It was an interesting and at times nerve-wracking offseason for St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
The 27-year-old former all-star’s name came up in several trade rumors — most notably with the Edmonton Oilers during the NHL Draft.
Now he is in the final year of a four-year, $17 million deal that carries a salary cap hit of $4.25 million this season and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2017.
The Blues still could trade the mobile two-way defenseman, or general manager Doug Armstrong sign him to a contract extension as they did recently with forward Alexander Steen after losing veteran forwards David Backes and Troy Brouwer during the offseason.
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Following is a conversation with Shattenkirk after a recent training camp practice.
Q: How do you feel about losing some of the team’s most tenured veterans in the offseason?
A: It’s definitely a different feel here in camp. Not seeing Dave (Backes) is a big change, he’s someone who was one of the first guys I saw coming into this locker room (from Colorado). Troy was someone who acclimated quickly last year, especially through training camp. Brian (Elliott) is another guy who was a staple here for a long time. You can’t put that part aside, but that’s what happens every year. That’s something that you have to deal with. The good part about it is some of the new guys we have in here we’ve seen before and it’s not a process for them where they feel uncomfortable coming in here.
Q: Did you feel you’d be back with the Blues this season?
A: When I walked out of the locker room (last spring), I had a feeling that I might be (back). Then a few weeks later it looked a little uncertain. In all the dialogue that I had over the summer, there was always a chance that I would be back here — and I think that was something I always had to hang on to and keep in my mind. This is where I’m home. This is where I feel the most comfortable is in this locker room with these guys, playing in this system. If I had to go somewhere else for another year it would be an adjustment. That’s a good thing to know I can come back here and just kind of fit right back into the swing of things and have that comfortability factor.”
Q: Was it unsettling to hear your name mentioned in trade rumors?
A: In years past watching the draft you always see it, whenever (NHL Commissioner) Gary (Bettman) walks up to the stage to announce a trade, you kind of just wait to hear who it’s going to be. This year it was a little more nerve-racking. It was a time where it was kind of a big focus and for me and it was a new experience to have to go through that. In that respect, nothing happened and it was a day where once it was over, I got to put it behind me.”
Q: What is it like knowing that the business side of the sport can affect your career in terms of trades or free agency?
A: That is part of this job, that it’s a business, I think I learned that very early on in my career when I got traded here. It’s the situation that the salary cap brings for the league. It’s what keeps parity in this league and it’s what forces GMs to have to make tough decision. That’s just the tough part about the NHL, you find yourself getting comfortable and fitting in very well with a team, but sometimes you push yourself out of it and the circumstances don’t allow it to continue on.
Q: What was it like being part of a Blues team that reached the Western Conference final?
A: We’ve had a core here that’s been here for a while now, but we’ve never been able to push it through like we did last year. To finally break through like that was another learning experience, another eye-opening lesson for us to know that it only gets harder each round you go. Teams that are playing at that time of the year are playing next to perfect and you have to make sure that you’re doing the same thing. That was ... for us something that we recognized. We didn’t quite have that full experience of knowing really how hard we had to push. Now going forward that’s something we have in our minds and something we have to use as our advantage.”
Q: How tough was it losing to San Jose in the conference finals, just one round from reaching the Stanley Cup final?
A: It was tough, for me especially, because I didn’t feel like I had my best series and I thought that I could have contributed more. I think there were some other guys who felt the same way. Their top guys outplayed our top guys and when you get to that time of the year, that’s who you need to perform and who you need to step up. They did a good job with me personally of just keeping me pinned against the wall, not allowing me to play my game, keeping me on my heels. It’s another lesson learned of how to push through that and not let that affect you, make sure that you keep your game first.”