The past year of Kevin Shattenkirk’s career has been building to this: the offseason, and with it, unrestricted free agency. His last season with the St. Louis Blues was rife with trade speculation that culminated in him being dealt to the Capitals on Feb. 27. Shattenkirk’s preference was to then prolong any decisions about his next destination with a deep Stanley Cup run in Washington.

But now that the Capitals have bowed out after a second-round loss there’s a countdown until July 1, when Shattenkirk is expected to be the most coveted defenseman in this free agency cycle.

In his exit interview with reporters on Friday, Shattenkirk said he intended to talk with General Manager Brian MacLellan about whether he could fit into Washington’s plans. But with the Capitals trading for Shattenkirk as a rental player to help their postseason run, and considering the salary cap constraints the team will be in this summer with six restricted free agents and five unrestricted ones, it seems unlikely the two sides could find a mutually agreeable contract. Shattenkirk could also fetch a better deal if he waits until July 1, when teams are competing for his services.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that St. Louis initially tried to deal Shattenkirk to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it would’ve required Shattenkirk signing a seven-year, $42 million contract first, and he declined. With 13 goals and 43 assists, he finished with the fourth-most points among NHL defensemen.

“It’s been a crazy year and it seems like every sort of scenario has popped up,” Shattenkirk said. “I’d like to see what’s going on here. I know there’s a lot to do here and a lot for [MacLellan] that he has on his plate, but I really enjoyed my time here. And again, at the same time, free agency is in front of me. It’s a great opportunity for me. It’s one that you don’t get many chances at as a player. I have to weigh out all my options. Until I get a little bit more of an idea of what’s ahead of me here in Washington and talk with him, then we’ll start to figure out what’s going on.”

There’s also the matter of role that might not make Washington a good fit for him and could narrow the search. Shattenkirk said he wants top-pairing responsibility and to have the opportunity to play in all situations, and that was a challenge he didn’t think he could get in St. Louis. With the Capitals, he was on a third pairing, behind right-shot blue-liners Matt Niskanen and John Carlson in the even-strength pecking order. While he was on Washington’s top power-play unit, he didn’t kill penalties.

Niskanen and Carlson are both under contract for next season, so unless a trade is made to clear a path for Shattenkirk to have an elevated role, the Capitals probably can’t offer him the responsibility he desires. With Shattenkirk being a New York native, some possible destinations suggested for him have been the New York Rangers or the New Jersey Devils with both teams needing help in the top-four of their defense.

“I have plans to hopefully assume a bigger role somewhere and if it winds up working out here and we’re on the same page, this is a great city for me and I feel like I really enjoyed my time here, enjoyed the group of guys,” Shattenkirk said. “But I think I do have to weigh out a lot of my options, I have to talk to some teams and see who else is interested. And really be patient with the whole process. I’ve waited this long and it kind of makes sense to wait a little bit longer. …

“I know I’m not [Montreal defenseman] Shea Weber. I’m not this big, brooding defenseman who’s going to take guys out in the corner. I know I haven’t been a penalty killer in recent years, but I used to kill in St. Louis. I’ve kind of done it all and I want the opportunity to do it consistently, I guess. Again, I have to prove myself and get that opportunity and run with it, but hopefully it’s out there.”

One place almost certain to have that opportunity for Shattenkirk and a desirable amount of money available is the new Vegas Golden Knights franchise. Before the expansion draft in June, there will be a 48-hour window for Golden Knights management to meet with pending unrestricted and restricted free agents left exposed for the draft, and Shattenkirk will likely be in that group.

“It’s a very interesting situation,” Shattenkirk said. “Usually you’re talking to teams or thinking of teams and you have some sort of idea of how they’re built or their history or whatever it may be, and they are completely fresh. It is a very different dynamic. It is an interesting situation where they do get the first rights to kind of talk to you. I can’t even begin to imagine how they’re going to build that whole franchise and that team, but it’ll be very interesting.”