As we learned here to varying degrees, championships come with their own questions. Most are pleasant and even fun, but others are tough and can dictate just how long you remain in the sun. How much do you weight sentimentality? Value age and production? The Blues will face all of these with Alex Pietrangelo the rest of this season and the summer.
OrangeJello used to be a figure of fun around these offices for years. While he was the Blues #1 d-man for years, and somehow connived his way onto Team Canada in 2014, we just didn’t get it. He never pushed the play at much above the team-rate and was sometimes below it. He scored enough, somewhere between 40-50 points consistently, but wasn’t quite a dynamic offensive performer from the back either. We didn’t even think he was that good defensively, and he didn’t move as well as many other #1 d-men in an ever-quickening league.
Of course, then last year’s playoffs happened, where Pietrangelo piled in 16 points in 20 games, was simply everywhere most nights and looked to have found a snap to his game we hadn’t seen before. Also didn’t hurt his cause that he was the first Blue ever to raise the Cup.
Not much has changed this year. Pietrangelo is on pace for a career-best 57 points. His individual metrics–shots, attempts, chances, expected goals–are miles ahead of his career numbers. He’s been unleashed as a purely offensive d-man a lot of the time, and it’s clearly going down well with him. Hi relative numbers to the team in Corsi and xG% are stratospheric compared to what had come before.
Which is handy for him, because it just so happens he’s an unrestricted free agent come this summer.
Which definitely puts the Blues in something of a quandary. At this rate, Pietrangelo is an $8M or $9M player. And as this is probably his one chance at a big contract, he’s going to want as many years as he can get. The Blues just handed Justin Faulk the same $6.5M per year that Pietrangelo makes now, but he’s not the captain and #1 d-man on a defending champ. Clearly, unless he’s extremely charitable, Pietrangelo is aiming higher. And if he were extremely charitable, he’d probably already be signed now.
He also turns 30 next month, so it’s fair for the Blues to ask how many peak years does he have left? His game should age ok, but this is probably as good as it will be. Do they really want to lock him in for six, seven, or eight years when he definitely won’t be this?
The Blues are also locked in for a good amount of money for next year already. At the moment they’re estimated to have only about $7M in space next season. Maybe they can move along some combination of Schwartz, Bozak, Bouwmeester, Allen, or Steen in some fashion to open up space. But Schwartz isn’t going anywhere, no one is likely biting on Bouwmeester or Steen other than retirement. So there just might not be space.
And the Blues may just conclude they’re buffeted for Pietrangelo’s departure. They have Parayko, they have Faulk, they have Dunn who all provide flair and dash. They’ll need to find some free safeties, but those are easily scraped up. Could the Blues actually just wave their captain goodbye and thank him for his service? It would be the prudent move. But as we’ve learned up here, that’s not that easy of a lever to pull.