The hockey world is asking it once again: “Can the Blues really afford to keep Alex Pietrangelo?” The discussion re-emerged this week after the Blues signed Marco Scandella to a substantial contract extension.
Now, as St. Louis Game Time’s Dan Buffa argued, the Scandella extension doesn’t rule out the Blues re-signing Pietrangelo by itself.
Those questions get trickier when you zoom out and analyze GM Doug Armstrong’s overall plan. In attempting to be proactive, could Armstrong overthink things and see one or more of Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn leave town?
This post explores the uncertainty surrounding this situation, and how St. Louis might find ways to work around limitations.
The perils of being proactive: Blues possibly losing Pietrangelo or Dunn?
Armstrong is clearly trying to plan ahead. Consider the extensions Armstrong handed out while the Pietrangelo question dangled in the distance:
- After trading for Justin Faulk, the Blues handed Faulk a meaty extension (seven years, $6.5M AAV). Armstrong inked Faulk to that contract before he played a single shift for the Blues. That’s thinking ahead — but is it also a case of overthinking?
- The Blues followed a similar path with Brayden Schenn right as the 2019-20 season began. Schenn received the same AAV, but for eight years.
- Going back a bit, the Blues gave Oskar Sundqvist a near-$3M-per-year extension in July.
- And, finally, there’s this four-year commitment to Scandella at $3.275M per year.
Between Faulk (28) and Scandella (30), you’re paying nearly $10M. You’d think that would be the higher end of what Pietrangelo might receive during these uncertain times. Locking down those two makes it tougher to argue that the Blues are merely being smart about the aging curve regarding 30-year-old Pietrangelo.
Fascinatingly, with all of the uncertainty regarding the potential cap ceiling for 2020-21 and maybe beyond, it’s possible the Blues could (or could’ve?) sign Pietrangelo for a risk-reducing shorter term.
The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford argued as much in a recent mailbag (sub required):
[Pietrangelo] was likely in line for a long-term extension in the range of $9 million per year, but that might not be possible with the Blues or with any other team. He might have no other option than to take a shorter-term contract now and position himself for a long-term deal later, when the cap rises again.
Losing Dunn could stun
Later in this post, we’ll discuss ways the Blues can earn space to retain Pietrangelo, even if the ceiling caps at $81.5M again or even slips. But something eventually has to give, and it could really sting if the Blues must wave goodbye to pending RFA Vince Dunn.
Dunn, 23, is younger than both Faulk and Scandella, and could conceivably show even more if given greater opportunities. Consider how Dunn compares to Faulk on this RAPM chart via Evolving Hockey (Dunn generally looks better than Scandella as well, though not as drastically):
Personally, it’s difficult for me to shake the concern that the Blues locked down useful but not essential players (Scandella, Faulk on better days) and nice yet maybe not as important ones (Schenn) instead of keeping a crucial one in Pietrangelo. An opportunistic team would be wise to try to pry Dunn away when there’s room for the blueliner to grow into an even more useful player.
Much of it smells like a team that assumes things are going to work out.
Could Armstrong have tricks up his sleeves to keep Pietrangelo?
And that’s where I wonder if Armstrong has a Plan B, or maybe through Plan Z.
Looking back over the years, we’ve wondered how, say, the Lightning could keep their big names. They always seemed to find the deals, and often convince players to take less money than expected.
Armstrong’s been able to pull rabbits out of his GM hat on plenty of occasions, too. Such a thought strengthens the retort many have: “Just assume Armstrong knows what he’s doing.”
And, yes, there are some options.
- What if the league works out a compliance buyout? As Jonathan Willis explored for The Athletic (sub required), that could be a way for teams like the Blues to shake loose of players like Alex Steen ($5.75M AAV).
- Failing that, the Blues could bribe a budget team to take on that Steen cap hit, or do the same for Tyler Bozak and his $5M AAV.
- Jake Allen played so well in 2019-20 that it might be tough to part ways with a goalie insurance policy. Still, at $4.35M and coming off of that strong year, some team might want to give Allen a shot.
As you can see, the Blues could wiggle their way out of a jam or two with the above moves. Maybe they’d manage that enough to keep Pietrangelo and Dunn around, even if it’s on shorter deals?
Who knows, really?
I can’t help but wonder if the Blues hurt their margin of error a little more than they should have here. Then again, if the Blues keep another big name in Pietrangelo, they’d also have depth locked down.
Considering all that could change between now and free agency, maybe we’re the ones overthinking things about the Blues and Pietrangelo, actually?
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.