When we last left Alex Pietrangelo, he had overcome a bumpy start to his debut season with the Vegas Golden Knights, and was rounding into the form that owner Bill Foley, president Gerard Gallant, and general manager Kelly McCrimmon had in mind when they handed him a seven-year, $61.6 million contract last summer.
After recording three goals and six assists over the final 10 games of the regular season, Pietrangelo finished tied for second in playoff scoring among all defensemen with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 19 games. More to the point, he offered productive, reliable contributions from his own end and steely veteran leadership while logging more than 25 minutes a night. (from, “After slow start, Alex Pietrangelo rounding into playoff form,” Ben Gotz, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 05/14/21)
Had you witnessed Pietrangelo during his St. Louis Blues days, and again as the 2021 postseason rolled around, you wouldn’t have batted an eye, save for the change in uniform. So then, what happened in those early Vegas days?
Pietrangelo Starts Slow with the Golden Knights
The 2019 Stanley Cup champion had been a model of consistency as long-time captain of the Blues, averaging between 37 and 52 points for seven years running while serving as a foundational defensive stalwart. Which made it all the more surprising when Pietrangelo struggled early on with his new club after spending the first 13 years of his career with the Blues.
For one thing, the 31-year-old’s numbers were down, even when accounting for a shortened season. Pietrangelo averaged 0.56 points per game, slightly below his 0.59 career average and his lowest mark in five seasons. A deeper look into defensive metrics offers a more pronounced view of his largely underwhelming campaign. His first season in Vegas produced a defensive points share (DPS) of 3.5, his lowest contribution since 2012-13.
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Pietrangelo’s rough start becomes considerably more understandable when considering things from his perspective.
He uprooted his family, left the day-to-day life he knew in St. Louis, and suddenly had a shortened season to acclimate to new teammates and surroundings. As he grew more adjusted in his new home, he found himself on the COVID protocol list, further disrupting his ability to get comfortable. We still don’t know the circumstances surrounding that, and won’t speculate, but it couldn’t have been easy to focus solely on hockey.
Pietrangelo Appears Ready to Move Forward
As we head into the 2021-22 season, the Golden Knights have plenty riding on getting the latter version of Pietrangelo rather than the former. The King City, Ontario native’s past track record in St. Louis, coupled with all the odd circumstances surrounding last season, would suggest that’s a reasonable bet. That said, he’s also at a point in his career where age-related decline wouldn’t necessarily be unusual.
In seeking hope that things aren’t all downhill once a blueliner hits 31, Pietrangelo needs only look at erstwhile defensive partner Alec Martinez. Now 34, Martinez is coming off one of the best seasons of his 12-year career, finishing with a career-best plus-26 plus/minus and enjoying his second-highest point total (32 points) despite playing just 53 games.
Interestingly, Martinez’s breakthrough for Vegas came in the former Los Angeles King’s first full season with the club, having come over in a mid-season trade in early 2020. That improvement, which helped Martinez secure a three-year, $15.75 million contract this summer, could resonate with Pietrangelo, who is also now settled in with the Golden Knights.
For Vegas, the strange 2020-21 season ultimately ended in disappointment, as they fell short of the Stanley Cup Final thanks to the Montreal Canadiens. For Pietrangelo, however, strides made late in the regular season and into the playoffs provided a much-needed return to normal. Now, the optimism from one year ago has returned and fans can dare to dream about what having the three-time All-Star at full strength might mean for the club.
I may be a Leafs fan at heart (I’ve witnessed their highs and lows first-hand as a Scotiabank Arena employee), but I’m also a veteran freelance sportswriter who loves a good story. And there’s been no better story in hockey over the past few years than the Vegas Golden Knights. I’m excited to be covering the NHL again on the Golden Knights’ beat.