With Jackman signed, Blues can keep building

ST. LOUIS — Barret Jackman’s return to the St. Louis
Blues was far from certain.

Sure, the 31-year-old defenseman had said in recent weeks he wanted to stay in
the city he has called home for each of his 10 NHL seasons. Sure, general
manager Doug Armstrong had made retaining Jackman a priority before the player
was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent July 1.

But nothing, really, was known about where Jackman would dress next season
before he agreed to a three-year deal with the Blues on Monday worth a reported
$9.5 million. Some named him a possibility for the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa
Senators. He’s known as an aggressive player — if not a little worn — so some
thought free agency would offer a fresh start elsewhere.  

His situation is a reminder that choice is a complex thing. The past molds,
shapes and makes us into the people we become. Then at some point, for most, we
decide if a change in environment would be best for future growth.

Of course, Albert Pujols thought so and traded a Stan Musial-like legacy for
$254 million and a new shade of red in Anaheim. LeBron James gave up comfort in
Cleveland to chase an NBA title on South Beach. Both left for reasons ranging
from ego to financial gain, but both were forced to rebuild their professional
lives.

As they found out, starting over can include a drastic adjustment. Pujols and
James learned the process is as much mental as it’s emotional. There’s no
simple answer for whether change is the right choice for any situation, but
it’s a discovery each person must learn on his or her own.

Jackman, unlike Pujols and James, chose to approach the future by looking to
his past. For the Blues, it guarantees a seasoned leader will return to
complement a group of defensemen which includes Ian Cole, Alex Pietrangelo,
Roman Polak, Kris Russell and Kevin Shattenkirk. For Jackman, it gives him a
chance to build on a legacy that has produced 139 points in 598 games played
and a plus-minus rating of +33.

The agreement adds a sense of consistency to what should be a revealing 2012-13
campaign for Jackman and the defending Central Division champions. The Blues
will try to improve on a 109-point season in which they appeared in the Western
Conference semifinals for the first time since 2002.

Now they will do so with a veteran face, because Jackman’s unknown is over.
 
“We had a good discussion after the season ended when I got back from the
World Championships,” Armstrong said in a teleconference. “I wanted
to be sure that Barret still felt this was the right place for him to continue
his career. He felt that he wanted to stay here and continue to grow what we’re
building right now.

“It became a business decision and an economic decision, and
we were able to work through that. I think both sides are satisfied and excited
about moving forward.”

By moving ahead, Jackman also will have a chance to redeem himself. There’s no
other way to put it: He struggled as the Los Angeles Kings — the eventual
Stanley Cup champion — snuffed the Blues’ season in a sweep in early May. He
was a minus-6 with one assist in the stunning series. He looked overwhelmed, and
a campaign that included St. Louis’ first playoffs appearance in three years
came to an abrupt end.

Despite that memory, Jackman has said he’s still a top-four defenseman. Now he
has a chance to prove it. The Blues showed faith in him by offering a deal that
lasts until he’s 33. He must show he’s worth the commitment in time and money.
 
“He played well last year, and he’s been through a lot of experiences here
in St. Louis,” Armstrong said. “We need him to be a player first and
foremost, and leadership is a secondary thing. … We think his five-on-five play
is strong against the other team’s good players, and we think his
penalty-killing is something we wanted to ensure we kept. That, first and
foremost, is why he’s returning.”

One of the Blues’ offseason unknowns ended Monday with Jackman choosing to
renew his career rather than rebuild elsewhere. It’s a choice that showed the
franchise’s faith in him, and the defenseman’s faith in his organization.

Now it’s Jackman’s job to prove his decision was the right one.