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Professional hockey is cold, hard business. Sometimes dreams come true, but most times they don’t and the good times never last.

Former Blues Pat Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk know these verities all too well.

Both players returned home to play hockey, settling for team-friendly deals to do so. While Maroon enjoyed a dream season in St. Louis, Shattenkirk endured a two-year nightmare in New York City after departing the STL.

Neither player stayed put for as long as they hoped they would. Both took big pay cuts to sign with Tampa Bay this summer.

There are worse outcomes of course — the Lightning are widely favored to win the 2020 Stanley Cup — but this isn’t how Maroon and Shattenkirk hoped their free agency would play out long-term.

Maroon signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Blues last summer and played a key role in their epic Stanley Cup run. Maroon emerged as a respected team leader in the dressing room and on the ice.

He embodied the team’s “heavy” playing style that wore down opponents through the grueling four-round postseason marathon. He banged bodies and crashed the net.

He scored the overtime series-clinching goal to push the Blues past the Dallas Stars (barely) in the second playoff round. This was his David Freese Moment.

He and his animated son Anthony were key characters in this storybook playoff run. Maroon became a classic hometown hero while earning a prominent place in local sports lore.

If Maroon settles back here when his playing days end, his popularity should serve his life after hockey well. People tend to gravitate toward this guy.

Alas, Shattenkirk enjoyed no such glory after he returned home to play for his beloved New York Rangers.

After a stopover with the Washington Capitals, who acquired him as a rental player for the 2017 stretch run, Shattenkirk signed a four-year deal worth $6.65 million per season.

He could have received more years and more dollars to play elsewhere, but his boyhood dream was to make Madison Square Garden his home.

Then everything went wrong. Shattenkirk played poorly during his first Rangers season before suffering a serious knee injury.

While he was recovering, Rangers management went into bail-and-rebuild mode and started dumping veteran players.

Shattenkirk played better last season, but the rebuilding accelerated. When the Rangers committed big dollars to Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, management bought out the final two years of Shattenkirk’s contract and sent him packing.

Shattenkirk, 30, signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Lightning, hoping to take a run at the Cup while rebuilding his value. He could rack up a lot of points playing with Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Co.

“You know, this is obviously an important year for me to show everyone I’m back to my old self and prove that I can be a player in this league again,” Shattenkirk told reporters after signing that deal. “In order for that to happen, you want to put yourself in the best position, and I think this is one of the best positions by far I can be in as a player.”

Maroon’s departure from the Blues this summer was less acrimonious. Many factors made it almost inevitable.

The NHL salary cap didn’t rise as high as expected. General manager Doug Armstrong surprised many experts by signing both Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson to one-year extensions to maintain his veteran depth on the blue line.

Young forwards Sammy Blais and Zach Sanford showed well in the playoffs while providing many of the elements Maroon brings. With Robby Fabbri coming back for another try and prospects Jordan Kyrou and Klim Kostin on the horizon, the Blues have a crowd forming up front.

Maroon turns 32 next April. The NHL is getting faster all the time and the Big Rig carries a heavy load.

With dollars tight, the Blues took defenseman Joel Edmundson through salary arbitration. His $3.1 million award was notably less than what he sought and what he should get through unrestricted free agency next summer.

The tight dollars also led to forward Ivan Barbashev’s ongoing contract standoff. He is a restricted free agent, as Edmundson was, but he lacks arbitration rights. KHL offers are his only leverage.

Against this backdrop Maroon finally abandoned his hope here. He signed with Tampa Bay for one year and $900,000.

Maroon joins a juggernaut coached by Jon Cooper, his coach on the old St. Louis Bandits team that won the NAHL’s Robertson Cup back in 2006-07. Maroon led that charge and Cooper is counting on him to bring toughness and leadership to the Lightning.

That team needs more heart and grit after suffering a stunning first-round playoff sweep following its amazing 128-point regular season.

“One door closes and another one opens,” Maroon wrote on Twitter. “I’m so pumped to get the opportunity to play for the Bolts and I can’t wait to get down there and meet my new teammates and see all the fans! Anthony has mapped out that Disney World is 84 miles away.”

So life in the NHL goes on ... until it doesn’t.


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