HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- St. Louis Blues president of hockey operations Doug Armstrong wants the National Hockey League to know that even though cornerstone defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is without a contract right now, he will have one here in the very near future.
How soon it happens is the only question remaining.
An even clearer message was given by Armstrong on the day the team announced his new job title:
"We've kept enough cap space to address any team that thinks that they can poach him from us; that won't happen," Armstrong said. "He'll be a St. Louis Blue whether it's this weekend, two weeks, two months, a year from now. Time will tell, but we hope to get him done as quick as possible."
Pietrangelo, a restricted free agent who is represented by Don Meehan of Newport Sports, played out his three-year, entry-level contract at the conclusion of last season, a deal that paid him an average of $3.166 million per season after being selected by the Blues with the fourth pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. He has 29 goals and 121 points in 219 NHL games spanning five seasons after a five-goal, 24-point campaign last season.
Pietrangelo, who also was invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp last week in Calgary, briefly touched on the subject and his desire to re-sign with the Blues, and the team also has expressed its desire to keep him long-term.
Armstrong said the sides are in constant dialogue, but that the negotiations are an ongoing process.
"I wouldn't say we're disappointed. We're having constant dialogue now," Armstrong said. "... We would like him to be signed. I think he would like to be signed also. This isn't a one-way street on either side. Both sides want to do something that they're comfortable with. Probably both sides will wind up doing something that they're a little uncomfortable with, but we've made it very clear since the summer that Alex will be a St. Louis Blue when he plays hockey again."
In regards to being "uncomfortable," Armstrong said both sides likely will in the end sacrifice some points of emphasis.
"I find that in almost every negotiation the player wishes that he could have got a little bit more, the team wishes they could have gotten it for a little bit less," Armstrong said. "That's usually the time to make the deal. This one is no different than any other one in the sense that we're not going to be able to fulfill everything that Alex wants, and Alex is not going to be able to give us everything that we would like to have in this negotiation. So there's give-and-take, I guess. Whether uncomfortable is the right term or not ... we want it done. But we want it done where he believes he's paid fairly and where we believe we're paying him fairly and it's something that we can move forward with over the next anywhere from one to eight years and be comfortable."
In the meantime the Blues -- who open training camp Sept. 12 -- are making alternative plans in case Pietrangelo isn't signed, including inviting players to camp on a pro tryout basis; however, Armstrong wouldn't specify who or how many would be brought in.
"I've talked to the coaches about the 'what-ifs' on a few different situations," Armstrong said. "We're not going to replace Alex in eight days. We're not going to replace him in eight years. Our goal is to get him signed, and when we get him signed he'll be here, but we do have to have the proper amount of players to run practices and to make sure that we're getting what we want out of those exhibition games. We want players getting ready to play, but we don't want to overburden them. Also, Alex falls in as one of those players where you have to have an X-amount of NHL players in every [exhibition] game. He would fall into that category. With him out, is it going to increase the burden on other players? Or do we find a way to fill that from the outside."
Each side is looking at contracts recently signed by players comparable to Pietrangelo, including the Phoenix Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who signed a six-year, $33 million extension ($5.5 million average annual value) last season; the Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty, who was selected two picks ahead of Pietrangelo and signed an eight-year, $56 million ($7 million AAV) contract; and reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, who also is represented by Meehan but missed the first six games last season before agreeing to a two-year, $5.75 million contract.
It's possible the Blues and Pietrangelo could come to terms on a contract shorter in length, but it appears that getting closer to the eight-year maximum is the desired option.
"I wouldn't make any assumptions on the length of the contract or even the dollar value of different term levels," Armstrong said. "That's something that I think is better left to Don and Alex and myself and ultimately the ownership group led by [Tom] Stillman. I don't think there's any benefit of doing this publicly except sort of the broader terms that we're talking today of wanting to get him in.
"We've been clear on what we think of Alex as a person and as a player, that we want him here for the long term. We've made adjustments to our roster to ensure that we can keep him here. ... Alex is going to be a St. Louis Blue. I'm very comfortable with that."
The Blues are looking at three deadlines in regards to Pietrangelo. The first is getting him into camp on time. The second is the start of the regular season Oct. 1, and the third is Dec. 1, which is most important. If a restricted free agent isn't signed by that date, he must sit out the entire season.
"We certainly don't want to see the second or third deadline," Armstrong said. "We hope to get him in training camp and we hope to make him a St. Louis Blue for a long time. I know that's what Alex wants too. It's just the underbelly of the NHL, the business side of it that has to get taken care of. It doesn't change the respect that we have for Alex or I think Alex's desire to be here."
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