This kind of stuff happens just about every offseason. There’s always one or two big fish that hit the free-agency market each year that have fans in their respective NHL cities giddy at the thought of said big fish landing in their little local pond. The excitement and debate ravage throughout the Twittersphere each year, and we all become our own self-proclaimed expert armchair GM’s during the offseason. Pietrangelo
And in this very strange year of our lives, at least one thing has so far stayed consistent: the perennial great UFA debates.
This year features two pretty high-profile guys in longtime St. Louis Blue and captain, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, and one-time Hart Trophy winner in Taylor Hall. Both players would undoubtedly benefit any team they join, and fans are frothing at the mouth at the prospects of that team being their own.
The Colorado Avalanche certainly have money on the table to lure either Pietrangelo or Hall to Denver. The latter has had rumored ties to Colorado since the trade deadline, and many thought GM Joe Sakic would pull the trigger on acquiring Hall back in February. Of course, that didn’t happen and he landed in Arizona instead.
The Coyotes GM told the media recently that they’d need to be “very creative” in order to keep Hall. When Hall was asked about what he wants in his career after Arizona lost to the Avalanche, he told reporter “I think honestly, it’s probably all winning…Any player at this stage in their career who’s had the career I’ve had, 10 seasons only making the playoffs twice, that’s really what I’m after.” And based on his body language during that series, I’d think Hall wants out of Arizona. And the Avalanche are certainly in a position to win the whole thing. So for Hall, that makes Colorado an attractive place to play. It does make sense.
Given the position Colorado is in, and the prospects of Hall playing with Nathan MacKinnon and the Avs’ high-octane offense, you’d think it’s a perfect match. If he were to come to Colorado, I think it’d be a large one-year, come-here-to-win deal at something like $8-9 million. Sakic could certainly afford that…for one year, maybe two.
Perhaps that was all part of Sakic’s plan, too. Instead of trading away assets like first-round picks and top organizational prospects like Conor Timmins (which was the rumored asking price from Arizona), just wait it out until he hits the free agent market later in the year, and lose nothing other than money rather than assets. I think the interest from both sides is certainly there.
Enter: surprise-UFA Alex Pietrangelo.
The longtime St. Louis Blue is likely feeling a little spurned by the team that drafted him and made them their captain. The Blues reportedly offered their 12-year D-man something like an 8×8 contract, but Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic reported last week the current offer is actually $7.7 million AAV but is uncertain on term. Talks have since broken off and it’s believed he’s going to test the free agent market.
I do get the feeling the public drama of “testing the market” is really just leverage for Pietrangelo and once he starts getting offers on Oct. 9, he’ll report those back to the Blues and they’ll likely match it.
Unlike Taylor Hall, it’s not like Pietrangelo is leaving town to chase a Cup — he already won one in St. Louis. So I don’t see him taking a one-year deal at, say, $9 million to chase Lord Stanley’s glory. I think he’s looking for longterm structure and stability. That said, I don’t see the Avs offering him — or Hall — anything over a year or two, given the amount of money they’ll have to throw at MacKinnon, Makar and Landeskog in the coming years.
Still, let’s play a little devil’s advocate here. Say Pietrangelo is willing to take a one or two-year deal, I think he’s the better option for the Avalanche in the short — and long — term. Here’s why.
Pietrangelo offers the Avalanche stability and mentorship on the backend. With kids like Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins coming up the pipeline as soon as next season, having a Stanley Cup-winning mentor, and one of the better defensemen in the league, would do wonders for their development. So even though Pietrangelo would be in the locker room for only one or two years, the knowledge he imparts on the Avs youngsters will pay dividends in the long run.
Not only that, but he’s a right-handed shot, of which the Avalanche have very few…two to be exact. Only Cale Makar and Erik Johnson. If Timmins gets a full-time spot next season, he’s also a righty. Head coach Jared Bednar told me on Zoom a month or so back that that’s one of things he likes about having Timmins in the lineup. Bednar said he’s always sought right-left balance on defense, and in a perfect world, he’d have three of each on his team.
He can also put up points, which doesn’t hurt either. Fun fact: Pietrangelo scored just as many goals as Hall did during the regular season. Pietrangelo was tied for second in goals scored by defenseman this past season and finished fifth in scoring during the regular season. He also had 22 points on the power play. He’s also a guy that can log heavy minutes on a consistent basis. He averaged 24:11 of ice time during the regular season, 12th-most among NHL D-men.
But the main takeaway here is not about statistics. I think leadership and mentorship is invaluable and that in and of itself could be the difference maker for the Avalanche in their quest for a Stanley Cup. Colorado proved it can score goals. They were third in the NHL in goals scored last season. Sure, does adding a Hart Trophy talent help boost their offense? Of course. But as we saw during the postseason, the Avalanche defense crumbled. Injuries certainly didn’t help that, but you get the point.
Everyone loves a highly-offensive, fast-paced team. It’s what makes the Avalanche so much fun to watch on a nightly basis. But to make it deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams need to be solid and sturdy on the backend. Colorado’s defense hasn’t cut it the past two seasons.
The old cliche always rings tried-and-true: defense wins championships...right?