It seems it was kismet that Alex Pietrangelo became a St. Louis Blue.
When the defenseman was about 10 years old, he played on a summer-league team in Ontario called the Toronto Blues. Looking back, you could have called it an all-star team, because the roster also included Steven Stamkos and John Tavares.
The stacked club compiled a record of 49-0-1, with the lone blemish coming in a shootout loss against a team from Edmonton, which got the game-winning goal from another familiar name, Jordan Eberle.
They all launched successful NHL careers, several of them even starring in the league. Looking back, Pietrangelo has found it hard to believe the coincidence in him becoming the 2008 fourth overall pick of the NHL’s Blues. “We were the Toronto Blues,” Pietrangelo wrote in The Players’ Tribune in 2018. “We had the St. Louis Blues jerseys and everything. When I think about stuff like that, it makes me wonder about fate. Why do things happen the way they do?
“I’ve been a St. Louis Blue for 10 years now. Before 2008 NHL draft, I had never even been to St. Louis before, and I probably couldn’t have told you where it was on a map. And now here I am a decade later, married to a St. Louis girl, and I’m the captain of the Blues.”
As a two-time second-team NHL all-star and Norris Trophy vote-getter, Pietrangelo couldn’t have painted a better life for himself. Sure, there have been heartaches both professional (losing in the Western Conference final in 2016) and personal (enduring the pain of two miscarriages with his wife Jayne). But as much as one can, he’s overcome those challenges, and in a way that puts his priorities in place with the birth of triplets last summer. “I’m changing a lot of diapers,” he quipped at the start of the season.
Unfortunately, life at the rink hasn’t seen the same joy. St. Louis hasn’t lived up to expectations, and a lot of fans in believe Pietrangelo should be stripped of the ‘C.’ Some would even prefer that he be traded.
So what does fate have in store? It very well could be Pietrangelo staying put in St. Louis, where he hasn’t been the problem, just part of the problem. His awareness and effectiveness in the defensive zone hasn’t been up to his own standard, but he remains one of the NHL’s leaders in ice time, and the Blues would have a tough time replacing his hard minutes.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong has put great faith in his core, and while there have been reports the organization is listening to offers on all of its players, there’s no evidence the GM is looking to move Pietrangelo specifically. But stepping back and looking at the big picture, it may be wise for the club to consider it.
Pietrangelo will turn 30 in the final season of his seven-year, $45.5-million contract in 2019-20 and has put himself into position for an extension in the range of five years at $8 million per season.
Do the Blues want to commit to Pietrangelo at that price on a contract that will take him beyond his mid-30s? And on a team that may miss the playoffs for the second straight season and has had questions about its leadership group, do they want to move ahead with him as their captain?
It wouldn’t solve all of the Blues’ problems, but with one decision they could cut the cord with Pietrangelo and avoid the risk of re-signing an aging defenseman, and they could also clean the slate and hand-pick a new player to wear the ‘C.’ Newcomer Ryan O’Reilly has garnered a lot of support amongst the fan base.
But it’s not that simple.
For starters, Pietrangelo has a full no-trade clause, and with a wife whom he met and married in St. Louis, along with the young family the two have started, he may not comply with waiving that clause. Secondly, even if the he obliges, would the return be worth what the Blues are trying to accomplish?
Pietrangelo is from the Toronto area and, interestingly, the Maple Leafs have been one of the teams linked to him in trade rumors. The Leafs’ acquisition of Jake Muzzin from Los Angeles in late January slowed down the speculation, but Muzzin is a left-handed shot, and it’s believed Toronto still covets a top-end, right-handed D-man like Pietrangelo.
But would the Blues, who have climbed back into the Western Conference playoff race after a disastrous start, make such a shakeup with the post-season still in reach? And if they were willing, would they seek established players in exchange or high-end prospects and draft picks?
It is believed the club’s plan is to remain competitive rather than enter a phase of retooling or rebuilding, but which contending team would move high-priced, high-caliber players prior to the Feb. 25 trade deadline? That leads one to believe if a deal were to happen, it would come in the summer, not in the next couple of weeks.
If the Blues do end up moving Pietrangelo, they would certainly need a backup plan. Colton Parayko, who’s 25 and has three more seasons left on a five-year, $27.5-million contract, could be the answer. He played well earlier this season when Pietrangelo was out with a hand injury, but then someone would have to fill Parayko’s spot.
Anything is possible at this point, but if Toronto does wind up being Pietrangelo’s landing spot, that again could be seen as be fate.