As we discussed last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs are making moves in the international free agent pool, signing Alexander Barabanov and Mikko Lehtonen – filling in some depth roles in the process. But what are they going to do when NHL free agency opens?
On July 1, 2018, the Maple Leafs landed the ultimate prize in signing John Tavares. Now another name is gaining attention as a top free-agent, Alex Pietrangelo.
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We all know the Maple Leafs need help on the blue line and it’s speculated that they’ve inquired about him last season during the William Nylander contract negotiations. Whether he’ll re-sign or head to the free-agent market remains to be seen. This week, we’ll discuss if it’s at all possible to sign the St. Louis Blues captain and Stanley Cup Champion.
Forbes: Pietrangelo is What the Maple Leafs Need
For quite some time, the questions have circled around the Maple Leafs’ defense. This past offseason, they acquired Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie, but injuries and inconsistent play once again brought back the same questions. How can the Maple Leafs win come playoff time without the depth and toughness on the back end?
Enter Pietrangelo. It’s a possibility that he could hit the free-agent market when his contract expires following this hockey hiatus we are currently experiencing. While there is mutual interest in re-signing in St. Louis, the addition of Pietrangelo would fill a major hole in the Maple Leafs lineup. At 6-foot-3 and just over 200 pounds, the 30-year-old veteran is a proven leader and one that can only add experience to a, still, very young team in Toronto.
On top of that, Pietrangelo has the playoff pedigree and has a Stanley Cup under his belt, which gives him that slight edge in terms of knowing just what it takes to get to that point of hoisting the holy grail.
While it won’t be easy to lure the grizzled vet to Toronto, consider this. He’s a native of King City, Ontario, which is just about 40 minutes outside of Toronto. And it would be something for him to return home and try and help the Maple Leafs get over the hump. That said, people will argue the financial side of the Maple Leafs signing Pietrangelo, but with the right moves and maneuvering, it’s still a possibility.
However, while it’s a different time, the comparables for a 30-year-old defenceman aren’t in favour of Pietrangelo. All of Alex Edler, Tyler Myers and Anton Stralman signed contracts within the past two years. All were over the age of 30 and each one came in with an AAV of $6 million or less.
Drew Doughty was another comparable and he signed an eight-year deal worth $11 million per season on July 1, 2018 at the age of 29, but Pietrangelo falls somewhere in between the accomplishments of the afore mentioned players and Doughty.
While there’s mutual interest between the Blues and Pietrangelo, their long-term signing of Justin Faulk on Sept. 24, 2019, puts that in jeopardy. As for the Maple Leafs, the dollar amount just might not make sense for the team if he’s looking to get a raise from his current $6.5-million contract.
Baracchini: Cap Crunch Makes Signing Pietrangelo Difficult
When the Maple Leafs signed Tavares in 2018, we knew that eventually, they would face some salary cap complications down the line. With Blues’ captain and impending free-agent Pietrangelo being the top name this year, if the Maple Leafs were to pursue him, then their cap issue would become that much greater.
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With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting the league down, this may impact the originally slated $84- $88 million salary cap which would’ve benefited the Maple Leafs to possibly pursue Pietrangelo. It’s been reported that Pietrangelo is seeking a contract similar to that of Oliver Ekman- Larsson, around $8.25 million or higher.
Even with Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci possibly coming off the books, the Maple Leafs could use their combined salaries to sign Pietrangelo. However, there are decisions of other free agents that need to be addressed. Will Jason Spezza sign another league minimum deal after finding success after Mike Babcock was fired? Will Kyle Clifford be re-signed? Ilya Mikheyev showed that he deserves a contract extension after a strong rookie season before he suffered a serious hand injury.
As a player, Pietrangelo makes sense to have on the Maple Leafs with his winning pedigree, consistent defensive play and offensive output. However, it’s difficult given that Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares already account for 41.84 per cent of the team’s cap. With Jake Muzzin making a reasonable $5.625 million and considering the impact he had this year, it makes signing Pietrangelo signing a bit more difficult.
After this season is up, Morgan Rielly is signed on for two more years at a cheap $5 million and Frederik Andersen will become an unrestricted free agent in 2021-22. You can be sure that they’re going to ask for a raise over their current contract. If Pietrangelo signed, this would complicate things even more long-term, considering that these current roster players would need a new contract.
The only way signing Pietrangelo would work is if the Maple Leafs continue to make cheap and affordable signings to key depth players in a bottom-six role while freeing up $10.1 million that’s already allocated to Andreas Johnsson, Kaperi Kapanen and Alexander Kerfoot. This might be the best option for the Maple Leafs instead of signing Pietrangelo long term. Even then, you’re probably going to take on salary as well if you’re finding a top-four, right-handed defenseman.
There might be even more affordable options for the Maple Leafs when the free-agent period opens up. They could target Dustin Byfuglien (if he continues to play) on a low contract, Christopher Tanev, Radko Gudas or even Dylan DeMelo to fill out the right side.
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Who wouldn’t want Pietrangelo on their team? He’s exactly what the Maple Leafs need. But given the current cap situation, contracts that need to be addressed and the current pandemic, signing Pietrangelo might be more of a dream than a reality.
Do you think signing Alex Pietrangelo is possible? Let us know in the comment section.
Contract numbers from CapFriendly.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.