Bernie: Will Alex Pietrangelo Stay Or Go? It’s Hard To Imagine The Blues Without Him.

In September of 2013, Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo signed a seven-year deal for $45.5 million. It seemed like a huge load of money at the time, but Petro was only 24 years old, and I think we all can agree that he’s aged as well as his contract.

Pietrangelo turned 30 on Jan. 18, and it’s crazy to realize how the years have zoomed by. A few weeks after he signed the contract, the Cardinals clinched the NL pennant and prepared to face Boston in the 2013 World Series.

So much has happened since then. The NFL left town, the XFL moved in, the MLS is on the way, Gary Pinkel retired, Mike Matheny was fired, the Cardinals are still hunting for the next pennant — and, most of all, the Blues won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

As captain, Pietrangelo was the first Blue to raise that Cup last June 12 in Boston, after an emphatic Game 7 victory over the Bruins. That moment and the many memories will be cherished forever for the Blues, their fans, and St. Louis.

Business always intervenes, however. Pietrangelo’s seven-year deal expires at the end of the season, and he will have an opportunity to test the free-agent market for the first time. Unless, of course, the Blues and Petro can agree to a new contract before the free-agent market opens July 1.

There will be time to dig deeper into the Blues-Pietrangelo contract situation later, but today I’m keeping it simple with this declaration: it’s difficult to imagine Pietrangelo wearing the uniform of, say, the Florida Panthers. May the The Note be with him, and on him, always.

And we know that Blues GM Doug Armstrong has tough payroll decisions to make. And that he traded for a right-handed defenseman, Justin Faulk, before the season.

Not only that, but the Blues and Faulk sealed the deal with a new contract: seven years, $45.5 million … yep, the exact terms of Pietrangelo’s current contract … that contract that will expire as soon as the Blues play their final postseason game of 2020.

We also know that Armstrong must manage the money in a way that ensured an enormous payday for Blues defenseman Colton Parayko before the big man has a chance to opt for free agency in the summer of 2022.

We know all of that … we also know that it would be awful to see Pietrangelo move on, and take up his NHL residency in another market.

What will it take to keep the captain here? Are we talking Roman Josi money, or Erik Karlsson money? Well, probably somewhere in the middle of that payscale for the two defensemen. For reference, Josi and Nashville partnered for an eight-year, $72.4 million contract. And San Jose gave Karlsson eight years and $92 million. (My opinion only: the Karlsson contract was absolutely nuts, but more power to him.)

The Blues undoubtedly will make a generous offer to Pietrangelo. But there’s also an obvious reality here; he can command a more lucrative contract as the focal point of the usual free-agent frenzy. It happens every summer; NHL owners and general managers just can’t control themselves.

So I’d be surprised if the Blues dive in and match another team’s massive any offer to Pietrangelo — if it comes to that.

Let’s remember Armstrong’s informative explanation of his long-term payroll strategy in an interview with The Athletic last fall:

“Our goal is to have a lot of good players,” Armstrong told hockey writer Pierre LeBrun. “Our organization has been built not on the back of one or two guys, but the collective whole. We believe we have depth up front and depth on the back end. We have a lot of wealthy players but maybe no really rich players? And that’s the way we believe we can stay competitive in this market. I look at a team that I view that has been good for a number of years in Boston. They have their top players that have bought into an organizational outlook and quite honestly, we have too. … I just believe that our method of death by a thousand cuts is the way that you build a team if you don’t have that type of (superstar) player.”

But I’m getting off topic here.

This is really meant to be an appreciation of Pietrangelo, and the satisfaction of watching him mature in a Blues uniform — while building a life with his young family in St. Louis.

There were doubts along the way … doubts about Pietrangelo’s leadership, doubts about his effectiveness as captain, doubts about his capacity for raising his postseason performance level. When you are the captain of a team that has a history of breaking the fans’ heart every year, lots of bitterness will come your way.

But winning the Stanley Cup changed all of that. Erased any remaining doubts. I wrote and said it at the time and still feel this way: hoisting the Cup put Pietrangelo in an entirely different stratosphere of St. Louis sports, and STL sports history. He’s the only Blues captain to win a Stanley Cup here. And to get the chance to pour everything into the Cup and celebrate, Pietrangelo had to pour all of himself into the determined effort to capture that Cup. He did it. And he changed some festering opinions, and the previously unshakable perceptions.

Before leading the Blues to the Cup Pietrangelo was appreciated and respected — but let’s face it we held some of that in reserve. But after leading the Blues to the Cup, Pietrangelo is a beloved Blues’ hero.

But this isn’t all about his Pietrangelo’s image, popularity, and place in franchise history. The dude continues to play at an elite level. He’s enduring. He’s consistent. He gets it done offensively. He gets it done in goal prevention. And if the Blues had to pay Pietrangelo by the minute, they’d go broke.

In his 65 games this season through Saturday, Pietrangelo was on the way to resetting his career bests for goals (he has 13) and points (49). Petro needs three more goals and six more points to establish his new standard for a season. And he’s working as strenuously as ever, averaging 24 minutes and 8 seconds per game.

I suppose it makes sense to wonder — if not worry — over Pietrangelo’s aging curve should he sign with the Blues for another seven or eight seasons. I get that; should Pietrangelo stay here his performance may erode over the final two years. That’s part of the price of doing business and benefiting from Pietrangelo’s career-peak seasons.

And going by his trendline, that peak should last for a long time. Not all the way to the completion of the next contract — in St. Louis or elsewhere — but Pietrangelo shows no signs of imminent decline. Not even a minor or moderate downturn. He has plenty of “Petro” left in the tank.

Consider Pietrangelo’s last four seasons, beginning with 2016-17:

Pietrangelo ranks fifth among NHL defenseman in goals (55), fifth at the position in assists (137), and is tied for eighth in points (192.) Only six NHL defensemen have clocked more ice time than the Blues’ captain. He has 17 power play goals and 14 game-winning goals.

If I may drop a metric on you: Pietrangelo is one of three NHL defensemen over the last four seasons to rank among the top 11 at the position in Offensive Point Shares, and Defensive Point Shares. The other two are old pal Josi down in Nashville, and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman.

In the Blues’ exhausting and exhilarating push for the Stanley Cup last season Pietrangelo had three goals and 16 assists in 26 games. He was a plus five in the tournament, and averaged 25:45 per contest.

As Blues goaltender Jake Allen told longtime St. Louis hockey writer Lou Korac:

“I don’t think I’ve seen him this good offensively since I’ve played with him, and I’ve played with him in World Juniors … I think he’s playing with confidence, instincts, with something to prove. He’s really stepped his leadership up that way,  He’s been the leader of this team for a long time and he’s really shown it.”

Allen wasn’t finished.

“Petro’s the type of guy that can play under any circumstance you can ever want,” Allen told Korac. “You can throw into the fire in any situation in the world and he’d still play his game. I think that’s what’s so beneficial about him and how important he is. He rarely has a bad night. If he makes a mistake, he’ll make up for it and those things that he does on the ice are really tough to replace. You see guys can have a continuous few bad games in a row, but with him, it’s rarely. He just brings so much to his game as a whole, in a package that really leads this team.”

Aw, man.

The idea of Pietrangelo leaving — well, it leaves me tangled up in Blue.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie