Dear Doug Armstrong,
You've been the general manager of the St. Louis Blues for a few years now, and by and large, you've done a pretty damn good job. Sure, the bulk of the current roster was amassed under the Larry Pleau-John Davidson-Jarmo Kekalainen regime, and they needed the kick in the ass that Ken Hitchcock brought to get them to start playing to their capabilities. But every trade you've made since taking over has helped improve the team, while minimizing the risks inherent in any such deal. Kudos, sir!
You've also been very successful at avoiding the trappings of a "big splash" free agent signing to an over-sized contract just for the sake of making a move, while making sure that the core of the team stays together through reasonable, yet respectable contracts. That's the one I'd like to discuss if I may.
Before I go any further, I just want to establish that I'm working with the assumption that the rumors concerning the Alex Pietrangelo negotiations are true - that Petro's camp is looking for an 8-year $7 million/year deal, while you and/or the Blues ownership are unwilling to go higher than $6 million. It's entirely possible that those are in fact rumors and nothing more. I'd also like to establish (as if it weren't already obvious) that this is not my money that I'm advising you to spend. Perhaps that means that everything I say from here on out is pointless, perhaps not. Either way, I just have one question about the Pietrangelo negotiations:
What exactly is it that you're trying to accomplish here?
Obviously, as with every negotiation, you're trying to save the team money. We all get that, and since we clearly don't have Maple Leafs money to work with, we all appreciate that. But let's say, for argument's sake, Petro caves completely and signs for the $6 mill you want. You will have saved $1 million and given the team some breathing room against the salary cap. Good job. Now what?
According to the Blues page on CapGeek, we currently have just over $7.6 mill of space, so your offer would leave us with $1.6 mill of space to work with. How would that be used? To make a midseason trade, perhaps for that "missing piece scorer?" How, pray tell, would we fill such a need with only $1.6 mill? You couldn't. Not without sending some salary from a roster player out of town, you can't. For that money, you'd be able to afford maybe a young forward for 3rd line depth scoring...but why the hell would you want to do that? We already have too much depth scoring, and collecting all three Magnus Paajarvis won't win you the $10 million prize in the McDonald's Monopoly game. (That'd be a free McFlurry at best.)
Perhaps you're looking towards next summer and trying to save cap room then. Okay, but the salary cap will almost assuredly go up next year - some reports say substantially so. And once again according to CapGeek, you're looking at nearly $30 million of room for next year before the cap rises. Sure, both of your goalies are UFAs next July, as are Derek Roy and Alexander Steen, plus RFAs Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka, and Patrik Berglund. But if you add all of their current cap hits together, plus a 25% raise (perhaps generous for a couple, perhaps conservative for others), you're looking at just over $12.6 million left over. Plenty of room to fit in a $7 million deal for your All-World defeseman, chose to re-sign one of Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott while promoting Jake Allen on the cheap, and still fill in the gaps on the 4th line with cheap free agents or promoted
Peoria Rivermen Chicago Wolves. All before the salary cap rises, probably by at least a few extra million.
Perhaps you're concerned that you won't be able to make the amount of money needed to pay such a salary because of less than enthusiastic box office figures. That can be a legitimate worry. After all, despite the team's best attempts, you've still had trouble consistently selling out even in the playoffs. I get it. Perhaps you're thinking that when a deal does get done, the business side of the organ-eye-zation will drum up some Pietrangelo-themed partial season ticket plan to market the shit out of it, probably something like 5 games at $27 a pop (you can go ahead and make my royalty checks out to "Jason Miller"). But once this deal gets done, the overall reaction among Blues fans likely won't be excitement and joy - two feelings that move tickets - but one of relief. A communal exhale of "thank GOD that didn't happen again!" And relief does not sell tickets.
None of the strategies I've outlined above seem to hold up to scrutiny, at least not enough to warrant the widespread hand-wringing and check-clenching these negotiations seem to be causing throughout the Blues fandom. Yes, there are those among us who recognize this
pissing contest back and forth as part of the business of professional sports, but I think I can speak for us all that this is at the very least frustrating. Meanwhile, a small-yet-vocal portion of the fan base are acting like psychos with megaphones on the sidewalk shouting about the End of Days being upon us - you'd think Petro was just waiting for his chance to Pujols his way out of town to hear them speak (and to see some of them photoshop).
Yes, these people are at best overreacting, and are at worst in need medical care stat. But they don't have much of a choice - they're Blues fans. For most of us, the first book we could read as babies was The A-to-Zs of Great Blues Players Who Won a Stanley Cup Somewhere Else. There may be less than a .5% chance that Pietrangelo plays anywhere else but St. Louis this year, but let's face it: that <.5% would be the most Blues thing to happen since that wild golf cart ate our last franchise defeseman's ACL. These fans maybe irrational, but they're still your fans. They're the ones you hope will buy more tickets, jerseys, over priced beers, etc., and they're going to be much less inclined to do so if they feel that the rug is about to be ripped out from underneath them...again.
Is the loss of revenue through the fans' apprehension and strife really worth the flexibility to add another grinding 4th line center?
In a very ill-conceived photoshop posted to the SLGT Facebook page the other day, someone compared Alex Pietrangelo to Albert Pujols. Now, Mr. Armstrong, you and I both know that that is a laughably preposterous comparison - that the $6-8 million you're haggling over with a restricted free agent in a salary capped league is nothing at all like the $80 million apart the Cardinals and El Hombre were in their talks while he was on the open market in the most free market pro sports league in America. However, this person's dumbassery does raise an interesting thought. When Albert eventually did sign with the Angels, one of the
excuses he used reasons he cited for not re-signing in St. Louis was a supposed lack of respect shown to him in what he felt was an unacceptable initial offer. Regardless of whether or not that was just bullshit for "I took the deal with more money," it's further proof that you need to make sure you show your star players their due amount of respect and admiration for what they mean to your team, both on and off the ice. And the time to show that is contract negotiation time.
On behalf of all Blues fans everywhere - the calm and psychotic alike - I ask of you, Mr. Armstrong: please stop nickel and diming the centerpiece of your hockey team. Show him the respect he deserves by giving him his not-even-slightly unreasonable asking price and get him into training camp. Invest in his future and give him the best chance to prove he's worth every penny - because if he doesn't, we're all back to square one no matter how much you're paying him.
Jason Miller (McAdams), "J-Mill"