Alex Pietrangelo, 2020’s most-coveted free agent, did not sign as the free agent market opened on Friday. But, it was not without a major development that could very well decide the future for the former cup-winning captain of the Blues.
As much of the day was quiet with the crop’s top-end talent, St. Louis stole the headlines, inking Torey Krug to a seven-year, $45.5 million contract. The now ex-Bruins defenseman, was reportedly offered the same financial value per-season from the B’s, but the Blues offered an additional season of security. Krug, who scored 49 points in 61 games this season (three less than Pietrangelo scored in 70 games), is a power play specialist who has recorded 160 of his career-337 points on the man-advantage and has averaged in excess of 20 minutes since 2015-16.
On his conference call Friday night, Blues General Manager, Doug Armstrong said he isn’t closing the door on bringing back the long-tenured captain, but acknowledged that the team would have to get pretty creative to make it work.
“I never say never on something like that,” Armstrong said. “The likelihood isn’t great, but if I got a call from (Pietrangelo). I’d like to try and get pen to paper on that.”
Armstrong also said that the speculated structural issues with the contract including signing bonuses and trade protections, which the club has tried to avoid, did not apply to the fourth overall pick from 2008 and one of the franchise’s best players.
“We tried to sign him,” he said. “I want to give our ownership group a ton of credit. We used every tool under the CBA to get it done. There’s no good or bad person in this. It’s just the business of this. I don’t want to close the door to anything yet.”
Carlo Colaiacovo, who played with Pietrangelo from 2008-09–2011-12 tweeted that no decision would be coming for the defenseman on Friday, while many have speculated the Vegas Golden Knights to be among the favorites to now land the free agent’s services. Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, also confirmed his team’s interest prior to their signing of blueliner, T.J. Brodie to a four-year, $20 million contract.
So how might Armstrong decide to get creative? It won’t be easy and it may not even be practical. Especially given the state of the market, which the GM called “constipated.” But here’s just a few running ideas as ahead of Saturday, when the Blues (and others) re-group and get ready to work on the second day of unrestricted free agency.
1. Cap-clearing trade with major sweetener(s)
If the Blues are going to get any kind of flexibility, they’ll need to trade contracts they deem expendable. Which, right off the hop, puts them at a disadvantage in terms of any kind of leverage in negotiations. Not to mention, everyone in the league knows now that they’ll have to rid themselves of salary and cap space to have any chance at avoiding back-to-back captains exit via free agency.
But, there are some intriguing contracts that, packaged with some assets, could be very worthwhile for some teams, especially those with cap floor concerns.
Alexander Steen: The 36-year-old has seen a steady regression over the last two seasons. He’s entering his final season under contract and is owed $3.5 million on a front-loaded contract that carries a $5.75M cap hit. He’s got a full no-trade clause that doesn’t expire until Feb. 1 of next season, according to CapFriendly. If they could convince him to waive, that’s an OK number to eat financially while helping reach the floor–with incentives to boot!
Tyler Bozak: Not all that long ago, Bozak was a wanted asset in the 2018 UFA crop. He plays a more reduced role since going from Toronto to St. Louis (but he’s got a Cup so no complaints there…), but like Steen, enters a season in which his actual salary is less than his cap hit–$4.25 million versus $5M hit. Modified no-trade clause, so there’s some flexibility to facilitate a move.
Sweeteners: Now we come to the part most suitors (or enablers) of such a deal involving one or both of the above are most interested in…what do I GET for helping you out? It’s proven to be an expensive proposition and this may be no different. Might 22-year-old prospect, Jordan Kyrou be someone the Blues would be willing to part with to push out some cap? Would the win-now Blues move their first round pick in 2021? I certainly think so.
So, Where and How?: At the moment of this being written, five NHL clubs are under the salary cap ceiling including two (Buffalo and Ottawa), that are under by more than $5 million. As both continue their rebuild and were largely quiet on Friday in terms of adding NHL talent, might they be interested in one or both of the Steen and Bozak? Steen would have to waive, which probably proves difficult and Bozak could veto both–but if by some chance there’s an opening, the Blues might not hesitate to throw in high-end prospects and draft picks in order to help shed some of their cap crunch. Especially if it means another 6-7 years of Pietrangelo in blue, yellow and white.
2. Jaden Schwartz Stock Could be High
The Blues might become rather familiar with cap crunches in free agency. Next offseason it’s Jordan Binnington; 2022? Colton Parayko. 2023? Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko–and this is to say nothing of Zach Sanford, Oskar Sundqvist, Sammy Blais and Robert Thomas, who all hit restricted free agent status at various points along the way. Perhaps it’s time to shed some bodies on that front. But, the most likely place to start might be Jaden Schwartz.
Schwartz, 28, is entering his final season under contract and if he keeps up the form from last season coupled with his stellar 20-point postseason in 2018-19, he’s due for a nice bump on his current $5.35M AAV he’s been on since 2016-17. I’d bet on Schwartz having a solid campaign and having some options should he go to market. But I also have to think, even as the Blues appear to be among 8-10 serious contenders for the Stanley Cup, that they are getting interest in Schwartz.
Any bit counts with the Blues in their pursuit here, but this is also a chance to get ahead of another ticket they could lose for nothing.
3. Justin Faulk? He Just Got Here
Armstrong gave some pretty nice praise to Justin Faulk on Friday during his media availability, visibly excited by the idea of Faulk and Krug firing away on the power play. Both are just shy of 30 and both are inked until 2027 with trade protections in their deals. That’s….less than ideal.
Faulk’s campaign, which followed his trade from Carolina and immediate seven-year, $45.5 million extension, was not a good one. In 69 games, the right-handed defenseman notched his first sub-30 point full season since his rookie season. Even if you assume there’s some bounce-back potential here, you have to wonder if that’s a deal–carrying a $6.5M cap–that Armstrong might want back.
There’s a chance that perhaps, once the dust settles on free agency and some of the defense that has gone, that Faulk could be in demand for the right price. I’m not sure the Blues have thought about that just yet–I think they’re more interested in making moves up front to accommodate Pietrangelo rather than defense–but, there is a world in which this would make sense. But if finding a trade partner isn’t hard enough on its own, there’s also the full no-trade clause that doesn’t open up to be modified until 2025.
For now, the door still remains open. But it’s going to make some mastery work with the salary cap to find a way. You don’t last as long as Armstrong without being somewhat creative, but even he has to have some limitations.