In case you weren’t aware, St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo is the premier name on this year’s free agency list. Like the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Blues are in a difficult spot where they have little space to try and retain their captain for the foreseeable future.
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There’s no doubt that Pietrangelo is a defenseman that any team would love to have. He’s been a leader and a staple on the Blues’ defense since they drafted him fourth overall in 2008. He recorded 16 goals and 36 assists last season and has reached double-digit goals and over 40 points four times in the last four seasons. Not to mention, he led the team to a Stanley Cup after the team was dead last in early January of 2019.
This story has been on everyone’s mind for quite some time. Fellow Maple Leafs writer Andrew Forbes and I even discussed the possibility of Pietrangelo signing with the Maple Leafs back in May. A lot has happened since then and now the rumours are starting to get even more interesting as we approach free agency. Could signing Pietrangelo be possible? Yes, but it’s difficult.
Difficult Contract Negotiations with Blues
Early on in the season, it was being reported that Pietrangelo was going to ask for a major raise in his salary, where he was making $6.5 million. However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL’s salary cap is halted at $81.5 million instead of the increase that was supposed to happen.
At some point, the NHL could see an increase in their salary cap over time if they meet certain goals in terms of hockey related revenue. While that sounds good for the future, it’s definitely a difficult situation now for many unrestricted free agents, including Pietrangelo.
News on his contract remained relatively quiet until after the Blues were eliminated from the playoffs. The Blues traded Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens in order to create some cap space to re-sign their captain. Things have picked up in the last week or so. Jeremy Rutherford, the Blues reporter for The Athletic, reported that the team is offering Pietrangelo around $7.7 million, while his asking price could be $8 million, even just over $9 million.
As a result, a few days after this was reported, talks between Pietrangelo and the Blues have broken off as he has grown frustrated over the situation and will be headed to free agency. It’s not the outcome any team would want given that it’s your captain and you would want to do everything to try and keep him with the team.
Rutherford also added that the Blues stayed put with their original offer but didn’t go into details about the breakdown of the contract. If signing bonuses and a front-loaded contract is a factor, we’ve seen this before with the John Tavares signing.
Maple Leafs are on Pietrangelo’s List
The thought of the Maple Leafs signing Pietrangelo would definitely be a major blessing for a team that has struggled defensively. Talks between the two teams have even dated back to the 2018-19 season.
It makes perfect sense that the Maple Leafs would be in the conversation to try and bring Pietrangelo north. He’s exactly what they’re looking for in a defenseman. He’s among the league’s best defenders at producing offense and mitigating scoring chances and goals against. He was second in Individual expected goals last season with 13.27, ranking second among defensemen behind Roman Josi.
TSN’s Pierre Lebrun stated recently on First Up on TSN 1050 that the Maple Leafs are very much on Pietrangelo’s list of possible destinations, along with the Vegas Golden Knights. Based on what Rutherford previously stated, it’s looking like these two might be the front-runners to acquire Pietrangelo.
Clearly, the Maple Leafs are in a cap crunch right now, making it difficult to sign their captain. Based on the salary cap, and their current situation, Lebrun also mentioned that he’s spoken with other teams around the league and they get the sense that general manager Kyle Dubas’ main focus is to improve their defense. This comes as no surprise.
Signing Pietrangelo is Possible, But Difficult
The Maple Leafs’ contract situation really isn’t a secret as it’s been a major issue for quite some time. They’ve already started moving some pieces around with Kasperi Kapanen being dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although, more transactions would have to happen in order to sign Pietrangelo, moving Kapanen was a good start.
Andreas Johnsson has been reported to be on the trade market with the emergence of Nick Robertson. While the Maple Leafs have $6.1 million in projected cap space, according to Cap Friendly, moving his contract at $3.4 million would increase that amount to $9.5 million. If Pietrangelo’s asking price is between $8-9 million, then William Nylander’s $6.96 contract might be moved in order to give the Maple Leafs more of the flexibility they need. That would bring the total to $16.46 million in cap space. If Pierre Engvall is moved, there’s an additional $1.25 million, bringing the cap space to $17.71 million.
While this is all easier said than done, Dubas is going to be busy shedding the necessary contracts. The same goes for Frederik Andersen and signing a cheaper option through free agency, but for now, he’s on the roster as the starter. Here’s a breakdown of what the roster may look like next season. Bold indicates a free agent signing.
|Zach Hyman ($2.25M)||Auston Matthews ($11.6M)||Mitch Marner ($10.893M)|
|Nick Robertson ($821K)||John Tavares ($11M)||Craig Smith ($3M)|
|Ilya Mikheyev ($1.5M)||Joe Thornton ($1M)||Alex Kerfoot ($3.5M)|
|Alexander Barabanov ($925K)||Jason Spezza ($700K)||Yegor Korshkov ($925K)|
|Morgan Rielly ($5M)||Alex Pietrangelo ($8.5M)||Frederik Andersen ($5M)|
|Jake Muzzin ($5.625M)||Dylan DeMelo ($2M)||Jack Campbell ($1.65M)|
|Rasmus Sandin ($894K)||Mikko Lehtonen ($925K)|
Based on what the cap will be and where the Maple Leafs are if they make the necessary moves, it’s very possible to sign Pietrangelo given the space that the team has. With that money, the Maple Leafs can address some of the needs by allocating certain amounts to sign some depth forwards, such as Joe Thornton and Craig Smith and re-signing Jason Spezza to another league-minimum contract.
After the news broke of Pietrangelo heading to free agency, Lebrun mentioned that a sign and trade could be an option. It’s not out of the question, but I doubt any team, even the Maple Leafs, would give up assets when they know he’s heading to the market.
If they did go that route, there’s no doubt that the Maple Leafs 2020 first- round pick they received from the Penguins would be involved along with Nylander in a deal. Could Travis Dermott be another asset included as well? This could be a potential starting point for a trade. The Maple Leafs could also take on a cheap depth player like Oskar Sundqvist, Samuel Blais or Zachary Sanford as it builds up depth in the bottom six.
Given Pietrangelo’s demands, it will definitely be a challenge to stay under the cap. If he’s on the roster it will absolutely complicate things even more.
In addition, there are the moves that you need to address in the future. You need to sign other players coming up in the pipeline; such as Sandin and Robertson. You also have to worry about re-signing Hyman and Rielly to new contracts. Plus there are plenty of intriguing names on the free-agent market. Dubas has options if he feels that signing Pietrangelo isn’t worth the risk.
With Pietrangelo hitting the market it just made things more interesting during this offseason for the Maple Leafs. Even though they would have to move more contracts out and sacrifice their depth in order to sign him, he fills a major positional need. No matter what happens, Dubas has worked his magic with the salary cap before. He has an opportunity to do it again in signing Pietrangelo.
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.