Introducing The Hockey Writers’ Countdown to Puck Drop series. From now until the puck drops on the 2019-20 NHL’s regular season on Oct. 2 when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Ottawa Senators, we’ll be producing content that’s connected to the number of days remaining on that particular day. Some posts may be associated with a player’s number, while others will be connected to a year or length of time. We’re really excited about this series as we take you through the remainder of summer in anticipation of the return of NHL hockey.
With 27 days remaining until the night when the St. Louis Blues will raise a Stanley Cup banner into the rafters for the first time ever, there’s no better time to talk about the captain, who wears the same number, that got them there.
Many wondered whether Alex Pietrangelo was the right man to take the Blues to the promised land, particularly this season when his dreadful start sparked trade speculation. But he did it, and now it’s time that the team rewards him properly. Yes, there’s an entire season left on Pietrangelo’s contract. But the Blues should focus on re-signing him now. Here’s why.
In recent years, few defensemen have been as consistent as Pietrangelo. Over the past three seasons, only seven defensemen have averaged more time on the ice than he has. He is 14th in points in that time, with 143, and he comfortably rests inside the top 20 in most other categories.
Pietrangelo has been the pillar of consistency for the St. Louis defense for many seasons. It’s why the Blues did not hesitate to name him captain after David Backes departed for the Boston Bruins. Even with the star power of Vladimir Tarasenko, there was no question that Pietrangelo was the centerpiece of the franchise.
A Rocky Road to the Cup
But that reputation was challenged this season. He stumbled out of the gate, posting just four points in 10 games in the month of October, along with an uncharacteristic minus-eight rating. That was due in part to his pairing with Jay Bouwmeester, who clearly had not fully recovered from hip surgery late in the previous season.
Though Pietrangelo returned to form fairly quickly, the controversy didn’t end. With just a season and a half left on his contract, and the ship he was captaining looking lost at sea, the Blues shopped their captain heavily around the NHL. A trade to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for William Nylander was very close, but never quite materialized.
Through it all, Pietrangelo remained steadfast. He kept leading the team with quiet confidence and helped to turn the ship around. In the second half, he had 22 points in 33 games, averaging 24:17 TOI and finishing as a plus-eight. He was a major part of the team’s playoff turnaround.
Alex Meets Stanley
Once the postseason began, Pietrangelo reached a whole new level. He played in every playoff game, unsurprisingly, but he averaged an incredible 25:45 in those games. He blocked 48 shots, took 77 of his own, scored three goals, and led all postseason players with 16 assists. The emergence of Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko as the team’s shutdown line freed Pietrangelo to play a more dynamic offensive role, and he stepped into it with great success.
That transformation resulted in his being the first-ever Blues’ captain to hoist the Stanley Cup. With sparklers ablaze behind him, he accepted the trophy from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman with jubilation before skating over and handing it off to Bouwmeester.
It was the culmination of 52 years of suffering for the Blues. The team’s list of previous captains includes Backes as well as Hockey Hall of Fame members Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis, Brett Hull, and even (briefly) Wayne Gretzky. But none of them were able to finish the season like Pietrangelo did, with the Stanley Cup in hand.
Time to Reward Pietrangelo
That kind of achievement deserves proper compensation. Pietrangelo probably is not the Blues’ most valuable player anymore. With Parayko evolving into one of the league’s top blueliners, and Ryan O’Reilly arriving as a Conn Smythe and Selke Trophy winner, the Blues could probably survive with a new captain.
But they shouldn’t try to. Pietrangelo is an integral part of the team, and it would be a mistake to let the captain that lifted the Stanley Cup for the first time depart just a year later. He’s laid down roots in this city, marrying a woman from the area and raising triplets in town. He’s unlikely to try and negotiate for top dollar from general manager Doug Armstrong.
With defensive depth and a player like Parayko, the Blues can afford to let this situation linger, but they shouldn’t. They should prioritize re-signing their captain before the season begins. He’s brought the team to the top of the mountain for the very first time. Now, the Blues should reward him in kind.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.