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Jackman moves on after Blues opt not to re-sign him

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time since being selected by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the 1999 NHL Draft, defenseman Barret Jackman faces the prospect of playing for someone else in 2015-16.

Jackman, 34, will become an unrestricted free agent after being informed by the Blues that they will not re-sign him before free agency begins on July 1.

Jackman was the 17th player drafted in 1999. He spent his entire NHL career with St. Louis and is the city's longest-tenured professional athlete. But with the Blues having failed to advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third year in a row, changes were expected; with the emergence of younger defensemen, Jackman will have to explore other options after completing a three-year, $9.5 million contract.

"I think I saw it coming," Jackman said Friday. "They really like the way [Petteri] Lindbohm has played, and [Robert] Bortuzzo has earned a spot too. So I knew I'd be on the outside looking in."

He said he has no regrets and no complaints with how the issue was handled, but added that he has no intention of retiring.

"I've been very fortunate to play with the Blues for as long as I have," he said. "I still feel like I've got a lot to give. I wish it was with the Blues, but it's a business. Some things don't work out, but I'm definitely very pleased with the Blues' organization for everything they've given me and for being honest with me too.

"They really don't have a lot of room for me. I don't fault them for this. It's probably the same move I would have made."

Jackman's 803 regular-season games played are second in Blues history behind Bernie Federko (927). He's been an ambassador for the city on and off the ice, and a mentor to many young players, including defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues' No. 1 pick in 2008.

"When I came up, there was somebody that I was able to learn from, not only on the ice but off the ice," Pietrangelo said. "An extremely good role model not only for me, but a lot of other players who have come though the organization.

"The way he conducts himself on and off the ice is really first-class. It's going to be tough to lose a guy like him on and off the ice. ... He's meant a lot to a lot of guys here. We'll wish him nothing but success here moving forward. I know we're going to see him around here in the summers because he calls this home."

The Blues haven't completely closed the door on Jackman's return, but the likelihood seems remote. If Jackman doesn't find a fit elsewhere during free agency and/or the Blues have a hole to fill on the blue line, the two sides could revisit a return scenario.

"What we said is we're going to get to July 1," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We wanted him to be able to look at the market, and if it works out for him with a different team, we understand. But if it doesn't, depending on what his options are, we want to speak to him again in July. So it's a little premature for me to do the post-Jackman era conversation. What we talked about was making sure that he understands that July 1 is going to come up and be prepared to talk to teams. As we're going through the process, we can talk at that point."

Lindbohm, 21, was the Blues' sixth-round pick in 2012 and Bortuzzo, 26, was acquired last season from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Ian Cole. Each will be given an opportunity to crack the top six in 2015-16.

"I feel really comfortable giving Lindbohm every opportunity to make the team as part of our [top] six," Armstrong said. "We have Bortuzzo here, and then we really liked [Colton] Parayko and [Joel] Edmundson in the [American Hockey League] playoffs too. They're not that far away.

"We're not only looking at the 2015-16 season but past that. I think Barret has got a lot of good hockey left in him, but these guys are obviously getting closer to playing than further away."

Jackman, who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year in 2003, scored 28 goals and had 181 points during 13 seasons with the Blues. He scored two goals and had seven points in 39 Stanley Cup Playoff games; the goals were game-winners in 2013 and 2014 Western Conference First Round games against the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.

"I really believed that I was going to be that guy to help bring the Stanley Cup, but it hasn't panned out," Jackman said. "I guess there's a chance that I could be back here in St. Louis, but it's a small window. I wish the team and the organization a ton of success and all the luck in the world."

Jackman's teammates will miss him.

"I don't think I've ever seen a guy play through as much stuff as he's played through," left wing Alexander Steen said. "There's some big moments that I'll always reflect on that [Jackman's] a big part of. ... Huge warrior, a leader. I'm extremely proud to have had the chance to play with him."

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