| || |
|Blues forward Keith Tkachuk says he can still play but is contemplating making this season his last (Getty Images). |
NEW YORK -- As Keith Tkachuk nears the end of his 18th NHL season, the St. Louis Blues' graying, grizzled veteran is wondering if he's nearing or perhaps even at the end of his playing career.
"There are always times when you think, and you think a lot," Tkachuk, who will turn 38 on March 28, said Thursday from Madison Square Garden. "I have some thoughts running through my mind. You just get older and you're not the same as what you used to be. It gets a lot harder and guys are bigger, stronger and faster."
If Tkachuk has made up his mind regarding his future, he's not telling. Asked to reveal what he thinks he might do -- play another season or hang up his skates, Tkachuk said, "My future is now, buddy."
The Blues are facing a difficult road to get into the playoffs, but Tkachuk is confident his team can make a run. No matter what happens, he knows he'll be at a crossroads soon. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"Either way we'll make a decision after the season fairly quickly, but I'm hoping we're playing in the playoffs and making a run," Tkachuk said. "I'll be 38 next week and whatever happens after the season, you'll know one way or the other."
In 1,191 NHL games, he has 537 goals, 524 assists, a plus-31 rating and 2,213 penalty minutes. He has 12 goals and 16 assists in 57 games this season.
"I want to just enjoy this run here and get into the playoffs," he said. "I'll talk to my wife and talk to Larry (Pleau, Blues GM) and we'll make a decision."
Pleau told NHL.com Tkachuk's future is not a topic of discussion right now.
"That's too far," Pleau said. "We haven't even gone there."
If Tkachuk does come back to play, he will do so only as a Blue.
"I think I made that pretty clear when I didn't waive my no-trade, nor did they ask me," he said. "I think that answers your question right there."
Tkachuk was willing to be traded at the deadline last season, but the Blues held on to him and it paid off as they made a miraculous run to the postseason. They finished sixth in the Western Conference after spending most of the first half of the season mired in last place.
"Last year was a little different," Tkachuk said. "I was shocked I wasn't moved, but this year my decision was to play for the Blues and finish what I started here."
Even if he chooses retirement, it doesn't sound like Tkachuk will stray far from St. Louis or the Blues' organization.
He's been in St. Louis since 2001, and his 423 points heading into Thursday's game are seventh in franchise history. He's also fifth on the Blues' all-time list for goals (207), seventh in game-winning goals (28) and fourth in power-play goals (96).
"I know I can still play, but it's been a long time, a lot of hard games and a lot of hard years," Tkachuk said. "I love this game. I love these guys. Larry Pleau has really extended my career by bringing me to St. Louis. Who knows where I'd be if I didn't come to St. Louis?
"I have learned a lot from a great organization. I have been through some ups and downs here. When I first got here it was automatic, it was win now, win now, and then we went through some tough years and some changes. The bottom line is I didn't want to play anywhere else."