throughout his career.
“This chance … (at a Stanley Cup), it’s very meaningful. I really felt like I got a second chance to prove who I was,” said Shattenkirk. "I’m so proud of the guys I’ve played with. They inspired me to play my best hockey this year, and we fight for each other every day on the ice and we drive each other to be better.
“Being in the place we are now, playing for the Stanley Cup, from where I was last year is kind of a ‘pinch me’ moment.”
Shattenkirk was one of a few moves general manager Julien BriseBois made for this season on defense. The acquisitions of Luke Schenn and Zach Bogosian may not have moved the dial in terms of blockbuster style, but Schenn and Bogosian also fit in with what BriseBois is trying to build.
Bogosian was bought out midseason by the Sabres and signed with the Lightning as a free agent. Schenn had bounced around several teams the last few years before landing with the Lightning in free agency in the offseason.
All three bring different elements to the right side of the defense. There’s a certain level of nastiness when Schenn and Bogosian are on the ice, and teams have to be aware of Shattenkirk’s offensive capabilities.
But a few other things also stand out. All three signed one-year, bargain-basement deals, and all three are hungry for their first Stanley Cup.
Combined, they’ve played 2,082 regular-season games. Heading into this postseason, the trio had played only a combined 72 playoff games, with Shattenkirk eating up 60.
This is Bogosian’s first time in the playoffs after playing 644 regular-season games over his 12-year career. Schenn had only 12 playoff games under his belt in his 12 years in the league before joining the Lightning.
Shattenkirk had some playoff runs end in heartbreaking fashion with the Blues and Capitals in his career.
Now, all three aren’t focused on earning a big contract anymore. They just want to win the Cup.
“We were in a situation where, because of the success we’ve had in years leading up to this one, we were able to bring in a few players like Luke Schenn … Kevin Shattenkirk that was chasing that Cup, just like the rest of us are,” said BriseBois. “They knew what our cap situation was, and they were willing to make it work with us so we can add them to our group without having to discard anyone, and they made us a better team.”
“Ultimately, when you’re trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, you’re accumulating talent, and, really, you’re building a team, and they were all key pieces in helping this picture come together for us this year.”