Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Blues have decisions to make regarding unrestricted free agents

Jackman, Colaiacovo among crop of players team needs
to decide of they want to keep or move in another direction

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- From the moment Barret Jackman was taken with the 17th pick of the 1999 NHL Draft, he's done nothing other than bleeding blue.

Jackman made his NHL debut in the 2001-02 season -- albeit only one game in the regular season and one on the playoffs -- and aside from a 31-game stint with the Missouri River Otters during the 2004-05 NHL lockout season, a one-game conditioning stint in Peoria in 2006-07 and nine games playing for Canada the same year at the World Championships, wearing the Bluenote is the only logo the Trail, British Columbia native knows.

But for the first time in the 10-year career of the Blues' left-handed defenseman who's been a mainstay on the blue line, Jackman will enter an off-season uncertain of his future.

(Getty Images)
Has Barret Jackman played his final game in a Blues
uniform? Jackman becomes an unrestricted free agent
on July 1st.

Unless Jackman and the Blues come up with a new contract before the free agency season opens -- which is highly unlikely -- the 30-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

Both Jackman and fellow left-handed defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo will be set to become UFA's when the checkbooks are officially allowed to open up on July 1st.

Jackman, who has 20 goals and 139 points in 598 career games in the NHL [tying him with Chris Pronger for ninth on the all-time franchise list in games played], had arguably one of his best seasons this past regular season playing primarily with young defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. He had a goal and 12 assists in 81 games and was a plus-20, which was tied with Shattenkirk for second on the team behind Alex Steen's team-leading plus-24 playing a defensive defenseman's role.

However, Jackman admitted that he wasn't good enough in the playoffs, finishing with a team-worst minus-8 rating in nine games, as the Blues beat San Jose in five games but were swept out of the postseason by Los Angeles in four.

Jackman, who is commended for being one of the players that played through some tough injuries throughout his career, indicated that he'd like to be back with the Blues. He just finished up a four-year, $14.5 million contract in the city his wife, son and daughter call home.

It'll all come down to what direction the Blues, specifically general manager Doug Armstrong, want to go in.

"Ownership is probably going to be a big part of the direction of the team," Jackman said. "... There's a lot of time until July 1st. We'll wait and see what happens on that front. Army will get some direction and then we'll talk at that point.

"St. Louis is my home and no matter what happens, I'm a Blue through and through. I've had the best 10 years of my life in St. Louis. I hope to have another 15 years in my career. This is my No. 1 choice and priority right now."

Jackman, who won the Calder Trophy in 2003, beat out Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg for the award given to the top rookie, hopes to have a direction from the Blues in the next few weeks.

It could all be uncharted territory for Jackman.

"It's all Army. We had a brief discussion [last week]," Jackman said. "We just talked about we'll let things settle down and we'll talk in a couple weeks and really decide whether it's the right fit or not."

The same goes for the 29-year-old Colaiacovo, who finished up a two-year, $4.25 million contract.

The Toronto native, who was acquired from the Maple Leafs along with Steen for Lee Stempniak in 2008, has spent the past four seasons in a Blues uniform.

Colaiacovo is coming off a two-goal, 19-point season in 64 games that includes a plus-8 rating. Both goals were game-winners.

Colaiacovo has 30 goals and 139 points in 370 career games, including 18 goals and 124 points in 259 games with the Blues.

"I don't really know what the next couple months is going to present to myself," said Colaiacovo, who was a healthy scratch for Game 4 of the series against the Kings, which eliminated the Blues. "We haven't had any talks at all. It could be good or bad when you look at that.

"I think the focus was just to concentrate on the season, which was fine for me. I didn't want to have any distractions."

Like Jackman, Colaiacovo has taken a liking to St. Louis and would love to remain here. He was the primary partner with top d-man Alex Pietrangelo, who is Colaiacovo's closest friend on the team.

"My first choice and priority is to be here," Colaiacovo said. "I love it here, I love the group of guys. It's the best team I've ever played on at this level. I hope to continue to be a part of that.

"This year, I definitely elevated or took a different step in my career and in my game to be more of an important player to the team. I really appreciated that role and that opportunity. I hope it continues. But I think right now, we'll just let the dust settle. In due time, we'll see where they're at and where I'm at and hopefully we come to an agreement somewhere or come to some sort of conclusion. But right now, I'm a St. Louis Blue. I hope I stay that way. Until things change, I'm not going to think any other way."

Colaiacovo had a similar exit meeting as Jackman did with Armstrong. Both sides decided to let things settle before making any decisions.

"In our conversations [last week], that's sort of where we've left it," Colaiacovo said. "We're going to let the dust settle. They're going to do their meetings. They're going to have a talk within themselves. They're going to see what opportunities present themselves and then we're going to be in touch. Hopefully, the sooner the better.
(Getty Images)
Carlo Colaiacovo (left) can also become an unrestricted free agent on
July 1st if he doesn't resign with the Blues.

"But if it takes right until the end to let it happen or to make it happen, I have nothing but time right now. Obviously I want to put myself in the right situation for myself and my family and moving forward. My four years here have been nothing but great. I've really enjoyed my time here. I have nothing but great memories, great things and great people that I've met. I hope it stays that way. I haven't really thought about anything else."

It's also expected that the Blues will not resign veteran Kent Huskins, who was inked to a one-year, $1 million deal. The Blues will give a serious look to 2007 No. 1 pick Ian Cole heading into next season as a top-six defenseman. And with Kris Russell locked in on the left side for at least another season, there's a strong possibility of three new lefties that will enter camp in September should the Blues move on from Jackman, Colaiacovo and Huskins.

"There's going to be change. I guarantee you there's going to be change," Armstrong said without being specific. "That's just the nature of the beast in our game, but I need to sit down with our coaching staff and get their evaluations on the players and where they believe who can help us moving forward.

"There's unrestricted free agents. They also have a say in where they go. They may not want to come back here. We'll have to sit down and decide that. Those are things that I'm a firm believer in using the time that you're given. July 1st is the next deadline that I have to worry about for this team. We have the draft and other things that all come into play before that. For the NHL team, July 1st is the next deadline and we're either going to sign our free agents, our unrestricted guys, or they'll test the market. If they test the market, we test the market. As far as the restricted free agents, I believe in the strength of our organization and I believe in the strength of our current ownership group. And if it changes, the strength in that ownership group will be ready to match any offer that'll be given to any player if we want to keep them."

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