TORONTO – The man most likely to be moved before the NHL’s trade deadline walks into the dressing room and carves a path through the reporters waiting around his locker.
This is the new reality for Kevin Shattenkirk.
It will remain that way until the St. Louis Blues ship him out of town or the 3 p.m. ET deadline on March 1 – whatever comes first.
The 28-year-old has been bracing for this period of intense speculation since his name started surfacing in trade discussion last summer. Now that it’s here, he’s trying to block it out as much as possible.
“My whole mentality is ‘if it happens it happens’ and I can’t really control when or where it’s going to be,” Shattenkirk said Thursday before the Blues faced the Toronto Maple Leafs. “In my mind, I have to focus on my everyday responsibilities here. So looking at Twitter, that’s not going to help me by any means.
“It’s not going to be good for me.”
In the larger picture, this will be good for Shattenkirk.
As an offensively gifted power-play quarterback, he’s poised to earn a sizeable raise on the $4.25-million contract he’s playing out right now. Having the chance to test unrestricted free agency at this stage in his career is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that’s the main reason he’s likely to be moved.
The Blues have depth on the right side with Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, and can’t afford to lose Shattenkirk for nothing.
His return would be maximized in a sign-and-trade scenario – teams won’t pay the same rate for a rental – but Shattenkirk isn’t sure that’s how it will go down. While he’s not closing the door entirely on that possibility, it’s not a priority for him to negotiate an extension with a Blues trade partner just months before free agency.
“I think it’s come to the point in the season where maybe that’s gone out the window a little bit,” said Shattenkirk. “It’s hard to say because you don’t know what team it’s going to be. So you really don’t know until that opportunity or situation presents itself. You don’t know where teams are at with their records, and their standings.
“Until it actually comes to light you don’t know if that’s going to be part of it or if it’s something where you’re going for a few months.”
Shattenkirk is in the midst of a career year offensively – sitting fifth in points among NHL defencemen entering play Thursday. He’s on pace to finish with 17 goals and 56 points and could be a huge addition for a contender.
The Blues use him heavily on the power play and as a second-pairing guy at even strength and Shattenkirk has produced strong possession numbers.
“His offensive skills are top notch,” said teammate Carl Gunnarsson. “It’s crazy how well he sees the game. … It’s something I wish I could do, but there’s only a few guys in the league that has that kind of ability.
“And he’s one.”
The feeling among the Blues is that Shattenkirk has done a marvellous job of blocking out a potential distraction. It can’t be easy.
“The most pleasing thing for me that I’ve seen from Shatty is he’s aware of his situation, it’s talked about daily, but he’s completely all in to this group,” said head coach Mike Yeo. “He just wants to help us win. We’ve had those conversations. He doesn’t know – there’s a lot of uncertainty what could happen – but he’s not focused on that.
“He’s playing for the team, he’s playing for his teammates and I have a great deal of respect for him for that.”
The chatter goes all the way back to last June’s entry draft, where he had an opportunity to speak with the Oilers about a contract after St. Louis and Edmonton engaged in trade talk.
However, there wasn’t a fit for Shattenkirk.
He learned from general manager Doug Armstrong in late July that he would return to St. Louis this season – at least until the trade deadline. That’s given him plenty of opportunity to steel himself for the speculation that is bound to ramp up until he’s dealt.
“I think no matter what happened this year with our record, with a guy going down for injury, the first thing that people are going to bring up is: ‘Is it time now? Or what’s going to happen with Shattenkirk?”’ he said. “It’s just been something that you kind of roll with as the year goes along.”
Even though his future is a hot topic in the hockey world, it’s not being discussed much in the Blues dressing room.
Gunnarsson occupied the locker beside Shattenkirk on Thursday morning and indicated that it had never come up with them.
“I don’t think he needs more questions about it,” said Gunnarsson. “So we’ll just talk about something else.”