Alright, first off I don’t particularly like to say that. To be honest, I don’t particularly like to trade anybody. I would love it if the Blues were able to draft and sign all their great players, keep them for 15 years or so, and then have them retire from the note, preferably with a cup or two. That’s a dream though and in the real world, you have to trade players from time to time. Now is one of those times. The Blues have heavily underperformed this year. They have bounced around the bottom half of the standings, are currently 5 pts out of the playoffs, and the only thing we can say for certain is that we don’t know what team is going to show up from game to game. Sure, the recent emergence of Jordon Binnington has lifted the team a bit, but it’s still hard to see them making the playoffs this year or coming anywhere near actually competing for a cup. They have gone from beating a division leader, to getting blown out by a team barely in the hunt. It’s time for the team to take a good look at the current roster and make a few moves now, to set themselves up for a better year next year. One of those moves is trading Petro.
Now, before anybody misreads what I’m saying here, I am not blaming the Blues’ season on Petro. Sure he hasn’t had his best year this year, but really none of the players on our team can say that, save possibly O’Reilly. When a team comes into a season with multiple “experts” touting them to be serious contenders, and then falls apart, you cannot blame one man. The blame for this season is shared across a number of people at all levels, the GM, the coaches, the Forwards, the Defense, and the goalies. In the Blues’ case, you could even make a case to blame the farm system, which was unable to prepare some of our younger talent properly, due to the shift forced on us by the Vegas expansion and the Chicago Wolves decision to basically ditch the Blues as a partner. However, at some point, you have to stop looking for and assigning blame and start actually doing something to fix the problem, and that leaves us where we are with Pietrangelo.
Why Trade Alex?
That is a question that I’m sure more than a few people are asking. Alex isn’t the problem, at least not entirely. He’s still relatively young, 28, a good NHL defenseman. His career numbers are decent, maybe not elite or hall of fame numbers, but solid. He’s +59 on his career and he averages 24:43 min a night on ice, most of it played on the top line. In fact, he’s been averaging over 20 min a night since his first full season with the Blues at 21 years old. He also averages around 40 points a season, which is great for a defenseman, and he doesn’t take a lot of penalties. All of that is good news.
So, why trade him if he’s that good? Well, it really comes down to a few things: First, Alex seems to be the odd man out on the defensive pairings. A player is only as good as the guys around him and right now Alex doesn’t have anyone to play with. Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson make a great combo. They play well together, they communicate well together, and they seem to complement each other fairly well. They aren’t perfect by any means, but they work together. Alex has no such partner right now. He used to, Jay Bouwmeester, but Bouwmeester has gotten old, and with it, he’s slowed down and lost the edge that made him so great. Father time is undefeated and all those hard years in the trenches never missing a game have finally caught up to Jay. Alex pairs decently with Edmundson, but not as well as Parayko. Other than that though, the Blues simply have no one for him to play with. Petro is at his heart, an offensive-minded defenseman, and as such, he stumbles trying to cover defensively for the rookie mistakes and over-aggressive actions of Vince Dunn. He’s also not equipped to deal with the age-related mistakes that we’re seeing more and more with Bouwmeester. Bortuzzo and possibly Butler are also options, but they are bottom pair defensemen and while I’m sure they would complement Petro to a degree, they are not going to be able to put in anywhere near the minutes Petro can. That leaves you either forcing a $6 million top pair defenseman to play bottom pair minutes or asking a bottom pair guy to cover top line minutes and top-line forwards. This is something that neither Butler nor Bortuzzo are equipped for. That essentially just leaves Gunnarsson. He pairs well with Petro, but he is also getting older, in the last year of his contract, and has had a rash of injury problems recently. If Gunnarsson can stay healthy, he and Petro can partner up to some level of success for a while, but Gunnarsson is not going to be a long term solution to this problem. Petro is good, but his style of play and talent levels just simply don’t fit anywhere in the current Blues roster.
The second major reason to trade him is that he is the Captain. Now, I have a firm belief that you don’t take a “C” away from a player. Whether it means anything in the locker room or not, that letter on the jersey is a public acknowledgment of leadership to the fans, the media, the league, and other players, and taking it away is a shot to the ego of a proud professional athlete. It has always been my firm position that if you need a new captain you have to get rid of the old one or else there will be problems. Unfortunately, I don’t think this current team has really bought into Petro’s leadership. He is a great guy and I have no doubt that he can be an effective leader, but taking over after David Backes was a task too much for him. That transition was like going from a Drill Instructor to a High School Guidance Counselor. Both are effective leaders, but in their own ways and unfortunately, it’s starting to look, based on results, like at least some of the team never really bought into Petro’s style of leadership.
Finally, we have the more rational reasons for this trade. Petro is 28, that’s starting to get old for a hockey player. He is only under contract for 1 more year and we may not have the money to resign him, especially if said signing would require a no trade or no movement clause, both of which would hamper the team’s ability to keep some of the younger stars currently rising through the ranks. That trade would also allow the Blues to cash in on a big asset and restock a farm system that is currently very light on top end defensive prospects. And last but not least, it would get a $6.5 mil contract off the books and clear up space for a subsequent big move next year. A year that I’m sure will find the Blues under an even greater amount of pressure due to our hosting of the All-Star Game.
