Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) whenever the 2019-20 season comes to an end in the NHL. And while it seems most likely that the first man ever to lift a Stanley Cup in a Blues uniform will remain in St. Louis, there’s a real possibility that the team will be in search of a new captain this offseason.
If that occurs, they will likely look to name one immediately. While it is somewhat in vogue for teams to go months or even seasons without an official on-ice leader, the Blues will look to fill the vacancy quickly in the middle of a championship window. In this article, we will look at the potential favorites, underdogs, and long shots for the Blues’ captaincy if Pietrangelo leaves. As we do, we will assign simulated odds for how likely each player is to receive the honor.
Ryan O’Reilly (3:1)
It’s hard to overstate the impact Ryan O’Reilly made on the Blues in his first season with the team. After the discontented center departed the Buffalo Sabres, he quickly won a Conn Smythe and Selke Trophy while helping his team win their first-ever Stanley Cup. He also became a vocal leader on the team despite being a newcomer. And — unsurprisingly with that trophy case — he is now a fan favorite as well.
Already an alternate captain, the transition would be an easy one for O’Reilly. He is the team’s leading forward in average time on ice (ATOI) by over two minutes, fulfilling a significant qualification for the role. Most fans would call O’Reilly the frontrunner for the vacancy, should it arise. The only potential drawback is his relative newness with the team.
Vladimir Tarasenko (7:1)
If longevity is a concern, then Vladimir Tarasenko is the fairly obvious choice. The Russian forward has already played 507 games with the Blues and, like O’Reilly, will have three seasons left on his contract after this one. Tarasenko is already fifth all-time in goals for the Blues with 214 and 10th in points with 428. He is a fan favorite as well and has talked openly about his fondness for St. Louis and the Blues’ fans in the past.
If there is any resistance to Tarasenko’s captaincy, it might come from his Russian heritage and the fact that English is his second language. But that hasn’t stopped Alex Ovechkin from serving in the role with the Washington Capitals since the 2009-10 season, nor has the stigma affected the eight NHL captains (including Ovechkin) who are nationals of some country other than Canada or the United States. Tarasenko’s injury history could also be a concern, but hopefully, the long layoff afforded by the unexpectedly paused season will give him ample time to recover and rehabilitate his shoulder.
Colton Parayko (15:1)
If you want to give the captaincy to the person who will most closely step into Pietrangelo’s on-ice role, then Colton Parayko is the obvious choice. Few teams are fortunate enough to have two centerpiece right-handed defensemen, but Parayko is every bit as valuable in many ways as is the current captain. During the Stanley Cup run, he formed a shutdown pairing with Jay Bouwmeester, averaging 25:07 during that run. Once again this season, Parayko trails only Pietrangelo in ice time at 23:00, and he will surely see an uptick in that category if the captain leaves in the offseason.
Parayko is beloved by St. Louis fans, and even with Bouwmeester likely to retire after a frightening cardiac event, he found immediate chemistry with Blues newcomer Marco Scandella. Given the four-year, $13.1 million contract the Blues just gave Scandella, Parayko has solidity for the remaining two years of his contract. And if Pietrangelo leaves, it seems very unlikely that general manager Doug Armstrong would let his other prized defenseman depart as well.
There is a case to be made for Parayko to take Pietrangelo’s captaincy. Ultimately, though, it falls short. Thus far in his career, as good as he has been, he’s played almost exclusively in the captain’s shadow. And while he is 27, in his prime, and may be capable of fulfilling the role, it would be a lot to thrust both an expanded on-ice role and the captaincy on the player at one time. If Pietrangelo leaves, Parayko will have a long future in St. Louis. It just likely will not be as the team’s leader.
Brayden Schenn (25:1)
The case for Brayden Schenn is based primarily on longevity. Early this season, he signed an eight-year contract extension with an average annual value of $6.5 million. That means — barring a trade or an expansion draft selection — Schenn will be with the Blues through the 2027-28 season, the longest tenure of any player currently signed.
With that said, Schenn doesn’t presently serve as an alternate captain. He is a second center and may move to the wing or lower in the lineup as Robert Thomas matures. He’s well-liked and has on-ice tenacity that fans and teammates both really appreciate. But there is not an obvious route to the captaincy. His contract is a plus, but that shouldn’t be the primary factor in deciding a captain.
Alexander Steen (50:1)
If the Blues want to pay homage to a long-tenured player at the end of his career, they could give the captaincy to Alex Steen. He joined the Blues during the 2008-09 season and has been in St. Louis ever since. When former captain David Backes left the team in 2016, Steen was doubtlessly one of the frontrunners to fill the role. But now he is 36 and clearly not the player he once was. Ironically, the Blues may look to move his contract to clear salary-cap space to keep Pietrangelo. But even if he stays and the captain leaves, giving him the role now seems unlikely.
Robert Thomas (100:1)
The Blues could shock everyone by naming Robert Thomas captain. He is a centerpiece of their longterm future, but he’s also just 20. Though he’s the best of the Blues’ young guns, he is still very young. If the team weren’t in the midst of a Stanley Cup window, they might look into the distant future and consider naming Thomas captain. But at this juncture, it seems extremely unlikely.
The Obvious Choice
Of course, the obvious choice for the Blues is to avoid this dilemma and re-sign their current captain. Pietrangelo is their most important player, not just for the letter on his chest but for the role he plays. If he goes, it will most likely be O’Reilly or Tarasenko who replaces him. But Armstrong will likely do everything he can to keep him, despite the challenge the salary cap poses.
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.