As the calendar sneaks closer to the October 9th start of free agency, the Blues don’t appear much closer to working out a deal with pending UFA defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
How do the Blues replace their captain? The short answer is that he’s irreplaceable. Sure, a new captain can be named easily, but how do you replace a player whose time on ice is one of the highest in the league for defensemen? How do you replace 16 goals and 36 assists? How do you replace leadership and experience?
Replacement probably isn’t the right word here. “Fill his position” would work better. The simple answer is to re-sign Vince Dunn and have Robert Bortuzzo in the line-up as a regular defenseman on the third pairing, then let someone fight for that seventh spot in camp. That would be a drop in ability, certainly, unless Justin Faulk has a bounce-back season. He looked better in the Blues’ brief foray into the playoffs this year, but his leash may be short considering his output last season coupled with a $6.5 million cap hit for the next seven seasons.
If signing him was indeed insurance for the loss of Pietrangelo, Doug Armstrong may have taken out a questionable policy.
The Blues will lose Petro’s $6.5 million cap hit. This’ll free up space to re-sign Dunn as well as to work with re-signing Jaden Schwartz at a raise for the season. 2021-2022 season. That year, both Alexander Steen and Tyler Bozak become UFAs, potentially freeing up future space on the books in another season with a question mark for a cap.
The Blues won’t have scads of money to throw at a UFA. Torey Krug, who is both rumored to still be in talks with the Bruins and rumored to be subject to having his rights dealt, is the only pending UFA D that the Blues could even remotely compare to Pietrangelo. He averages 20:29 TOI a game, finished last season with 9 goals and 40 assists, and averaged .80 PPG. His current hit with the Bruins is $5.25 million a season, which could be doable if Dunn doesn’t get a huge raise and if the cap goes up for the 2021-2022 season - and if Krug would settle for a small raise.
Krug’s last offer from the Bruins was $40 million over 6 seasons, which is about $6.67 million dollars a year. It does not look like Krug will settle for a small raise.
Tyson Barrie currently has a hit against the Maple Leafs’ cap of $5.5 million, and while an offensive step down from Pietrangelo, will also command a raise on the free market.
Sami Vatanen’s $4.875 hit with Carolina is more reasonable, as will be his raise. He came off of a season where he only played 47 games but still finished with five goals and 18 assists. His 21:45 TOI is appealing, but he’s never played a complete season.
Then there’s our old friend Kevin Shattenkirk. A solid performance on a Stanley Cup winning team is always worth a pay bump, but Shatty’s $1.75 million deal with the Bolts isn’t going to suddenly lead to a $6.5 million payday. He’s 31 now, his TOI was six minutes a night less than Pietrangelo’s was last season, and his eight goals and 26 assists isn’t near what Pietrangelo’s output is. However, he’s a known commodity, he knows the Blues, and could comfortably slide in on a second pairing.
If the Blues do decide to test the UFA waters - and it’s too soon to tell if they’ll have to or not - the options are limited. They could do worse than bringing Shattenkirk back, but there’s no guarantee that Shatty will bring back to St. Louis the lightning in a bottle he caught in Tampa Bay this past season.
There was also no guarantee that Justin Faulk would be the defenseman on St. Louis that he was on Carolina, either. There’s never been a guarantee that Alex Pietrangelo re-signs with the Blues. If Petro walks, there is a guarantee that there is a hole on the Blues’ defense that will be next to un-fillable next season, so expectations of how the Blues deal with a loss of their captain need to be reasonable both as far as ability and cap space goes.
There are still many talented defensemen to trade for, but then the question becomes one of who goes, can the Blues afford them, and can the Blues afford to lose whoever they deal?