As one of the best defensemen the NHL, Alex Pietrangelo is going to have a lot of interested suitors, should he makes it to the free agent market this offseason. Due to their abundance of salary cap space and a desire to go “all-in” for a Stanley Cup over the next few years, it stands to reason that the Colorado Avalanche would likely be among them. Unfortunately, with the way the Avs have done business over the last few years, luring Pietrangelo to Denver doesn’t seem likely.
Until last week, it was believed that Pietrangelo had little desire to hit the open market. Drafted by the St. Louis back in 2008, the Blues are the only team Pietrangelo has played for during his 11 year NHL career. Off the ice, the 30-year old is raising a very young family that have all been born and raised in the St. Louis area. Leaving the Blues would mean uprooting his wife and kids from the only home they’ve ever known and starting over again in a new city. It happens all the time in professional sports but with Pietrangelo, it seemed as if it wouldn’t. Staying in St. Louis was always the first choice.
That is until his agent started negotiation through the media a couple weeks ago. Both the player and his agent have done a few interviews with major sports media outlets in recent days - each time, mentioning St. Louis as Plan A but leaving open the door to moving on if a contract can’t be worked out. At first it seemed obvious that this was all an attempt to leverage more money out of the Blues but as things progressed, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there is a big divide between the two sides. Pietrangelo is likely looking for an annual salary near Roman Josi’s new $9m+ a year contract and it appears as though the Blues simply can’t afford that.
If he really wants to stay in St. Louis for his family, the option is there. That said, this contract will be life altering for Pietrangelo and his children, so at the end of the day, business will likely outweigh sentimentality.
Earlier this week, Andy Strickland - the main beat writer for the Blues - reported that St. Louis had made an off of something close to $64m over eight years (an AAV of $8m) to Pietrangelo. That’s a lower amount than Pietrangelo wanted but more importantly, the contract was structured without a No Trade Clause and with no signing bonus.
Since then, it has been reported by others - Pierre LeBrun chief among them - that the signing bonus is the sticking point. Whichever team it is he eventually signs with, Pietrangelo’s agent is hoping to get a contract structured in a similar fashion to the contract signed by John Tavares two summers ago.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Tavares, they were able to do so at a lower cap hit than other teams were offering because of how much signing bonus was included. Of the $77m in the Tavares contract, more then 90% of it is to be paid out as a signing bonus.
There aren’t many teams in the NHL who can afford these types of contracts. It appears as though St. Louis isn’t one of them. Being able to write a massive check on July 1st of every isn’t something most franchises have the cash flow to absorb and it could very well be what leads to the Blues losing their captain.
The Colorado Avalanche have an owner that can definitely afford to pay signing bonuses. Stan Kroenke just spent more than $5 billion dollars on a new playground for his NFL team. His wife, Ann Walton Kroenke (who technically owns the Avs) and son Josh Kroenke (the President of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment) are heirs to a little company called Walmart. Most NHL teams don’t have the financial wherewithal to absorb massive signing bonuses every year - Colorado certainly does.
Can the Avalanche afford to pay massive signing bonuses in order to improve the team? Yes.
Are they willing to? It doesn’t seem so.
The only players on the Avalanche roster who has a signing bonus built into their contract are Nazem Kadri and Cale Makar. Kadri’s signing bonus exists because he signed the contract with Toronto and Makar’s is a standard bonus built into entry-level contracts.
The Avalanche simply don’t sign contracts with signing bonuses and if that remains true, any hope of signing Pietrangelo this offseason goes right out the window. If the All Star defender is going sign a contract without the up-front money, it will be to stay in St. Louis. And if he decides to leave the Blues, it will be for the type of contract that helps him to maximize his earning potential.
Given Joe Sakic’s attempts to sign both John Tavares and Artemi Panarin over the last few years and his desire to push hard for a Stanley Cup in the next two seasons, it stands to reason that Alex Pietrangelo is the kind of player the Avalanche would be interested in during free agency. Unfortunately, the Avalanche seem to have a self imposed financial limitation that would prevent that from happening.