18th season could be last for Blues' veteran; decision not final
By LOUIE KORAC
Keith Tkachuk sat at his locker as the Blues were packing up for the summer following a first-round playoff sweep against Vancouver, discussing his immediate future.
With a couple reporters surrounding the Blues' veteran, Tkachuk was undecided whether he'd return for an 18th season.
When one is so undecided, chances are they likely are thinking about doing it all over again, which Tkachuk, 37, eventually decided he would do. Not once did he ever contemplate hanging the blades up before the season ended.
But as season No. 18 is close to winding down, 'Big Walt' is hinting that this season could very well be his last.
Although as he spoke Thursday morning before the Blues faced the New York Rangers about it, Tkachuk has not made a final decision, but reading between the lines could be a good indicator. He turns 38 on March 28.
"I've got some thoughts running through my mind," Tkachuk said after the Blues' morning skate at Madison Square Garden. "You get older and you're just not the same way you used to be. It gets a lot harder. ... Guys are bigger, faster, stronger."
Those are some telling comments from a guy that has 537 goals and 524 assists in his career.
Tkachuk, who has 12 goals and 16 assists in 56 games this season, has not had numbers this low since his inception into the league in 1991, when he skated in 17 games for the Winnipeg Jets.
He's done everything from play on the first to fourth lines with this Blues squad, even change positions from his natural left wing to center for the betterment of the team.
Tkachuk has had a tough go of it since Davis Payne came aboard as coach, and it has nothing to do with the coaching change.
Tkachuk was hit in the mouth with a shot which resulted in the loss of five teeth against Chicago on Jan. 2, then suffered a dislocated left pinky finger trying to protect his face from another shot on Feb. 9 against Detroit.
While indications are leading towards a retirement, don't discount Tkachuk on returning once again.
"I know I can compete every night and go out and try to help out in different ways," Tkachuk said. "I've played first line, I've played second line, I've played fourth line, I've played center, I've played wing. It's a little different this year, but I still go into every game to prove that I can play and push other guys to perform. Like anybody else, you want to play as well as you can.
"I know that I can still play, but it's been a long time ... a lot of hard games, a lot of hard years. I'll talk to my wife (Chantal) and talk to (Blues general manager) Larry (Pleau) and we'll make a decision. (But) I love this game. I love these guys."
Tkachuk has been a mainstay in the Blues' organization since he was dealt here at the trade deadline in 2001, aside from an 18-game stint with Atlanta when he was dealt there in 2007.
He returned the following season and has played in 552 games as a Blue.
"What Larry Pleau has done for me really extended my career, by bringing me to St. Louis," Tkachuk said. "Who knows where I'd be ... would I still be playing if I didn't come to St. Louis? I've learned a lot. It's a great organization. There's been some ups and downs here. When I first got here, it was automatic: win now. Then we went through some changes."
Tkachuk signed a one-year, $2.1 million deal last summer to stay here and give it another go instead of trying to go to another team that is closer to winning than the Blues.
"The bottom line is I didn't want to play anywhere else this year," Tkachuk said.
If he chooses to play again next year, chances are it will be here or nowhere.