“I don’t know if frustration is the right word. Army’s going to say the same thing. We tried and we tried and we tried. Sometimes things just don’t work out.”
ST. LOUIS — Alex Pietrangelo sat in front of his computer talking to the media for the first time as a defenseman for the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.
Sounds strange, doesn’t it?
It was almost printed in this space as ‘defenseman and captain of the Blues,’ because it’s been something done regularly for the past 12 years. But alas, here we are, talking about former Blues defenseman and captain since 2016 after Pietrangelo put pen to paper on a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with an average annual value of $8.8 million to join Vegas.
Pietrangelo’s contract includes a full no-movement clause and $35 million in signing bonus money to be distributed variably over the first six years of the contract.
But as he was speaking glowingly of the new challenge that awaits him in Sin City and the excitement of making an already strong hockey club even stronger, Pietrangelo wanted to make clear that he made every intention of remaining with the squad that drafted him with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft an the thought of wanting a new challenge, something reported early Tuesday as a tipping point that Pietrangelo wanted out of St. Louis, wasn’t the case.
“Well, I think it was taken out of context a little bit to be honest with you,” Pietrangelo said. “The goal was always to get something done in St. Louis. I don’t think my mind ever really flipped to that point until we tried and tried and tried with St. Louis and it didn’t look like something was going to get done. My kids are here, they’re in school here, my wife’s from here, I don’t know any different. We pushed and pushed and pushed. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you expect it to be. I think that was taken out of context a little bit.
“(But) I welcome the challenge. I welcome something new. I think it’s going to push me to become a better player. I think it’s going to hopefully get me outside my comfort zone to certainly try something that I’ve never done before. This is a good team and I think I can really help. I think I can help (Shea Theodore) too. I love the challenge of helping young players and young guys. There’s a lot of guys on this team that play at an elite level and I think I can fit in well.”
Perhaps the initial process for the writing on the wall came when the Blues surprisingly acquired and signed Justin Faulk to a seven-year extension last September. They also signed Brayden Schenn to a new eight-year contract prior to last season, they acquired Marco Scandella when Jay Bouwmeester suffered a cardiac episode and signed him to a new four-year contract, and there was still nothing in terms of progress for Pietrangelo and his contract status.
Then there was the shock of all shocks (the pandemic) and when the Blues moved into this past Friday and players officially became unrestricted free agents and the thought of losing Pietrangelo and not having a backup plan, general manager Doug Armstrong moved in on Boston Bruins UFA Torey Krug and inked him to a seven-year, $45.5 million ($6.5 million AAV) contract, it all but spelled the end for Pietrangelo’s tenure in St. Louis.
“No. I was a little surprised,” Pietrangelo said of Krug’s signing. “I wasn’t really following everything during the day. I was putting my kids to bed. I did my best to just kind of shut everything off and worried about us to try and take away the outside noise. Everyone’s asking what’s going on and what the plan is. Army saw an opportunity to get an elite player and he did that. I guess I was surprised. I wasn’t really paying attention either. I didn’t know what was going on throughout the day. I tried not to pay attention so I could make the best decision possible. I never really counted the Blues out until I put pen on paper yesterday. I went into this thing with an open mind not really knowing what to expect and I think this year was a little bit different obviously because of what’s happened with the cap and the pandemic and every team is operating differently right now. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I kind of went into this thing with an open mind knowing that yeah, there’s a very good chance that I wind up back in St. Louis. That was our mindset the whole time.
“I don’t know if frustration is the right word. Army’s going to say the same thing. We tried and we tried and we tried. Sometimes things just don’t work out. I wouldn’t necessarily say frustration. I think both sides are disappointed. But as I talked to teams and flew out to Vegas, you get excited about that opportunity, you get excited about trying to fit into a new group and a new challenge of fitting into a new system, new coaches and all that. I’m excited for that. Jayne and I are completely getting outside of our comfort zone from what we have in our life right now. I think it’s a challenge that we’re going to kind of welcome with open arms.”
