Alex Pietrangelo is a Norris Trophy caliber defensemen and the last person that Gary Bettman handed the Stanley Cup. And now, he's going to enter unrestricted free agency in October after the Blues didn't reach his contract demands. So let's take a deeper dive into the free agent case of the Blues star blueliner to determine his worth. How much will teams pay him? What teams will be most interested?
One of the biggest problems that the NHL has had is that there is a massive discrepancy between the paydays for elite offensive defensemen, and elite defensive defensemen. Generally, the more points you put up, the more you get paid. However, that doesn't make much sense for defensemen because their job is to defend. Usually, the big money tends to follow the elite two way defensemen, like Erik Karlsson, who has the highest AAV of any defensemen after he signed an 8 year 92 million dollar deal to avoid free agency with the Sharks last year. No UFA can touch Shea Weber's 14 year contract, as he was a RFA when the Predators matched the Flyers' massive offer sheet in 2012. However, the hockey community views the Karlsson contract as an albatross. The Suter, Doughty, Burns, Ekman-Larsson, and Subban contracts are also massive. These contracts given to defensemen haven't really worked out, but that doesn't mean teams won't be willing to pay a huge price for a guy like Pietrangelo.
Alex Pietrangelo entered the league in 2008-09, but didn't play his first full season until 2010-11, and since then, he ranks quite highly.
Pietrangelo Totals (Ranks Amongst All 713 D) since 2010-11
Pietrangelo EV RAPM Ranks Amongst all 101 Defensemen with 8000 EV TOI since 2010-11
Pietrangelo PP RAPM Ranks Amongst all 101 Defensemen with 575 PP TOI since 2010-11 (Not necesarrily the same 101)
Pietraneglo GAR Ranks Amongst All 713 D since 2010-11
Pietraneglo xGAR Ranks Amongst All 713 D since 2010-11
To show his year to year consistency, here's his career WAR chart.
All of that is a testament to his longevity and consistency, but it's also important to look at how he's performed recently. His recent results are very positive.
Here's his RAPM Chart over the last three seasons, showing that he's an elite offensive defenseman and an above average defensive defenseman, as well as being very good on the Power Play.
He sits 5th in WAR amongst all defensemen in the last three years, and the breakdown is above.
And he's third in xWAR over the last three seasons.
If we take a look at all players on the St. Louis Blues over the last three years, Pietrangelo stands out again, providing the most WAR for the Blues over that stretch
And amongst all defensemen in the league just this season, he's third in WAR, behind only Ryan's, Ellis and Pulock.
For the sake of it, here's WAR including forwards for this season.
And here's his JFresh card which makes these visualizations a bit easier.
He was worth $11,500,000 this year through his 2.8 xWAR, and his success is not a fluke as we've seen through his graphs.
But there's more to Pietrangelo than just these numbers: he's the captain of the reigning Cup champion, but the Blues aren't willing to pay the price that he's set for himself. So not only would a potential suitor be getting a top 5 defenseman in the NHL, but they're getting a captain, who is also 30 years old.......
Evolving-Hockey has his contract projection at an insane 8 years for 9 million per year for if he signs with a different team, which I wouldn't be shocked to see him get. Jonas Brodin just got 7 years for 6 million AAV, and he produced half of Pietrangelo's xWAR (which is still 83rd %tile amongst defensemen, that just goes to show how great Pietrangelo is).
But because he is a defensive defenseman, he has a different market. Pietrangelo much more compares to Nashville's Roman Josi
Here is the RAPM comparison in 2019-20, and note that Josi's contract was for 8 years and $72,000,000.
I think that it's fair to say that on the open market, players are worth significantly more than they are in extensions, because there are other teams driving up the price. There will be plenty of teams looking to bring in a player like Pietrangelo, so let's take a look a few of them.
Pierre LeBrun speculated that the three teams most interested would be the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vegas Golden Knights, and Florida Panthers.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have just over 6 million dollars in cap space coming in to 2020-21, which is not enough to sign Pietrangelo, but all signs point to them trading Goaltender Fredrik Andersen to free up $5m and they also could unload the big gun, Mitch Marner and his $11m cap hit. I don't think cap will be an issue, but I think they should go for cheaper alternatives because they shouldn't blow all of their cap space on one guy, it's clear that they need to build an entire defensive core, but hey, if they can sign Pietrangelo, they should.
Vegas Golden Knights
Similar to the Leafs, the Knights are in a cap crunch, with just under $5m left in cap. Rumors point to an extension of about $5m AAV for goaltender Robin Lehner, so they'd likely have to trade multiple contracts. The contracts that they'd likely move would be Paul Stastny and Alec Martinez. Stastny has a modified NTC, but I'm sure they'll be able to get around it. I've even heard that teams have interest in Marc Andre Fleury, and if they trade that contract, they are going all in for Pietrangelo 100%. I have a feeling that the Knights are going to push all chips to the center of the table and go after Pietrangelo for whatever they can. The Knights are going to get desperate, and I think they might hand out silly money.
The Panthers have the cap space, they don't need to trade anything. They have $20m in projected cap, but two of their key forwards, Evgeni Dadonov and Mike Hoffman, are free agents, and they may want to bring one, or both back. They will likely bring neither back, focus on their other free agents, and go after Pietrangelo with their remaining cap. If they're able to land him, it would be the second consecutive year that Florida reels in a big time free agent, and the fit makes sense, Florida needs defensive help and they have the cap.
I think Vegas is going to push all of the chips to the center of the table and sign Pietrangelo for 8 years and 78 million dollars.
This will inevitably be wrong, but the analysis of him as an elite defenseman remains.