Alex Pietrangelo — one of the premier defenceman in the NHL – is about to become a very rich man, but with the St. Louis Blues training camp still weeks away, there is little sense of urgency.
Having finished out a three-year entry-level deal that carried a cap hit of less than $3.2 million, Pietrangelo is a restricted free agent for the first time in his career.
Though less of a household name, Pietrangelo could be due for a contract in the ballpark of the one landed by blue-liner Drew Doughty, another 23-year-old Team Canada hopeful who was given an eight-year, $56-million deal by the Los Angeles Kings after his entry-level deal expired.
“That’d be nice. Obviously, he’s a great player,” Pietrangelo said at a charity golf tournament Thursday just outside of Toronto.
The King City, Ont., native is keeping his cards close to his vest but has been reported to be seeking nearly $7 million per year, while the Blues would like to settle on $6 million or less. It’s a significant gap for a cash-conscious club that could approach the cap ceiling as it attempts to lock up its other remaining RFAs, goaltender Jake Allen and forward Magnus Paajarvi (recently acquired from the Oilers). With forward Chris Stewart now inked to a two-year extension, keeping Pietrangelo becomes GM Doug Armstrong’s No. 1 priority.
“There’s been communication. I’m not going to say it’s done yet; there’s definitely a ways to go. It’s kind of a fun thing to go through, the first time you go through these negotiations,” Pietrangelo explained, shortly after chatting privately about his contract status with teammate Brian Elliott. “You try to keep it as internal as you can because you don’t know what direction it’s going, but I enjoy talking to (my teammates) about it. They’re all interested, which means they want me back and they all care.”
The way Pietrangelo smiles when he talks about his teammates, praises Armstrong’s acumen, and beams about Missouri (“When I do get a bit older, it’s a great place to raise a family”) leads one to believe a deal will be struck. Further, truehockey.com reports that Pietrangelo’s camp is not seeking an offer sheet – even though he seems like a prime candidate (see: Weber, Shea).
Regardless, one camp the 2008 fourth-overall pick will be attending is Canada’s Olympic orientation. No stranger to the big ice, Pietrangelo represented his country at the 2009 and 2010 world junior championships, winning a gold and silver medal, respectively. In 2010, he was named both an all-star and the tournament’s best defenceman. Pietrangelo also led Canada in defensive scoring at the 2011 IIHF World Championships, scoring five points in seven games. Again, he was crowned best defenceman by the directorate.
“It would be a tremendous honour. Hopefully I get a chance to go,” he said of Sochi. “My play’s gotta be at a level where I can go there. It’s a fun experience from what I’ve heard from people who’ve gone there.”
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Blues teammates David Backes and Jamie Langenbrunner were part of the American team that “won” Olympic silver in Vancouver in 2010. Pietrangelo was glued to the set for those two weeks in February; he watched almost every Olympic hockey game.
“They say it’s the best experience they’ve had in their hockey career,” Pietrangelo said. Even though it ended in a heartbreaking loss to Canada.
“I made sure I gave them a little shot afterwards,” Pietrangelo smiled. “You’re that close to winning a gold medal, obviously it’s frustrating. But in this industry, Canadians and Americans always give each other shots when we win. It’s no different when we’re watching the world juniors in the dressing room. There’s some friendly bets going on.”
A betting man would be wise to place a loonie — or nearly seven million loonies — on Pietrangelo making the cut and booking a flight to Russia. Executive director Steve Yzerman said Monday that in all likelihood Canada will take eight defencemen overseas, emphasizing those players must be strong skaters. Pietrangelo should make it.
“Being able to share that with family and friends, it’s a special thing to go through,” Pietrangelo said. “If I do get the opportunity, I know I gotta enjoy every minute of it because it goes by really quick.”