With the loss of former St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo this off-season to unrestricted free agency (and the Vegas Golden Knights), questions have abounded about the Blues’ blue line. Will Torey Krug take Pietrangelo’s place? Who is the next number one defenseman? How will the Blues cope with the loss of both Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, their top pairing for the last several seasons? What is going on with re-signing Vince Dunn? What will salary cap restrictions have to say about all of this in the future?
Obviously, signing Krug was a shrewd move by Doug Armstrong to mitigate the loss of Pietrangelo, but no, the former Bruin won’t take Petro’s place. We’re working with different skill sets here, and Petro had the added perk of years of franchise familiarity and a leadership position.
Dunn isn’t signed yet, and part of that has to do with the stagnant salary cap and future planning. Next season, and for at least the next one after that, the NHL’s cap is set at $81.5 million. At the end of this season, Armstrong has his work cut out for him. He has to re-sign pending UFAs Jaden Schwartz, Jordan Binnington, and maybe Tyler Bozak and Carl Gunnarsson. The season after that, though, Armstrong has to contend with re-signing his number one defenseman, Colton Parayko.
Parayko’s been working toward elite status for several seasons, especially with his TOI. Averaging 23 minutes on ice last season, Parakyo’s stepped up his play. He’s had a slight drop in point production over the last two seasons (28 points in each vs. 35 points in the two previous years), but there’s few who would say that Parakyo doesn’t deserve top pairing status.
Alex Pietrangelo is one of his advocates. Speaking to NHL.com, the new Golden Knight had this to say about his former teammate:
“I think he’s already an elite player, but I think with more opportunity and knowing he’s the guy on the back end, he’s going to be the guy, the leader of the back end,” said Pietrangelo, who signed a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 12. “I think he’s going to thrive in that position.”
“I think watching him continue to get better and the things I tell him is he can play with that confidence,” Pietrangelo said. “I don’t want to say arrogance, but a form of arrogance where he’s got to trust his abilities to make the plays I know he can make and I’ve seen him make on a consistent basis because he’s got all the tools with the hockey sense and the intangibles of skating, the skill to do all those things.
“It’s just trusting his ability on a consistent basis to do that, but everybody knows what a world-class player he is. It’s just for him, trusting his ability night in and night out.”
To his credit, Parakyo is focused on meeting those lofty expectations, and he’s looking forward to doing it with new teammate Krug.
“Moving forward, it would be fun to take on these challenges. Our D core is incredible. It’s going to be fun to take it on as a whole, and with [Pietrangelo] leaving, it’s going to be up to all of us to step up and make it happen and just come together.”
Parayko averaged more than 26 minutes a game during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. That’s a huge responsibility for a young defenseman to shoulder, and he did so.
Parayko won’t replace Pietrangelo’s offensive production - again, this is a matter of two different players with two different skill sets - but Blues fans shouldn’t be concerned that he’s getting increased responsibility.
What fans should be concerned with is what kind of payday Parayko expects after the 2021-2022 season. Hopefully his re-signing is far enough into the future that Covid cap struggles are a thing of the past.