WINNIPEG — In the aftermath of a disappointing playoff loss in the middle of a pandemic bubble, Alex Pietrangelo wasn’t going to take the bait.
You don’t become captain of a Stanley Cup champion by putting yourself ahead of others. And when his title defence came crashing down, the captain of the St. Louis Blues was in no mood to speculate on his own future.
Pietrangelo, who is going to be one of the most highly sought after players on the market if he hits unrestricted free agency in October, quickly dismissed a query about whether he’d be back in Missouri next season.
“I’m not going to answer that,” Pietrangelo said after a Game 6 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. “We’ll find out soon.”
Pietrangelo was neither trying to be dismissive, nor was he trying to stir the pot.
This was not the time nor place to begin a negotiation in the media. His love for the organization is well-known and he did not need to double down.
If you saw the look on his face in the waning moments of the elimination game, and when he made his way toward the wrong end of the handshake line, it was abundantly clear that Pietrangelo was dealing with myriad emotions.
That’s a natural reaction when you’ve spent your entire career in one place, laid down some important roots and delivered a championship for an organization.
At a time in life when so much is up in the air regarding the future, it was only natural for Pietrangelo to allow some feelings to creep into his mind.
“More so when the game’s over. It’s not a fun situation to be in, especially when you’ve been somewhere your whole career, but it is what it is,” said Pietrangelo, who was chosen fourth overall by the Blues in the 2008 NHL Draft and has suited up in 850 regular- and post-season games with the franchise. “I guess really my only thought was just to get home, see my kids and see where the future takes us.”
Where the future takes Pietrangelo is going to be a hot topic in the coming weeks and months.
As he reiterated during a session with reporters on Tuesday, Pietrangelo wants to stay put. His preference hasn’t changed.
Neither has what’s important to him when it comes to making such an important decision regarding his future along with his wife and family.
“Is there much to talk about? No, the situation is what it is. The off-season is going to come quicker than we know it,” Pietrangelo said. “We’re having those discussions between us. The best part about me is I have a distraction. I have these kids here and they can kind of keep me busy and keep my mind off it. Really, I haven’t given it a whole lot of thought lately, or not much.”
It won’t take too long for the topic to return to the front burner. That’s the nature of the business, especially during a truncated season.
Pietrangelo was asked on Tuesday if he could see himself putting on another jersey.
“Lots of guys do it. I hope it doesn’t get to that point,” Pietrangelo said. “I grew up here. This is the only place I know professionally. Family’s here. Grew up here as a player and as a person. It’s part of the business, unfortunately, and the situation is what it is, but hopefully that circumstance doesn’t happen and we’ll see where this thing takes us.
“You want different challenges. You can go to a place that hasn’t won yet or won in a long time, challenge yourself to kind of help that organization. But then again, you can make the same argument here where we’ve won one Cup, why not challenge yourself to try and win another one? There’s so many different ways to look at it. There’s so many different ways you can kind of convince yourself to go one way or another. Now that I’ve won, you want to win again. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, the goal is always the same.”
What impact will a cap crunch and a pandemic have on the decision for both Pietrangelo and the Blues?
That’s where things could get complicated.
As someone who is 30 years old and near the top of his class, this would normally be the time for Pietrangelo to cash in when it comes to both term and a raise on the $6.5-million salary he’s carried during the past seven seasons.
He’s earned it.
By virtually every measure, Pietrangelo is a top-10 D-man in the NHL and is expected to be high on the list of most Norris Trophy ballots, even though he wasn’t a finalist for the award this season.
He’s a consistent defender who puts up points and knows how to run a highly-effective power play. He’s a good leader that has taken his team to the promised land and has also enjoyed plenty of success on the international stage.
He’s also a durable minute-muncher that would be welcome on any team in the NHL.
But how many of those teams — especially when it comes to the contenders — can afford someone who could be looking for $9-to-10 million per season?
The complexity doesn’t end there.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong already has $16.5 million committed to his defence corps for next season and he still needs to get Vince Dunn inked to a new deal.
After signing Justin Faulk to a long-term extension (seven years, $45.5 million) and locking up Marco Scandella (four years, $13.1 million), a major move would be required to find the space required to retain Pietrangelo.
The bigger issue is that under the Blues’ salary structure, they don’t have a single player making more than $7.5 million (Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasesnko are the two players at that number).
Are the Blues willing to change that approach to retain someone whose name is littered throughout the record book and has already established a lasting legacy?
His teammates certainly hope so.
“What he’s done for this organization and everything is astronomical,” O’Reilly said on Tuesday. “He’s our captain. There’s no other way to put it. We’re a better team when he’s there. The stuff he does on the ice and in the room, he does everything for us.
“I don’t want to say too much on it because it is a business and it’s got to work itself out. Every guy in that room, myself included, we want (Pietrangelo) to stay our leader and stay here.”
With more than $48 million in estimated career earnings, according to CapFriendly, Pietrangelo has the luxury of considering taking less money and term to stay in a place he’s comfortable.
On the flip side, Pietrangelo could choose to take a one- or two-year deal with a higher average annual value.
Perhaps in a couple of years, the pandemic is under control and the market has stabilized, with the salary cap going up again.
That’s where a team like the Winnipeg Jets could swoop in.
Based on where things stand in their current window of contention, the Jets wouldn’t be able to offer a high salary and the stability of a long-term deal that Pietrangelo would be looking for.
With raises coming for Patrik Laine, Neal Pionk and Andrew Copp at the end of next season, the Jets aren’t really in position to offer Pietrangelo the going rate to win a bidding war that includes longer term.
Laine alone would be looking for a deal in the neighbourhood of what Pietrangelo is likely seeking.
Right now, captain Blake Wheeler earns the highest salary on the Jets ($8.25 million for four more seasons) and it would be nearly impossible to have both Pietrangelo and Laine above that number with a salary cap of $81.5 million for the next two seasons.
But with Dustin Byfuglien’s $7.6 million cap hit coming off the books and Dmitry Kulikov and his $4.33-million salary also expected to be available for a newcomer, suddenly the Jets have the type of wiggle room available to make a significant pitch.
Would Pietrangelo consider taking two years for $20 million or something along those lines?
That’s the multi-million dollar question and the answer won’t be known until October — or until he and his camp get a sense of what the Blues are going to offer.
Just imagine what bringing a guy like Pietrangelo could do for the Jets in the short term.
Pair him with Josh Morrissey and sign them up for 25 minutes per game. They can be used in a shutdown role and play behind the Jets’ top offensive weapons.
Insert Pietrangelo on the first power-play unit and you’ve got someone who has a big shot from the top and is an excellent distributor of the puck.
This is not a knock on Pionk, who led the Jets in power-play points, but Pietrangelo has more experience and has piled up bigger offensive numbers during his career.
One of Pietrangelo’s former Blues teammates, Paul Stastny, thoroughly enjoyed his experience with the Jets after a deadline deal and nearly remained with the organization before testing free agency and joining the Vegas Golden Knights.
It’s possible Stastny could provide some insight on Winnipeg or alleviate any possible concerns Pietrangelo may have.
A bold move like bringing Pietrangelo into the fold would send a dramatic message to a Jets group that wants to get back to being a serious contender after two early exits.
It won’t be easy to pull off, but if Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff gets to the point where he’s able to deliver his pitch to Pietrangelo, it’s certainly one that’s worth taking a mighty swing at.