Back on Friday, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that the St. Louis Blues told Alex Pietrangelo to “pursue unrestricted free agency” after contract talks broke down. In an interview with The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford, Pietrangelo confirmed that report.
The Blues star defenseman told Rutherford (sub required) that he hasn’t totally ruled out having a “change of heart” and returning to St. Louis. But it doesn’t really sound like the player and team see eye-to-eye on contract negotiations.
“We just think right now, with where things are at, that maybe it’s best for both sides to see what’s going on in free agency, what the team can explore, what I can explore and if there are better fits for each side,” Pietrangelo said, via Rutherford.
“ … We’re two weeks away. Not saying anything can’t change, but as of right now, that’s kind of our plan, and we’ll see where things go.”
What to know about Pietrangelo as Blues departure, free agency likely
Rutherford points to rumblings that Pietrangelo and the Blues didn’t just struggle with raw contract numbers, such as signing bonuses and cap hits. Apparently there likely were stumbling blocks, such as the topic of no-trade/no-movement clauses, term, and ways to protect against a buyout.
So, it’s likely worth considering that Pietrangelo would prefer term and a big number. Being that he’s been massively underpaid at $6.5M per year since 2013-14, it’s understandable that Pietrangelo wants to strike it rich.
And, even with massive pandemic-related financial uncertainty, Pietrangelo could get what he wants, or close to it. Defensemen like Pietrangelo simply do not hit free agency very often in the NHL’s salary cap era.
By just about every measure, Pietrangelo is an excellent defenseman. While he may struggle to maintain his 2019-20 scoring pace (career-high 16 goals, 52 points overall in 70 games), Pietrangelo can really benefit an offense. And he’s generally quite competent defensively, to boot.
But Pietrangelo is also 30.
If it’s term-or-bust, then some contenders might feel a little trigger shy. Or, frankly, they should.
Basically, signing Pietrangelo to big term and money could be very high-risk, high-reward. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that multiple NHL teams would be willing to roll the dice, even during these shaky financial times.
If Pietrangelo leaves Blues for free agency, which NHL teams might pounce?
This isn’t a comprehensive list, yet let’s consider teams under two broader categories.
Potential Pietrangelo suitors with a lot of cap space and chances to contend
- Colorado Avalanche: As of this writing, Cap Friendly places the Avs’ cap space at more than $22.3M. While Andre Burakovsky and Ryan Graves rank among those who should eat up a healthy portion of that surplus, Colorado sits in a position to exploit an unstable market. This is close to the ideal situation if Pietrangelo prizes Stanley Cup contention.
But finding the right term could be the sticking point, and the Avalanche might make more sense as a fallback plan if Pietrangelo can’t thread the needle between contending and getting the biggest, longest deal possible.
At least, the Avalanche should really push for huge money, but short term. With Cale Makar‘s rookie deal set to expire in 2020-21, and other concerns (only three more seasons of stealing Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog due for a raise after next season), Colorado needs to be smart here.
- Dallas Stars: After making it to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final (currently leading 1-0), the Stars rise as a credible future contender. Imagine a defense with Pietrangelo, Miro Heiskanen, and John Klingberg. Considering the Stars’ near-$15.5M in cap space, it’s not outrageous, even after dealing with RFAs like Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov. Dallas may want to figure out what Heiskanen’s next deal looks like, as he is entering a contract year much like Makar.
- Calgary Flames: Maybe Calgary takes a wild swing with some concerns about their window closing?
- Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck obscured serious issues on defense last season, yet you wonder how often he can pull a rabbit of a hat. Pietrangelo could patch up (some of) the crater left behind by defensive departures.
Lots of cap space, maybe not the best hockey fit from Pietrangelo’s perspective
- Buffalo Sabres: Following that shrewd Eric Staal trade, maybe the Sabres can improve their defense by adding Alex Pietrangelo? Kevyn Adams boasts an estimated $34.46M in cap space, and only a few players to worry about re-signing. Granted, like with Makar and Heiskanen, the Sabres need to pencil in money for Rasmus Dahlin‘s second contract.
Yes, Buffalo has been burned badly by big free agent bets over the years. Still, with an angsty fan base and room to give Pietrangelo the blockbuster deal he craves, they could be an outside-the-box fit.
- Florida Panthers: Hey, you’re dug in with Sergei Bobrovsky, why not try to protect that investment by giving him some defensive support? Sure, it could also mean about $20M spent on aging free agents but … uh … *trails off*
- New Jersey Devils: What if this team isn’t quite as bad as it looked last season? That may be a stretch, but New Jersey has a ton of cap space.
- Montreal Canadiens: When in doubt, assume Marc Bergevin has something weird and wild up his (challenged-by-muscles) sleeves.
A cap-strapped team gets creative?
OK, this is honestly meant to be a catch-all for the dreamers out there. Could the Toronto Maple Leafs really jump through hoops and sign Pietrangelo in free agency? It’s tough to imagine that if Pietrangelo steadfastly demands a long-term, big-money deal.
Now, if those deals aren’t out there? Maybe Pietrangelo accepts a short-term fix to have fun and chase a Stanley Cup. Then, ideally, he’d get that mega contract when things (hopefully) settle down.
(Take the money and run, Pietro.)
Any other teams or scenarios stick out as possible destinations for Pietrangelo in free agency? Could the Blues pull off a stunner and bring their captain back? Do tell.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.