With the beginning of the new season under a month away, Blues players have flocked back to St. Louis to begin their preparation for the new year. While players are excited to be back on the ice with teammates, business hasn't concluded for general manager Doug Armstrong. With just seven days remaining until the start of training camp, the Blues' biggest restricted free agent remains unsigned.
Young stud defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, 23, and the Blues have yet to agree on a new contract, and if there is no agreement soon, he could wind up missing the start of, or all of camp.
The Blues have had a very successful offseason to this point, re-signing all of their other restricted free agents, as well as improving their depth in areas where they felt it necessary. However, if the club can't reach an agreement with the young defenseman, it could be disastrous.
“I wouldn’t say we are disappointed," said Armstrong in an interview posted on the team website. "We are having constant dialogue now. We’d like him to be signed and I think he would certainly like to be signed by now. This isn’t a one-way street on either side. Both sides want to do something they are comfortable with but both sides will probably end up doing something they are uncomfortable with.”
It is not known whether the length, or the monetary compensation is the biggest holdup right now, but a gap certainly remains between the two sides. Ideally, Pietrangelo would like a long-term deal with a compensation reaching at least $7 million. The Blues are not likely too keen to go anywhere near that number. As a result, a short-term "bridge" contract may be in the best interest of both sides. Negotiations are ongoing, but as always, Armstrong feels negotiating in public is not desirable.
“We want it done, but we want it done where he is paid fairly, and we believe he is paid fairly," said Armstrogn. "(We want) something that we can move forward with for the next, between, one to eight years and be comfortable.”
“I wouldn’t make any assumptions on the length of the contract or even the dollar value. That is something that is better left to Don (Meehan), Alex, and myself. I don’t think there is any real benefit to doing this publicly.”
Meehan, who is a part of Newport Sports agency, is the agent representing Pietrangelo in negotiations. Meehan also represents Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, who missed last year's training camp, as well as the first four games of the season due to a holdout. The Blues are hoping Pietrangelo is not a similar case.
“I have the utmost respect for Don Meehan and Newport Sports," admitted Armstrong. "They are one of the most powerful agencies with a lot of players and they certainly know what they are doing. I am confident in our ability as an organization to know what we are doing as well.”
But Armstrong relayed that negotiations may finally be headed in a positive direction with camp looming.
“There are ebbs and flows of different deals, and this was one where it has taken some time to get some serious traction, and hopefully we are getting that traction now," he said.
The Blues have $7.62 million remaining in cap space, and according to Armstrong, that is plenty of room to sign Pietrangelo, who is coming off of the final year of his entry-level deal. Negotiations with players of Pietrangelo's caliber are usually tougher ones, but both sides are usually aware of where the end numbers will be.
Toward the beginning of the offseason, the biggest fear surrounding the Pietrangelo situation was the fear of an offer sheet. An offer sheet is a way for other teams to attempt to pry away players from the team that owns their rights. Last season, Nashville defenseman Shea Weber received, and signed an offer sheet worth $110 million over 14 seasons. Due to regulations set forth by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it is now harder for teams to steal away players from teams like the Blues. However, the threat of an offer sheet was, and still remains a real one. But Armstrong and the Blues have planned accordingly.
“We’ve made it very clear since the beginning of summer that Alex will be a Blue when he plays hockey again," said Armstrong. "We’ve left enough cap space in case any team attempts to poach him from us; that won’t happen and he will be a St. Louis Blue whether it is this weekend, two weeks, a month, or a year from now. Time will tell, but we hope to get it done as soon as possible.”
Should negotiations continue on into camp, Pietrangelo will be unable to suit up with the club until re-signed. Since that is a real possibility at this point, the Blues have begun looking into other options for camp. The club could opt to allow an unrestricted free agent defenseman join the team via a tryout contract. That defenseman would get an opportunity to shake off the rust and impress other teams, while the Blues can fill the void left by Pietrangelo if needed. It would be considered a win-win situation. Of course, the Blues realize they can't replace Pietrangelo for good, but a tryout contract could be a viable option for training camp, if the club can't come to an agreement with Pietrangelo's party.
“I’ve talked to the coaches about some of the what ifs of the situation," said Armstrong. "We do have to have the proper number of players here to run practices and making sure we get what we want out of those practice games. Our focus right now is on Alex, but there are players out there that do want to get into training camps, and I share their view that being on the ice puts you at the forefront of other teams’ view. We might have an opportunity to do that with someone, if we so desire.”
While the situation may not be favorable at this point, both sides remain focused on getting a new deal done as soon as possible. It isn't a matter of if, but rather when. The Blues know they have a stellar, young defenseman in Pietrangelo, and they aren't about to let him get away. Armstrong has said a lot of things, but none with more confidence than his reassurance in Wednesday's interview.
“Alex is going to be a St. Louis Blue. I am very comfortable with (saying) that.”
View the full Armstrong interview here.
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