Ever since his club hoisted the Stanley Cup last spring, St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has had his work cut out for him in trying to keep his championship-winning core together.
Over the course of the past season, Armstong has brought in and re-signed Justin Faulk, locked up would-be UFAs Brayden Schenn and Marco Scandella, and secured RFAs like Sammy Blais. And all along, the biggest piece of the puzzle remained: re-signing captain Alex Pietrangelo.
Both GM and his captain have been on the same page throughout the year, both expressing their desire to re-sign on the dotted line, but making it clear that contract talks would take place once the games are over.
Now that the Blues’ mission to repeat as champs has officially come to an end, the focus naturally lands on what’s next for the man headlining this year’s class of impending UFAs and the only club he’s ever played for.
“Obviously, I want to stay a Blue. Of course I do,” Pietrangelo told reporters Tuesday during a season-ending media availability via Zoom. “It’s the only place I’ve known professional hockey.”
In addition to wearing the “C” 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. Asked about his legacy in St. Louis, he pointed to other long-tenured Blues and their closeness with the organization as something he values, too.
“Legacy is obviously important. This organization means a lot to me,” he said. “You see Al [MacInnis] come around, and see all the other alumni who are around regularly, and that means a lot. It’s guys who have a great relationship with the organization that have been around and really set their roots in St. Louis. But whether it’s here or somewhere else, you want to play to the best of your ability and leave a legacy wherever you are. And that goes along with on the ice and off the ice, trying to impact the organization and the community. So, whether it’s here or anywhere else, I think it’s important to me to really kind of set my roots, wherever it is, and I know my wife feels the same way.”
Though his King City, Ont., roots have consistently linked him to the defence-needy Toronto Maple Leafs, Pietrangelo has built a family and a foundation in St. Louis. Wife Jayne is from St. Louis, and the couple’s triplets were born there in 2018.
Thoughts of seeing No. 27 hang from the rafters at Enterprise Center — “I think I need to accomplish more in order to get that,” he noted — factor into any legacy talks, as do his children as they get old enough to understand and appreciate his place in the game.
“I think being able to take my kids down to games, and they see that stuff, would obviously be important to me,” he said. “I’m always thinking about my family and what I can show my kids. That would be something that would be special, for sure.”
As for that impact, you don’t have to search long to see it. Pietrangelo has consistently led the club in ice time over the past 10 seasons, has been the team’s points leader on defence the last five years running, and so often sets the tone for the club’s strong play as a near-perennial Central Division contender.
“I think at the end of the day, most people believe that Alex Pietrangelo would like to remain with the St. Louis Blues, and there is time for both sides to get serious and work this out,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman explained during the Headlines segment of Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. “I get the sense that they’ll believe that he’s an unrestricted free agent when they see it, but it is a matter of now seven weeks to see if they can hammer this out.”
Free agency is set to open on Oct. 9, or seven days after Stanley Cup Final ends, and Pietrangelo made it clear on Tuesday that he’ll use it.
“If this decision was something that we weren’t thinking hard about we wouldn’t be in this spot,” Pietrangelo said on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration here moving forward and it’s not a fun thing to go through, it’s not easy. But when you have a good solid base at home and I’ve got my wife and my kids … it definitely makes the process a little bit easier because you can really take your time and sit back and evaluate everything that needs to be evaluated to make the right decision.”
While time is on their side, the salary cap is not. Next year’s flat cap, remaining at $81.5 million due to the pandemic throwing a massive curveball at league operations, will have a number of clubs feeling the pinch. The Blues don’t have much flexibility in that regard — projections for 2021 have them ringing in a about $78 million, with fellow defenceman Vince Dunn (RFA) also requiring a new deal.
Early-season numbers indicated a Pietrangelo extension would cost $9 million per year, and another strong performance this past season (16 goals, 36 assists and 52 points through 70 games with a plus-11 rating) should only help his wallet.
Time and cap space will both factor in, but the motivation is there to make another run for the Cup next season.
“We’re gonna be hungry next year,” Pietrangelo said. “This is a group that wants to win and there’s a lot of core pieces here that are going to be here for a while.”