With the news that the St. Louis Blues have broken off extension talks with their star blueliner and captain Alex Pietrangelo, NHL general managers have taken notice, and rightfully so. The need for a right shooting defenseman is plentiful and it would be hard not to make a play to acquire one of the best in the league if he is made available.
This may not be a glaring area of need for the Colorado Avalanche, as they already have a solid d-core and high-end defensive prospects. However, GM Joe Sakic will have to do his due diligence and at least inquire about what it would take to lure Pietrangelo to the Mile High City. An acquisition of this magnitude would mean a lot of changes to the team dynamic and future outlook but could make all the difference in taking the Avs from Stanley Cup contender to Stanley Cup favorites.
Pietrangelo Career and Accolades
Pietrangelo is considered one of the best two-way defensemen in the league and has accomplished a lot in his 12 seasons. The former fourth-overall pick has appeared in 758 NHL games and accumulated 450 points (109 goals and 341 assists) but his plus-77 rating speaks to how sound he is defensively.
He has spent his entire career with the Blues organization and is coming off a 7-year, $45.5 million deal worth $6.5 million annually. He has served as the team’s captain since 2016 and led the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2019.
Writing on the Wall
During the 2019-20 season, Blues GM Doug Armstrong acquired defenseman Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes, and who would become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. The deal came as even more of a shock when Armstrong immediately signed him to a 7-year, $45.5 million deal extension, identical to Pietrangelo’s contract.
The move created speculation regarding Pietrangelo’s unlikely future with the Blues because of the team’s limited cap space to re-sign their captain and offer an extension to restricted free agent Vince Dunn.
Let the Sweepstakes Begin
The Blues have just over $5 million to re-sign both Pietrangelo and Dunn, and both players are looking at significant pay raises. It’s hard to see Pietrangelo returning unless Armstrong can move out other contracts.
Pietrangelo was recently told by the Blues to pursue free agency:
“I guess the best way to sum it up, we haven’t really made much progress, 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.”Alex Pietrangelo told NHL.com in an exclusive interview.
Although a return to St. Louis is not out of the question, Pietrangelo will be shown the dollars on the open market. Given his pedigree and that so many teams are desperate for right-handed defensemen, interest on the market for the King City, Ontario native will be high.
Bring Petro to Colorado
While many teams will be interested and some are already linked to the UFA (cough* Toronto Maple Leafs cough*) that should not deter the Avalanche from pursuing the 30-year-old. After coming up one round short of a Stanley Cup Final appearance, thanks to injuries derailing their run, the Avs need to consider adding a player of Pietrangelo’s caliber and experience to take them to the next level.
The Avs have a total of $22,364,405 in cap space this offseason to spend on five RFAs and five UFAs should they so choose. Their defense corps is already solid, but they will still need to address signing RFAs Ryan Graves and Nikita Zadorov.
Table 1: Projected Avalanche Blue Line for 2020-21 Season Without Pietrangelo)
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
|Ryan Graves||Cale Makar|
|Samuel Girard||Erik Johnson|
|Ian Cole||Conor Timmins|
Graves had a great season alongside Cale Makar, so it is unlikely he will be going anywhere. Zadorov, on the other hand, might be the odd one out with Conor Timmins ready to step into a full-time NHL role.
Table 2. Projected 2020-21 Avalanche RFA Contract Offers
|Player||2019-20 Salary||2020-21 Offer||2020-21 Salary|
|Andre Burakovsky||$3.25 million||3 year, $12.75 million||$4.25 million|
|Ryan Graves||$735,000||4 years, $12 million||$3 million|
|Tyson Jost||$827,500||Qualifying Offer||$930,125|
|Valeri Nichushkin||$850,000||Arbitration||$1.7 million|
|Subtotal: Tendered Contracts||$5,662,500||$9,880,125|
After projecting the cap hit of each of the Avalanche’s free agents who will be returning next season, we can project the total remaining cap space to sign Pietrangelo.
Players that the Avs let go will need to be replaced, but there are several prospects ready to be given a chance at the NHL level and can provide inexpensive options to fill the holes without overspending.
Table 3. Projected 2020-21 Avalanche Non-tenders
|Player Name||2019-20 Salary|
|Vlad Namestnikov||$4 million|
|Matt Nieto||$1.975 million|
|Colin Wilson||$2.6 million|
|Nikita Zadorov||$3.2 million|
Table 4. Projected Prospect Promotions
|Shane Bowers||$925,000||Matt Nieto|
|Martin Kaut||$894,167||Vlad Kamenev|
|Connor Timmins||$925,000||Mark Barberio|
Table 5: Projected Cap Space Remaining to Sign Pietrangelo
|Current Salary Cap (2020-21 season)||$22,364,405|
|Subtotal for Projected Tendered Contracts (Table 2)||– $9,880,125|
|Subtotal for projected Promotions||– $2,744,167|
|Total Cap Space remaining (2020-21)||$9,740,113|
After all the signings and promotions, the Avs should have somewhere in the ballpark of $9,740,113 (subject to signing projections provided). This should be more than enough to land Pietrangelo’s services, although there won’t be much wiggle room to fill other needs if they do.
Future of the Organization
If the Avalanche pull this off and win the Pietrangelo sweepstakes, they could become an even more elite team. He provides shut down defense and can play tough minutes against the opposition’s top players while also chipping in on offense.
Table 6: Projected Avalanche Blue Line for 2020-21 Season (With Pietrangelo)
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
|Ryan Graves||Cale Makar|
|Samuel Girard||Alex Pietrangelo|
|Ian Cole||Erik Johnson|
His acquisition would free up Makar and take a load off his shoulders in terms of offensive production and tough matchups. This deal would also make some of the current defensemen on the roster expendable. With the depth on defense, players like Erik Johnson or Ian Cole could be moved to create more cap space for the team moving forward.
The tangible improvements Pietrangelo would provide to the Avalanche are evident but the intangibles are what make going after the blueliner all the more worthwhile.
Makar is a Calder Trophy winner and Bowen Byram is on the rise. Pietrangelo could offer great leadership to two promising defensive prospects.
Worth the Risk
There is a risk involved in paying a 30-year-old defenseman who is a depreciating asset upwards of $8 million annually. But with the high-end youth prospects coming through the system, the Avalanche have cost-effective assets and a good balance of veteran and youth presence within the organization. Pietrangelo may be the piece that puts a team like the Avalanche over the top and could help them be a consistent Cup contender for the foreseeable future.