No defenceman will demand quite as much attention when NHL free agency opens on Oct. 9 as Alex Pietrangelo, the St. Louis Blues captain who has spent his entire career with the franchise and helped lead it to its first-ever Stanley Cup last season.
Pietrangelo's seven-year contract, that carried a cap hit of $6.5 million per year, is set to expire this off-season and -- valuable to St. Louis as he may be -- securing him to a new deal has proven challenging.
“There was a discussion today, and I guess the best way to sum it up, we haven’t really made much progress,” Pietrangelo told Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic.“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.
“We’re a little disappointed that we’re in this situation. We weren’t able to hammer out the details what we wanted in a deal. There was some work that we tried to get done that we couldn’t get done, so both sides agreed that maybe it’s in the best interest. 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.”
Pietrangelo's contractual situation has been a season-long saga for the Blues.
Back in October, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that St. Louis hoped to re-sign its captain to a contract that would see him land below the $9-million plateau -- somewhere around the eight-year, $8.25-million per season salary Oliver Ekman-Larsson earns with the Arizona Coyotes.
A more recent Blues offer, per Rutherford's reporting, had an annual average value of between $7.7 million and $8 million.
“You can talk about money all you want and dollars," Pietrangelo told Rutherford. "But there’s more to a contract than the actual number, and there’s a lot that goes into the discussion of how you want a contract to be done. I’m not going to confirm or deny any numbers; it’s just we clearly weren’t able to get to a number that we thought was appropriate on both sides.”
The post-COVID-19 salary cap situation complicates long-term negotiations for all teams. Though an agreement was reached that next year's total will remain at $81.5 million, the disruptive impact of the pandemic -- and the uncertainty of when ticket-related revenue will return, or what hockey in 2021 will look like -- loom large.
In particular, this has manifested in bonuses, Friedman noted during a recent appearance on FAN590's Lead off -- citing the contract Joel Edmundson and the Montreal Canadiens recently agreed to, which had "some bonuses but not a lot."
If Pietrangelo were to hit the open market, the cost would not dissuade suitors from pursuing him -- including at least one Canadian team.
"There's no question that Toronto is going to be in the game," Friedman said on The Lead Off. "But as part of that, Toronto -- if they do get him -- they're going to have to make some moves to clear some space."
As recently as the end of August, Friedman indicated that the Blues didn't feel an exceptional amount of pressure to get a deal done fast because they had nearly two months before free agency began.
But time slips away, and now only two weeks to strike a deal remain.
“It’s been over a year that we’ve been trying to hammer out a deal, so I think both sides are kind of at the point where maybe there’s a better way to go about this,” Pietrangelo told Rutherford. “The goal all along was to stay here. I think [Blues GM Doug Armstrong's] goal all along was to get me signed. It’s not like all of a sudden we’re just like, ‘You know what, this isn’t going to work.’ There’s a lot of things that both sides feel like they can do to make the team better, and things that I felt like I can do for myself, and sometimes these things don’t work out the way that you were thinking.”
In addition to wearing the “C” on his chest since 2016, Pietrangelo has been a fixture on the Blues’ blue line for the better part of a decade after being drafted by the franchise fourth overall in 2008.
This past season, Pietrangelo led all St. Louis skaters, averaging 24:11 of ice time per night -- a list he has sat atop for most of his tenure -- while also leading all Blues defenders with 16 goals and 52 points in 70 games.
Given the history and success, it's perhaps unsurprising that -- despite the failure to reach an agreement so far -- Pietrangelo hasn't ruled out a return.
“No, I never will,” Pietrangelo told Rutherford. “I’ve never once said that I’m ruling the Blues out. I’ve never said that. I don’t think you really move on. Whether you’ve played 12 years in a city or one year in a city, I don’t think you really move on until it’s pen to paper and you’re going somewhere else. I truly don’t believe that, because it’s not official until then. So maybe it’s in our best interest to see what other opportunities we can have, and maybe Doug has felt the same way, but it doesn’t mean that something can’t happen.”