Where does he go? And what do we get?
These questions are a little less cut and dry. For the first one, the short answer is wherever he wants and the long answer is a contender that Alex would like to play for, preferably with guys he likes. Pietrangelo has a full No Trade Clause currently, which means he would have to sign off on any trade that is made. This isn’t going to be about what the Blues can get for him, but whether we can get good value from a place he would be agreeable to going too and there’s a good chance that he doesn’t get traded at all. Alex may simply decide that he likes St. Louis, he likes the Blues, and he doesn’t want to leave. I don’t necessarily think that will happen though, especially if it’s made clear to him that the Blues may not be as agreeable to resigning him in summer of 2020. My feeling is that if Petro doesn’t get traded, it’s more likely going to be because a viable deal couldn’t be had, more than him digging his feet in and refusing to leave.
The kind of team that would be interested in Petro would be a top-level contender. Basically, a team that is either leading their division, fighting for the lead of their division, has the kind of roster that would allow them to make a deep playoff run and legitimately go for the Stanley Cup, or is a little weak on defense either due to lack of depth or injury. There are more than a few names that jump out at me at the moment on that list: Toronto, Boston, and Colorado, which have been thrown around by the media. However, I would also be willing to throw in Vegas, Calgary, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and possibly even Anaheim, if they can turn their current 10 game losing streak around. Toronto is trying to win now before their current contract situation inevitably rises up and bites them. Boston, Colorado, and Calgary all have talented forward cores but lack defensive depth. In those teams, I believe Petro would probably slot in as a 2nd pair defenseman, but could easily move up if someone starts underperforming or in the case of injuries. Pittsburgh has the dynamic duo of Crosby and Malkin, up top both elite stars trying to tack on more trophies in their prime, and they also lack a certain amount of defensive depth to back them up. Columbus is trying to set themselves up as outsiders. They also have a girth of young defensive talent that could probably benefit from Petro’s experiences and the cap space to easily make a move. Finally, there is Vegas and Anaheim. Vegas is trying to turn that first-year success into continued excellence and a guy like Petro would be a solid piece to build your defense around for the next 6-8 years. It would also give Alex a chance to reunite with Reaves, one of the best teammates in the NHL. Anaheim has an incredibly young defensive core, but they weren’t really even supposed to be competitive this year. The Ducks bucked those predictions and are right in the thick of things and adding a veteran Defenseman like Petro might just be the thing to vault them up a couple of notches and make them an actual contender. That being said, however, Anaheim, Pittsburgh, and Calgary are all dancing on the Salary Cap line, so trades to any of those locations would be far more difficult than some of the other possibilities.
As for the second question up there, “What can we get for him?” that’s a lot harder to answer. Assessing the return for a player in a trade is difficult to do and highly dependent on the team you’re trading with. Petro has a $6.5 mil cap hit and that will have to get worked into the deal in some way. That means the Blues might have to take on a veteran player on a slightly bad contract, or might have to eat some of Petro’s contract in order to make the deal work. That being said, I also suck at making deals up. I have found that I tend to overvalue players that the league undervalues and undervalue players the league overvalues. As such, I’m going to speak mostly in generalities here. What the Blues need to get for Pietrangelo in a trade is simple. They need a decent defensive prospect, preferably someone that is in their teens or early 20s and almost ready to make the jump to the NHL with the potential to make at least the 2nd pair. They also need a 1st or 2nd round draft pick for 2019 or 2020, and another prospect or two. This doesn’t have to be top end, it could be a forward or a defenseman or even a goalie, just someone that will likely make the NHL and can provide future depth for the Blues. Those demands are of course negotiable. If a team is offering 2 good prospects, I would move off the picks and I’d be willing to take a top end forward prospect instead of a defensive prospect, especially if the team is also offering me a really good draft pick and a lesser prospect or two.
In the end though, what I would expect to see in this deal is Petro and maybe a depth forward or a later round pick, leaving St. Louis. In return we should get first, a top-level prospect, preferably defensive, second, a 1st or 2nd round pick or another good prospect, and third, a depth prospect or two possibly with a new depth forward, or an older guy with an annoying contract that we can easily shed, thrown in to make the deal work for rosters or cap space.
When would this happen?
Short answer, soon. The Blues’ season is for all intents and purposes, over. They are simply too far out and facing too much of an uphill climb to get back into it this year. That being said, Petro is also coming off of a nasty hand injury and teams will want to make sure he’s back to 100% before they pull the trigger on any kind of deal. Also, negotiations usually tend to take longer when a player needs to be convinced to waive an NTC. As such, I wouldn’t expect a trade in the next few days, but the next few weeks, possibly at or after the All-Star Break, wouldn’t be out of the question and would allow the Blues plenty of time to assess their roster in preparation for next year.
Regardless of whether Petro goes or not, the Blues are going to make a deal here. It may not be for Pietrangelo, it may not be as big or bold as some fans might want, but a deal will be made this season. You simply cannot shell out as much money as the organization has, make the kind of moves the organization has made, and then get the current results. Something has to change, something big, and an Alex Pietrangelo trade would more than fit that bill. It’s time to pull the trigger, Doug! It’s time to trade Petro.