Training camp is among us. It's been a long wait for hockey fans around the league. All players and fans are ready for the drop of the puck, but in St. Louis, there is a cloud hanging over what should be a joyous time. On Wednesday, the Blues announced that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo would not be attending the beginning of training camp due to the lack of a contract agreement.
"We have worked in earnest with his representative trying to get him into training camp," said Armstrong. "We have talked about a lot of different options in terms of years. Last night, we gave it a last-ditch kick at the can around eight or nine o’clock at night, and it didn’t hold. From this point forward, he is not in camp and we treat him like an injured player.”
“I thought yesterday was going to be the day and it wasn’t," said Armstrong. “I have learned that deals get done when both sides are uncomfortable," said Armstrong. "I was very uncomfortable yesterday and a deal did not get done. I probably had my best night of sleep last night when I realized it wasn’t going to get done, because I knew that we had done what we could to get him here today.”
When Armstrong says talks have "broken off", he is essentially saying that it will take some re-engaging to get negotiations going again. When the Blues and Pietrangelo could not reach a deal on Tuesday evening, both sides decided to take a step back and regroup. However, as Armstrong pointed out, talks can re-engage at any point.
“Alex is a restricted free agent and we will continue to have dialogue when either side decided there is something to accomplish," Armstrong said.
Pietrangelo is reportedly asking for $7 million per year and the Blues aren't willing to go that high. The club has just over $7 million remaining in cap space, which is enough if any team tries to pry Pietrangelo away with an offer sheet, but they haven't seen enough from Pietrangelo to this point to warrant that kind of pay raise. But Armstrong wanted to reiterate that no matter what happens, Pietrangelo will not be leaving St. Louis.
“At some point, Alex will sign here," he said. "There’s really three options: he’s either going to sign with us, he signs an offer sheet, or he doesn’t play this year. There is no fourth thing. We’ve been very consistent. When he puts on a jersey again, it will be a Blues jersey.”
The key word in that statement is "when". There are really just two remaining deadlines for Pietrangelo and the Blues. Oct. 3, which is opening night for the club, and Dec. 1. If Pietrangelo has not signed with the Blues by Dec. 1, he is not eligible to play for the remainder of the year. While both sides are likely not looking too far ahead, the events of the coming year definitely favor the Blues in negotiations.
On the agenda this year is the 2014 Winter Olympics, which are being held in Sochi, Russia. Pietrangelo received an invite last month, and attended Team Canada's orientation camp. Olympic participants are picked based on their play in the first few months of the season. Should Pietrangelo be unsigned, and ineligible to play when the season begins, his chances at making the Canadian Olympic team will decline substantially.
Not only do the Olympic games factor into negotiations, but also the rights, or lack thereof, of Pietrangelo. The 23-year old defenseman is without arbitration rights, and is a restricted free agent. Essentially, he has no negotiating tools at his disposal. To further hurt the defenseman's case, he is coming off of a rather mediocre 2013 campaign in which he had just 24 points (five goals, 19 assists) in 47 games.
Not having Pietrangelo in camp is disappointing, but it does allow for some interesting competition.
Young defenseman Ian Cole will be battling it out with veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney, who is attending the Blues camp as a professional tryout, for a spot in the lineup. Both should receive more ice time in preseason games due to Pietrangelo's absence.
“Whitney is certainly going to get consideration, as is Cole," admitted Armstrong. "I think that is one of those battles you have for pecking order on the roster.”
That battle will begin on Thursday as the players hold their first organized team practice of the season. But while the club is gearing up for the season, eyes will remain on Armstrong and Pietrangelo.
“We will move forward with the players we have, and at some point we will re-engage and see if there is a different option that wasn’t there,"said Armstrong.
“It’s disappointing that he isn’t here, but that doesn’t change my affection for Alex as a player and as a person. I think he is a quality young man; I think he’s a quality player."
Unless perspectives change, though, no ground will be gained.
“I took Alex’s perspective: he thinks he has made us a hell of an offer. I disagree. We think we have made him a hell of an offer and he disagrees. That is where we are at. There are lots of dynamics that go into these deals. It is not done now and I don’t know when it will be done."
Moving forward without Pietrangelo is not easy for the Blues to do. They will have to re-evaluate and adjust their game without him. It's not that the Blues don't want to pay Pietrangelo fairly, but rather that their stance is that the entire franchise is more important than any one player. It is that stance that has allowed Armstrong to put together the current team. And while that stance is a hard one, it is an effective one, even with arguably the club's most valuable player.
“For the first time since I have been in St. Louis, we don’t need any one player as much as any one player needs this team, meaning we have depth in every position," said Armstrong. "(The current situation) is like an injured player. When someone gets injured, you move forward. Is it a hang nail or is it a broken foot? Time will tell.”