One of the most surprising entries into the free agent pool this offseason could be the St. Louis Blues’ captain Alex Pietrangelo. The defenseman who won the Stanley Cup with St. Louis last year has so far been unable to reach a new deal with the team.
The Vegas Golden Knights are rumored to be one of the teams in the running for Pietrangelo if he hits the open market on Oct. 9. After a postseason that ended prematurely in comparison to the franchise’s likely expectations they could be searching for new pieces.
One of them very well could be Pietrangelo. So here are the arguments for and against signing Pietrangelo.
The arguments for the Golden Knights to sign Pietrangelo are simple. He’s one of the best defensemen in the NHL. If you can grab a defenseman like Pietrangelo, you do so. He elevates play at 5-on-5 and can play on the penalty kill as well. He’s also been the Blues’ power-play quarterback for years.
In the regular season, Pietrangelo had 18.2 goals above replacement and 3.2 wins above replacement. Both were third highest among defensemen. Pietrangelo was also third in expected results with 13.8 xGAR and 2.4 xWAR.
Pietrangelo also put up 16 goals and 52 points in 70 games in the regular season and that kind of production is only seen by one Vegas defenseman. Having both Theodore and Pietrangelo would instantly make Vegas one of the best blue lines in the NHL, and that’s before adding in the young talent the Golden Knights have.
The other argument for Pietrangelo is that one of the other options rumored to be in on him is the Calgary Flames. The Golden Knights should not want Pietrangelo in their division if he’s not playing for them. One way to avoid that is to sign him to the team.
Pietrangelo makes the most sense if Vegas is on the market for a defenseman. A number-one defenseman like him doesn’t hit free agency all that often and acquiring one on the trade market is often expensive.
The first argument against the Golden Knights is this: what would his role be? He’s a 30-year-old defenseman with experience as a number one, go-to option and that’s what he’ll look to be on his new team.
The problem is, Vegas already has one of those. Shea Theodore is a lot like Pietrangelo just five years younger. He should be the number one, go-to option for Vegas for years to come and his playoff performance put his name even further in the Norris conversation. He was already there as he finished sixth this season.
Theodore also beat Pietrangelo in expected results. Theodore was second in the league with 14.2 xGAR and 2.5 xWAR.
Why does Vegas then need Pietrangelo? As an upgrade to the second pairing? To play with Theodore and help maximize him? Both of those are decent ways to improve the blue line, but there has to be cheaper options out there for accomplishing those two feats.
For one, Alec Martinez performed well alongside Theodore throughout the playoffs and in the brief glimpse the Golden Knights got in the regular season. It’s true that the pairing needed to be better defensively, especially late in Vegas’s run against Dallas. But another season of chemistry and communication between those two could make them better.
Theodore is better on the power play than Pietrangelo as well. Vegas’s power play had more shot attempts (122.62 to 105.04), shots on goal (67.13 to 58.93), expected goals (7.79 to 7.48) and high-danger chances (23.55 to 22.1) with Theodore on the ice than the Blues did with Pietrangelo.
Even the Los Angeles Kings (and Golden Knights) did better in shots (60.14) and high-danger chances (22.87) with Martinez on the ice.
So he shouldn’t be the first, or perhaps even second, option as the blue-line quarterback. That limits what Vegas can do with him to 5-on-5 and the penalty kill.
Pietrangelo still has earned first defenseman money. For Vegas to pay that when Pietrangelo is playing on the second pairing and at most the second power-play unit is not smart allocation of the cap. Especially when, after this postseason, it became clear that the defense was not the problem.
The Golden Knights allowed nine goals in five games against Dallas. They would have allowed less if Robin Lehner had been better shorthanded in that series. Both Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb could have performed better throughout the postseason. But paying an upgrade there at least five million more (in the case of McNabb) is a mistake.
The upgrade needed is offensively. Vegas should spend their offseason finding someone who can park out front and help generate net-front presence and rebound opportunities. Pat Maroon will be available this summer for a whole lot less than eight million. The Golden Knights really need a center and one to play between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty.
That would allow the Golden Knights to ship off Paul Stastny, put William Karlsson on the second line with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault and allow Cody Glass to join the team full time between a likely duo of Alex Tuch and Chandler Stephenson.
Pietrangelo doesn’t play center. Evgeni Malkin could be available this summer and Pittsburgh is reportedly interested in Marc-Andre Fleury. The trade would involve more but that could be a start.
It’s a lot harder to find first line center talent available but there are places to look. Phillip Danault, Sean Monahan and Steven Stamkos have all been hinted at potentially being available. Each would be a smarter investment and in an actual position of need.
Pietrangelo is buying at a position that needs better play from those already in Vegas. Not a position that requires an upgrade. It would also be a very expensive buy as well. One that with Pietrangelo on the wrong side of 30 may not be worth it for long.
It seems like Pittsburgh and Vegas are destined to trade this offseason. The Golden Knights could target Kris Letang if they’re desperate for a defensive upgrade. Letang makes less than Pietrangelo would (7.25 million AAV is less than the most conservative estimates for Pietrangelo’s next deal) and only has two years left.