Alex Pietrangelo is Still an Unsigned Restricted Free Agent
By Ryan Kiray (@RyanK_THG)
With NHL training camp fast approaching, most teams will be making the final adjustments to their rosters in the coming weeks. For most teams, this will most likely mean nothing more than a few fringe players and prospects moving between the NHL and AHL. For a few, this will mean adding one of the number of NHL veterans left in the cold during this summer’s free agent frenzy. However, the St. Louis Blues and their General Manager, Doug Armstrong, have a problem of their own; their number one defenseman, star youngster Alex Pietrangelo, remains a restricted free agent. The Blues would do well to get their stud blueliner under contract before camp begins; if recent precedent is any indication, they will regret allowing their standoff to extend into the coming season.
The Los Angeles Kings could likely spin the Blues a cautionary tale about overplaying the hand that is dealt with regards to restricted free agents. Many will remember the Kings’ standoff with their own young defenseman in the 2011 offseason. Defenseman Drew Doughty was rumored to be seeking a contract in excess of $7,000,000 per year on a long-term deal; Kings GM Dean Lombardi wanted to cap Doughty’s salary at Anze Kopitar’s $6.8 million per year figure. Doughty held out, and it was the team that lost.
The game of chicken did not work out for Lombardi or the Kings; Doughty did not put pen to paper on a contract extension until September 29 of that year, missing the bulk of training camp in the progress. Despite Lombardi’s bluster that Doughty was costing himself money with every passing day, Doughty costs the Kings a healthy $7 million against the cap. While that number is manageable for a player of Doughty’s caliber, Lombardi certainly did not manage to strong-arm Doughty into the contract that he wanted. The worse was also yet to come.
Doughty struggled to start the 2011 season, posting only two goals and nine points in the first 25 games of that season, and going nine games without a point at one point during that stretch. He finished the season with 32 points in 77 games, but the rust from missing training camp was apparent.
Doughty’s tale is instructive, but not unique. The Avalanche ended up dolling out $5 million to Ryan O’Reilly, albeit on a short-term contract, and the Predators were forced to match Philadelphia’s massive, financially crippling offer sheet for Shea Weber. The Canadiens ended P.K. Subban’s holdout with only a two-year deal, and will be confronted with the reality of Subban using Kris Letang’s new contract as a comparison point in his contract negotiations this summer. Even if the Blues were to force Pietrangelo into a short-term deal for less money, which seems highly unlikely, they will end up paying for it in the long run.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that there is usually little to gain by attempting to strong-arm a restricted free agent. For the teams, it is a lose-lose situation financially; the truly elite young players usually get what they want in terms of contract dollars, and, even when they do not, the compromise deals that they sign are short-term pacts that end up leading to bigger pay days a short time later. For every Marc Staal, there are three Doughtys.
If Pietrangelo does not sign soon, he will be playing on a shortened training camp at best. While the Blues are blessed to have Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk to pick up some of the slack of a rusty Pietrangelo, Pietrangelo is the clear anchor of their defensive corps. As Pietrangelo goes, so too will the Blues. If Chris Stewart can return to form, young winger Vladimir Tarasenko can continue to progress, and the Blues can find some rhythm with their goaltending tandem, they have the look of a true Cup contender. Given that reality, is it really worth risking running Pietrangelo at less than 100% for a marginal-at-best chance that they will be able to reduce his cap number?
With David Perron in Edmonton, the Blues have around $7 million in allocable cap space. The window on their Stanley Cup chances is open as wide as it has been in many years. They have little to nothing to gain by continuing this farce; if $7 million will not get ink on a new Pietrangelo contract, it will not take much more. The time has come for Doug Armstrong to swallow his pride and get Pietrangelo on the ice for training camp. With the Cup calling, the brass in St. Louis would do well to remember that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.