It looks like the St. Louis Blues and Alex Pietrangelo could be headed for a divorce.
According to Darren Dreger of TSN, Pietrangelo said that contract talks haven’t gone the way either side had hoped and, unless something changes, the veteran defender will test the open market come Oct. 9.
Jeremy Rutherford, a well-connected Blues beat writer, reported that the Blues offered Pietrangelo a deal worth $7.7 million annually without him knowing what the structure of the contract would look like. This seems like a play by St. Louis to not have to hand out a contract with heavy signing bonuses, which is obviously a no-go for a player considering the risk of seasons behind cancelled or shortened due to COVID-19.
Now, this could all be posturing by Pietrangelo’s camp to put pressure on the Blues to make a superior offer, but there’s some reason to believe that St. Louis isn’t interested in forking out the cash necessary to keep their captain around.
I just hung up with Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. He believes he’s headed to the market, but he has not ruled out a deal with the Blues. @DarrenDreger reported that sources tell him that talks have broken off and the Blues have told Pietrangelo to pursue free agency. #stlblues
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) September 18, 2020
If Pietrangelo does end up reaching free agency, he’ll easily be the best defenceman, and, perhaps, the best player on the open market.
He’s just one year removed from leading the Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup and he’s coming off a season in which he posted 52 points while logging 24:11 per night. There’s no doubt that he would be a game-changing addition to any team’s blueline.
Could the Oilers afford to sign him? Let’s take a look at what it would take to do so.
Edmonton currently has roughly $10.5 million in cap room available this off-season. They need to get Ethan Bear signed to a new contract and they also have to make decisions on two other restricted free agents in Matt Benning and Andreas Athanasiou. The Oilers also need to make an upgrade in net and they could use an upgrade at the third-line centre position.
Let’s say that Pietrangelo is looking for a deal worth $8.5 million annually. If Edmonton were to give him that contract, it would eat up almost all of the salary cap room they have available. So, if this were to happen, they would obviously need to find a way to clear a substantial amount of room.
The easy solution would be to dump Kris Russell and Adam Larsson’s contracts. Both players have one year left on their deals at $4 million and $4,166,666 respectively. But that’s easier said than done. Just about everybody in the league is feeling the effects of a lower-than-expected cap ceiling and dumping either contract would require taking on salary in return.
Another quick and easy way to open up cap room is buying out the remainder of James Neal’s contract. Neal has three years left at $5.75 million and would cost the team $1,916,667 against the cap if he were to be bought out this fall. That’s a savings of $3,833,333 for the next three seasons.
But Edmonton already has $3,833,333 in dead buyout money in 2020-21 and $1,500,000 in 2021-22 and 2022-23 and they’re paying Milan Lucic $750k for three more seasons. Adding more dead money isn’t ideal.
Simply dumping bad contracts and using buyouts isn’t going to work. If the Oilers were to sign Pietrangelo and deal with all of their other needs this off-season, they’ll have to get creative.
You basically have to accept that Pietrangelo is going to be your only major free-agent signing of the off-season. The other holes, a goaltending upgrade and a third-line centre, would then have to come via trade, with money going out in each deal.
First off, both Athanasiou or Benning would have to go. Ideally, you can trade both players away as restricted free agents in order to recoup some draft assets. Next, using a combination of Larsson and Russell to simultaneously find a third-line centre and goalie while not taking on any extra cap room.
I would look to the Nashville Predators, who have an abundance of middle-six forwards and a need for veteran defencemen, for a deal around Larsson and Nick Bonino. Both players are inked for one more year at a similar cap hit. That would be a perfect need-filling, financially-lateral move.
I would also look to the Arizona Coyotes for a goaltending upgrade. We know that the Coyotes want to get cheaper this fall and they want to acquire some draft pick capital. I would bite the bullet and offer Kris Russell along with the No. 14 overall pick in exchange for Darcy Kuemper.
Russell is obviously just a dump to make things work cap-wise. He has a cap hit of $4 million but only carries a salary of $1.5 million, which might be ideal for a team like Arizona who’s looking to save actual cash. The mid-first-round pick in a deep draft would be a steep price to pay, but Kuemper is a good goalie who’s signed for two more seasons. If it helps you hypothetically sign a defenceman like Pietrangelo, it’s worth it.
If these deals work, we’ve taken on about $300k against cap in order to fill both the third-line centre and goalie needs. More space needs to be opened up in order to sign Ethan Bear to a bridge deal and to not be sitting right at the salary cap ceiling.
If we can’t find a taker for, say, Alex Chiasson, who’s owed $2.15 million for one more season, we’ll likely have to circle back to the buyout option. We would like to avoid having Neal count against the cap as deal money for the next six years, but opening up $3,833,333 would give us the room to easily sign Bear and even have a little left over to possibly keep somebody like Tyler Ennis around or bring Jesse Puljujarvi back from Europe. It isn’t ideal, but it might be necessary in this context.
Now, look, this is all purely hypothetical. None of us really expect Alex Pietrangelo to sign with the Oilers this off-season. But it ultimately goes to show just how tight things are for the Oilers right now and how difficult it would be for them to make a major splash in free agency. It’s possible, but there would be a lot of gymnastics involved.
The deals that I suggested were fairly advantageous to the Oilers. If this were to actually happen, it would probably result in more than Edmonton waving goodbye to Russell, Larsson, Benning, Athanasiou, and a first-round pick. Ken Holland would more than likely have to bite the bullet and trade one of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Darnell Nurse in order to open up the room necessary to get a Pietrangelo deal done. Would it be worth it to sign a 30-year-old defenceman?
Anyways, let me know if you think the Oilers should try to sign Pietrangelo and what you’d give up in order to make it possible.