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Pietrangelo’s “pressure play” on Doug Armstrong won’t work

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Sorry, Alex. Army doesn’t cave to fan discontent.

Vancouver Canucks v St Louis Blues - Game Five Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

There have been a couple pieces written recently on the contract talks between Alex Pietrangelo and the St. Louis Blues. Both Jeremy Rutherford and Dom Luszczyszyn’s interview with agents (available with subscription) and Greg Wyshynski’s piece from today bring up that it’s “smart” for the agents to pressure Armstrong with the fact that the fans expect something to get done. From The Athletic piece:

Does it work? Every market is different. St. Louis is a smaller market, but they’re very fan-aware. They don’t take the fans for granted. I think there was some value for the player to try to put pressure on them. Publicly, (the Blues) are going to say, “We don’t feel pressure,” but I think it’s to sway opinion back the other way.

And from Wysh’s article:

As an unrestricted free agent, he has only a few cards to play. One is going to market. Another is using all the goodwill he has built up with Blues fans to put some wind in his sails in these talks.

“It’s an effective tactic,” one NHL player agent said, “the power of public sentiment.”

...

But in over 15 years of writing about the “free-agent frenzy,” I can’t recall a more transparent attempt by a big-name player to pressure his team into keeping him around. We simply don’t hear this amount of news, or these kinds of comments, this far out of the start of free agency.

I agree with Wysh that this is exactly what is going on here - Petro’s leaning on public sentiment through being open about the discussions and saying how much he would like to get something done with the Blues. I don’t think that he’s being disingenuous, either. Greg mentions that Pietrangelo’s “stuff” is here, that this is his and his family’s home. Leaving all of that behind because you can’t come to the exact terms of an eight year, $8 million contract seems very small-potatoey, but understandable. Petro needs to negotiate for what is best for himself and his family, seeing as this is probably going to be his last big chance to ask for what he feels his current value is. And his current value in St. Louis is crazy high.

Fans love the captain because his play has nearly always been at a high level, but they also love him because he’s the first Blue to hoist the Stanley Cup. That association is a powerful one in their minds. Who wants their team to let their Stanley Cup champion captain walk? Cripes, Blues fans couldn’t handle David Backes leaving, and the Blues only went to the Western Conference Final under him.

It does look like a smart strategy, to lean on Armstrong about fan support. The issue is that Armstrong doesn’t care. I was kicking around this idea yesterday, but our resident King of Donuts tweeted it better than I could say:

Army doesn’t do bonuses. He doesn’t do fancy cap circumvention. He signs a player to a contract. That’s it. He also certainly doesn’t listen to what the fans want, because the fans aren’t in charge of running a multi-million dollar sports franchise with a stagnant salary cap.

Thank goodness for that.

If he would’ve kept Backes, the Blues would’ve been saddled with someone whose rough style of play contributed to a Stanley Cup Final benching, a demotion to the AHL, and an eventual trade to Anaheim for Ondrej Kase while still having to pay a quarter of Backes’ salary.

People are upset about Alex Steen’s lengthy and expensive contract. At least Steen is still a productive member of the team. How would fans feel about being on the hook for a quarter of a player’s salary who doesn’t even contribute to the team anymore?

I’m not saying Pietrangelo’s career trajectory will go the way of David Backes’ - I firmly believe the exact opposite. But Armstrong’s acumen and intuition was beneficial to the Blues in that situation. Is it always right? No, of course not. But he plays it like he sees it, and angry fans won’t change his mind.

I’m not going to say that I know what’s going to happen here - unlike the Backes situation, I don’t think that the writing is on the wall. I also certainly am not going to say that I hope Armstrong lets Pietrangelo walk - I was fine with him letting Backes go, but again, that was a completely different situation. I think the Blues are immeasurably better with Pietrangelo on their blueline and if he leaves, it’s going to set the team back.

But I also don’t expect, nor do I want, Doug Armstrong to only listen to the fans.