In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at recent rumblings about St. Louis Blues stalwart defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Hockey analysts have suggested that there’s a possibility he could join the Maple Leafs, who need a top-flight defenseman badly, and he’s the biggest name on the list.
In this post, I want to look at considerations from both sides, the Blues – including what Pietrangelo might be thinking – and Toronto. Is there any logic to these rumblings?
Pietrangelo: From the St. Louis Perspective
I believe Pietrangelo will stay in St. Louis. He’s been there his entire career; he’s married to someone whose family is from there. His family situation is also complicated – not in a bad way – because he and his wife Jayne have two-year-old triplets born in July 2018. Moving across town with three two-year-olds would be difficult, let alone from the United States to Canada.
Instead, although this is a guess, I believe Pietrangelo wants to stay with the Blues and is willing to take less money to stay than hit the open market. When your salary is already at $6.5 million, it might worth $1 million not to disrupt one’s harmony at home.
St. Louis must be a nice place to live in. Although Keith Tkachuk played in three NHL cities (Winnipeg, Phoenix, and St. Louis), and in Atlanta as a trade-deadline rental to finish the 2006-07 season, he chose to live in St. Louis when his NHL career was over. His two sons, Brady (who plays for the Ottawa Senators) and Matthew (who plays for the Calgary Flames), went home there for the NHL’s suspended season.
Personal preference aside, Maple Leafs fans are talking about Pietrangelo coming to Toronto. On Aug. 29, Luke Fox of Sportsnet listed two things that happened last week to suggest that Pietrangelo might be a possibility.
First, the Maple Leafs traded Kasperi Kapanen to clear cap space and also picked up a valuable trade chip from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a first-round draft pick. Second, out of the blue (no pun intended), Pietrangelo said he could see himself wearing another jersey.
The Blues have their own issues. News of Vladimir Tarasenko’s third major shoulder surgery has implied that he might not play again – perhaps ever – which raises questions about the team’s offense. It will be five months before anyone knows his ability to play. Should Blues general manager Doug Armstrong spend money on Pietrangelo to hold together his defense or seek another capable forward?
Armstrong also made interesting moves on defense last season. I was surprised when he traded for capable defenseman Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes and then signed him to a $6.5 million contract extension (same money as Pietrangelo) for five seasons. He also traded two draft choices early in 2020 to the Montreal Canadiens for Marco Scandella and then signed him to a $3.275 contract extension for four years.
The Blues also have 23-year-old RFA Vince Dunn to re-sign and he’ll demand a raise. So, unless Pietrangelo’s close to Armstrong and knows the plan, he must wonder what his general manager’s thinking when his current contract is expiring. When Armstrong signed and extended both Faulk and Scandella, was that a sign?
I believe either Pietrangelo spoke the truth about being a professional athlete or he’s sending a memo to Armstrong that, although he’s willing to take a hometown discount, that discount can’t be too costly.
Fox believes the Blues will make Pietrangelo an offer, but that offer will be lower than what would be available to him on the open market. Fox then noted that Pietrangelo might take less money to stay where he wants to be and used Steven Stamkos’ contract with the Lightning as an example.
For Armstrong, the optics of re-signing Pietrangelo to a “fair” contract at a hometown discount are positive. It suggests the team rewards loyalty, but loyalty works both ways. Second, Pietrangelo is the captain of the team and re-signing him sends a message to the rest of the team that the Blues will work to keep this “band of brothers” together, and everyone has a role in this community.
As Nathan MacKinnon noted about the Colorado Avalanche when he signed his team-friendly contract, taking a hometown discount means, “We have guys that we wouldn’t (otherwise) be able to bring in.” MacKinnon also noted that “On my next deal, I’ll take less again. Because I want to win with this group.”
Pietrangelo: From the Toronto Perspective
If Pietrangelo wants to maximize the monetary value of his next deal, he will have to leave St. Louis. For Maple Leafs fans, the question is whether Toronto might be willing to pay.
Given the penchant Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has for signing the best players available and filling in a team around them, logic suggests that trading Kapanen is the first of many chess-like moves that will allow the team to create space for Pietrangelo.
Toronto’s priority is to land a right-handed defenseman and Pietrangelo is the best one on the market. However, if he costs somewhere in the $8-$10 million range, the team must shed more salary to sign him.
Dubas is shifting his roster to fill the holes on defense. He’s willing to make a splash either in free agency (John Tavares) or be creative with the cap and the trade market (trading Patrick Marleau’s contract to the Carolina Hurricanes). Now that he’s moved Kapanen, what’s next?
Dubas has said during media conferences that he’s likely not done trading. We know he likes long-term fixes and players with term on their contracts, so he might spend big money to sign the 30-year-old Pietrangelo. It’s viable speculation. Recently, there’s been talk that William Nylander could be moved to make that happen.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
What do Pietrangelo and his family think about Toronto?
He is from King City, Ontario, which is close to Toronto, and few teams can offer what the Maple Leafs can. Similar to playing in St. Louis, Toronto can offer money, a longer-term deal, and a chance to play with great players who compete for the Stanley Cup each season.
But that’s not likely. Today, the Blues traded goaltender Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens, which seems like a cap clearing move that will clear space to sign Pietrangelo.
The St. Louis captain is expected to sign for somewhere between $8.5 and $10 million per season. From what happened today, the Blues are likely working to make that happen.