The Blues were willing to give Pietrangelo a partial no-move and perhaps some signing bonus money but couldn’t match what Vegas was willing to do. But in order to do that, the Golden Knights had to move former Blue Paul Stastny and defenseman Nate Schmidt in separate trades to make it happen.
“I think now more than ever for players, the uncertainty of what can happen. This is an extreme circumstance that we’re in right now,” Pietrangelo said of the importance of the no-move clause. “I don’t think anybody could have prepare for that. I think for me, with my family situation, having four kids under the age of two, if I’m going to pick them up and away from somewhere that if it’s the only thing that they know, I want to make sure that I was going to be comfortable there for a period of time. They were prone to understanding that and committed to that and it made me feel comfortable knowing that they understood why I was asking those questions and why I wanted that.”
Pietrangelo and his wife flew to Vegas Saturday afternoon and spent a a few days touring the city and surrounding areas with team owner Bill Foley, president of hockey operations George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon.
Oh, and there were assurances from Stastny, who hosted the Pietrangelos when they came to visit, former Blues teammate and Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves and perhaps former Blues teammate David Perron, who spent 2017-18 in Vegas.
“Yeah, I guess playing against them every time we came into Vegas, obviously a difficult place to play being the visiting player, obviously the atmosphere,” Pietrangelo said. “I think everybody agrees it’s probably the best place to play in the NHL right now. Team-wise, it’s a difficult team to play against. I think top to bottom, everyone knows their role, well-coached, good goaltending, good balance and I think coming from a team that played a similar style, it’s definitely a difficult one to play against. I think that’s part of the reason that brought me here is that it fits into my style, they play the game the way that I think it should be played. You want to go somewhere where you feel comfortable and then you can help. I think going into a system the way Pete (DeBoer) coaches, it’s going to allow me to do that.
“We’re friends with the Stastnys, really close friends. We had asked them about it and what they thought and obviously Reavo too. Him and I are really good friends. Between them two, then we flew out there, we went to go see the Stastnys, we felt like they said all the right things. They spoke extremely high of the organization, the way players are treated, the way families are treated and more importantly, the way wives are treated. It certainly helped us make a decision knowing that everyone’s taken care of.”
The idea for Vegas was not to let Pietrangelo leave without signing a contract, which he did, but it left the favorable impression that Pietrangelo didn’t consider going anywhere else after returning to St. Louis Monday.
“There were multiple teams that we had interest in that we knew could probably try and make it work,” Pietrangelo said. “Obviously the goal all along was to get something done in St. Louis, but as Friday came, Vegas called, we thought we’d entertain the idea. I had the thought just by the way they play it would be a good fit. So I flew out there Saturday not knowing what to expect from Friday morning. I flew out there Saturday, met with George and Kelly and met Bill and kind of took a tour of outside the city where the players live and kind of got a feel for the atmosphere, lifestyle. I really felt we were more comfortable knowing what to expect. Vegas is known for the Strip, but I think it was a good opportunity to go out there and see a different side of the city, see the facilities and certainly I was impressed. I was impressed with the organization and what they were able to offer.”
Now Pietrangelo knows he’ll be a Golden Knight for the next seven years, taking him up to the age of 37, but before he leaves, he’ll have the chance to visit and catch up with his now former teammates, who he’s already spoken to, and who he won the first Stanley Cup with in Blues history in 2019.
“Yeah, I talked to a bunch of the guys,” Pietrangelo said. “I don’t know if it’s really sunk in yet. Maybe when we move, it will when we’re trying to pack up four kids, that’s never an easy thing to do. Maybe it will sink in then.
“We still have a house here. I’m going to be here. Probably will come back in the summers and skate with these guys. I’m around the city. I’m all friends with them. They understand. I’ve talked to them and I’m looking forward to catching up with them. I haven’t seen them since last week. We’ll probably get out and play some golf together. When you develop relationships and you go through what we went through last year, you become friends for life. The good part about Vegas for us too is, part of the decision was it’s easy to get on a flight and get back to St. Louis if my wife wants to come home and see her family. That certainly played a part in it and having that access for us.’