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Season Recap

Blues preparing for summer of uncertainty

After playoff run falls short, futures of Hitchcock, Backes, Brouwer are in question

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- It was another typical regular season for the St. Louis Blues. They surpassed 100 points and clinched another Stanley Cup Playoff berth.

The Blues went 49-24-9 (107 points) and finished second in the Central Division, two points behind the Dallas Stars, who they eliminated in the Western Conference Second Round. But this playoff run was different, one the Blues hadn't experienced since 2001 and one that nearly got them to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Blues lost to the San Jose Sharks in the conference final in six games, and now head into a summer of uncertainty after packing their bags and saying goodbyes for a final time Saturday. Being so close they could taste it will make those who stay more determined. The question is: Who will that be?

"I'm trying not to think about it," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of the possible roster turnover. "We've talked all year about how close this group is for a reason. We're not just saying it because it's the right thing to say. We truly believe that. We truly care for each other in this room.

"To sit there with everybody's wives and kids and go through the year, have an opportunity to catch up with everybody, it's not a good feeling knowing that it might not be everybody back, but hopefully everybody is. That's not up to me. If it was up to me, everyone would be back."

WHAT THEY SAID: "[Blues coach Ken Hitchcock] mentioned today it was a little weird coming here today and we're not playing hockey again, but I think when we look at it and everyone looks at their calendars today and we realize how far we made it, we're proud of our accomplishments. We know there's still a way to go. I think it was good for us to see even making past the second round, just how much harder it gets after that. We're going to be better off for it." -- defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

THE BURNING QUESTION: For the Blues, it's more like burning questions. What will happen with Hitchcock, who was on a one-year contract? Will David Backes, a 10-year veteran who has played his entire career in St. Louis and been captain since 2011, return? Can the Blues afford him? What will become of Troy Brouwer, who the Blues acquired last summer from the Washington Captals for T.J. Oshie? Will he return? Will the Blues trade Shattenkirk, who has one year remaining on a salary cap-friendly contract ($4.25 million average annual value)? Patrik Berglund? Perhaps Jay Bouwmeester? These are among the biggest issues.

"I found my spot here, I really enjoyed my year here," Brouwer said. "I'm not quite sure what's going to happen going forward here, but it was an amazing year for me and an amazing experience for me and my family. ... It's a spot that we really enjoyed this year. I don't know exactly what the cap situation is. I know it's business and I know they have young guys coming up for contracts in a year or two. It's definitely a team and a city, a franchise I would love to come back to if the opportunity makes itself available." 

The players who spoke Saturday all endorsed Hitchcock's return.

INJURIES: The Blues didn't disclose any injuries Saturday, but Backes and rookie forward Robby Fabbri were injured in Game 4 of the conference final. Scottie Upshall was playing with an upper-body injury.

WHO COULD GO: Backes, Brouwer, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott and Upshall each is an unrestricted free agent. 

"We'll see how it all shakes itself out," Backes said. "There hasn't been a lot of time to sit down and collect all the thoughts and start to move ahead to whatever comes next. ... But no question this is home. We've been here 10 years and this is what we consider home. I don't know anything else. Yes, it would be my hope that something gets figured out, but there's moving parts and different sides. It all needs to align. 

I haven't spoken with my agent yet. Hopefully it all works out, but it is the unfortunate side of sports that guys staying with one team is rare but maybe I'm one of those rare guys. That would be great."

WHO COULD ARRIVE: Depending on who stays and goes, the Blues will be in the market for a young, skilled wing to add to a mix that includes leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko. It may have to come through trade because the Blues are up against the salary cap and may not enter the free agent market.

Forward Ty Rattie, an American League Hockey player who gained experience playing at the NHL level this season, could get his chance next season. So could forward Ivan Barbashev and defenseman Jordan Schmaltz.

2016 DRAFT PICKS: St. Louis has a pick in each of the first five rounds, including Washington's third-round pick acquired in the Brouwer trade and the Columbus Blue Jackets' fifth-round pick acquired for defenseman Jordan Leopold in 2014. St. Louis doesn't have a sixth-round pick but has two in the seventh, including one from the Pittsburgh Penguins when the Blues acquired defenseman Robert Bortuzzo for Ian Cole.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The Blues are loaded at each position. They're a perennial power that has been near the top of the standings all five seasons with Hitchcock and isn't showing any signs of falling back. As close as they came to the Final, there's heavy motivation.

"The mentality in here is still disappointment in this year but excitement looking forward to another opportunity at next year," Brouwer said. "We can be happy with the progress that we made, the fact that we were able to get deeper into the playoffs than this team has in the past couple seasons. It's still kind of the same attitude: unless you're putting rings on your finger at the end of the year, it's always going to be a disappointing end."  

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