posted on September 09, 2013 00:00
Training Camp for the St. Louis Blues begins in three days and the puck drops on the regular season less than a month from now.
The key storyline is still the Alex Pietrangelo contract negotiations, but Ken Hitchcock and crew are pressing on with the addition of Ryan Whitney to their training camp roster. Tom Stillman has added legendary scorer Brett Hull to his front office staff and the business operations as a hopeful shot in the arm for revenue.
Given their increased spending already, and the possible addition of Pietrangelo's salary, the Blues could certainly use it.
There is another persepctive on Pietroangelo to keep in mind, but we'll start with Hull. He is the biggest name this franchise has ever produced, and he can work his way around a golf course. Two big positives when you need to try and secure corporate dollars. As long as the role is clearly defined for him, he'll be an excellent ambassador for the Blues franchise in St. Louis.
The problem the franchise will run into however, is that St. Louis simply isn't big enough of a market to provide the full corporate support needed. When Brett Hull was playing for the Blues there wasn't an NFL team 10 minutes across downtown. Most media markets similiar in size to St. Louis carry two major sports teams. St. Louis has three. The Cardinals certainly make their money. The Rams are part of the country's most popular sports league and a great revenue sharing system. The Blues are stuck in a sport, and a league, that has always struggled to gain its footing from a business perspective.
For the Blues there is a limited amount of corporate dollar pie available to feed off of. The Cardinals will always be the first choice. After that it is the Rams with the popularity of the NFL and its viewership.
But if there is anyone who can bridge the gap, and foster a few more relationships for Stillman and Co. to build the Blues revenues, it's Hull.
Now, why Ryan Whitney? Is he a fill-in for Pietrangelo? Is this an insurance move? Can he play? Why this move?
All valid questions, and all are correct answers. Whitney gives Hitchcock the number of bodies he needs to run a proper training camp. He is also required to dress a certain amount of NHL players in preseason games. It gives him another veteran voice in the locker room, and presence on the back end of the ice. Can he play? Yes. Can he be Alex Pietrangelo? No. So don't expect him to be. If Pietrangelo's holdout carries into the regular season, someone is going to have to take regular shifts to fill the void and frankly Ian Cole just has not been able to catch on and graduate into a full-time, NHL defenseman as he enters his fourth season with the Blues. Whitney's played almost 500 NHL games in his career. He had some good years with the Edmonton Oilers and now looking to rebound with the Blues. At this point in the season, it is as good of a player as you'll find to bring in.
In you have not heard, Alex Pietrangelo still isn't signed. His agent and the Blues are still about a million dollars apart from each other. Training camp starts on Thursday and the smart money says he will not be there. Let's examine a possible scenario and I'll take the stance the Blues are at an advantageous position through all of this.
You have to remember the Blues cannot spend with the large-market teams of the league. They have one $6 million dollar player on the roster already in Jay Bouwmeester, and the salaries have increased for a handful of the other core members over past few seasons. The Blues want to pay Pietrangelo $6 million, his agent wants $7 million. A $6.5 million compromise is the obvious solution, and most likely where things end up. But the Blues have a few plays to run here.
With the lowered salary cap, Pietroangelo is not going to receive an offer sheet. If a team gives Pietrangelo the $7 million dollar offer he wants, and the Blues decide not to match it, then the compensation will be two first-round draft picks, one second-round pick, and one third-round pick. A hefty price to say the least for a team. Pietroangelo is either playing for the Blues this year or he is playing in another league. If he wants to continue playing in the NHL, he can only hold out until December 1st. At that point any unsigned restricted free agents cannot play in the league for the rest of the year.
If the Blues cannot make things work long-term with the blueliner, they can sign a short term bridge contract and still have the chance of maintaining Pietrangelo's restricted free agent status. In that situation you can look at passing on an offer sheet to collect the draft pick compensation, or search for a trade with a team that can pay him.
Bottom line is the Blues have options. Pietrangelo does not. Doug Armstrong cannot let one player dictate how he runs the organziation. The youngster has not earned that privilege yet. You need a championship, a Norris trophy, or both before you can start dictating how an organization runs itself.
The deal will get done. Hopefully before the start of the regular season. The question is how bruised are the egos and feelings involved. That will determine the real long-term future of Pietrangelo with the St. Louis Blues.
Photo credit: Jeff Roberson/Associated Press