Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Talks between Blues, Pietrangelo break off

Defenseman will not open training camp Thursday as
contract dispute with restricted free agent linger on

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- After working well into the evening Tuesday trying to get a deal consummated with restricted free agent defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong addressed the media Wednesday morning at the St. Louis Outlet Mall.

The news wasn't good, as talks between the Blues and Pietrangelo, the fourth pick in 2008 NHL Draft, have broken off for the time being a day before the opening of training camp.

"He's not in training camp," Armstrong said. "We've worked in earnest with his representatives (Don Meehan of Newport Sports) trying to get him into training camp, we've talked about a lot of different options as far as a number of years.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (pictured) will be
absent when the Blues open training camp.

"(Tuesday) night, we gave it a last-ditch kick at the can around eight or nine o'clock at night and it didn't hold. So from this point forward, he's not in camp and we treat him like an injured player. ... If he misses a week, a month, a year, we're not really sure, but he's not here now and we have to move forward."

Armstrong would not get into the specifics of the contract, only to say he felt good about getting it wrapped up Tuesday night.

"I'm not going to get into the dynamics of the negotiations," Armstrong said. "I felt we've really tried to put our best foot forward. It wasn't something Alex was comfortable with and at the end of the day, he has to be comfortable.

"We're disappointed. I won't overreact to it. I wish he was here. I hope he wishes he was here, but he's not and now we have to move forward."

So for the time being, talks have broken off between the two sides and the Blues will move forward without their top defenseman, who has 121 points in 224 career games.

"I was always hopeful a deal would get done," Armstrong said. "My experiences get me not to be disappointed in things like this. When you put your best foot forward to try and get something done ... we talked a while ago that a deal gets done when everyone gets uncomfortable. I was very uncomfortable (Tuesday) and it didn't get done.

"I probably had my best sleep last night than I've had in three weeks when I realized this deal wasn't going to get done because I felt that we had really had done what we could do to get it done, to get him in here today. Training camp's a very important time for a team. It wasn't able to get done so now we move forward with the players that we have and at some point we'll re-engage and see if there's a different option that wasn't there. We were focused in on a deal that had a lot of term. Maybe that's not going to happen. We'll have to find out."

Pietrangelo becomes the fourth player from the Newport Sports Agency to be in a contract dispute and missing action while negotiations continue. The most recent was Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, who missed six games last season before he signed a two-year "bridge contract" for $5.75 million. Armstrong indicated that a shorter-term deal is a possibility for Pietrangelo.

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who was selected two spots before Pietrangelo in 2008, missed most of training camp in 2011 before he got an eight-year, $56-million deal. Both Doughty and Subban are represented by Meehan.

Ryan O'Reilly, who is represented by Newport's Mark Guy, ended his holdout last season in late February when the Colorado Avalanche matched the two-year, $10-million offer sheet from the Calgary Flames.

Some of the recent top-end defenseman that avoided any time missed or became holdouts include Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson, who got a seven-year, $45.5-million extension last season, and Phoenix Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larrson, who got a six-year, $33-million extension that kicks in this season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are involved in the same contract dispute with RFA defenseman Cody Franson.

The Blues have established three deadlines in the Pietrangelo negotiations. The first was to get him signed by the opening of training camp, then the regular season and Dec. 1, which is the deadline to get restricted free agents signed or they will have to sit out the season according to a recent stipulation in the collective-bargaining agreement. But should Pietrangelo receive an offer sheet from another team, Armstrong was adamant again that the Blues will match.

"We're a team that's in an NHL cap structure of a system, but we also have an internal budget and we have to fit all these things in here," Armstrong said. "We were able to accomplish a lot of things this summer in getting Jay Bouwmeester signed. That's something we believe could keep him here for a number of years and keep a lot of players around here. Kevin Shattenkirk, we were able to get signed. We've been able to make some head-way with some players.

"At some point, Alex will sign here. There's really three options: he's going to sign with us, he signs an offer sheet or he doesn't play this year. Those are the three things. There's no fourth thing."

"He will be a Blue," Armstrong added. "I want to crystalize that for our fans and for 29 other poachers out there. He's going to be a Blue, boys."

Armstrong said the recent conversations between he and Pietrangelo's agents focused on long-term contracts, but that the "bridge contract" is now something that's definitely in play.

"Our initial talks were that he felt most comfortable with a longer-term deal," Armstrong said. "As a core player, we wanted him here as a longer-term deal. But one of the things we have talked about is if it is a shorter-term deal, it doesn't mean he can't sign a long-term deal later. The goal is to get him in here.

"... If both sides feel short is the way to go, then short is the way to go. If both sides feel long is the way to go, we have to find the common ground where we're both comfortably uncomfortable."

It's believed that Pietrangelo's camp is seeking an annual average value of $7 million per season, in the range of Doughty's contract. But the Blues are believed have offered no more than $6 million.

When asked how big the gap is, Armstrong replied, "Big enough where he's not in camp.

"I'll take Alex's perspective: he thinks he's made us a hell of an offer. I disagree. We think we've made him a hell of an offer. He's disagreed. That's where we're at."

In the meantime, the Blues have brought in veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney on a professional tryout basis in case Pietrangelo isn't signed soon. The 30-year-old Whitney, who played for the Edmonton Oilers last season, will be given the opportunity to battle with Ian Cole for a top-six spot.

"Whitney's certainly going to get consideration, as is Cole," Armstrong said. "That is one of those battles I think you have a pecking order on the roster, pecking order where you're going to be on the team.

"He's a player that when we were looking for that left shot 'D' we focused on last year, I think the style the Oilers play is certainly different than the style we play. We think that he can maybe play in our structure with a little bit more ease than that Oiler structure. Not saying that the Oiler structure is wrong and ours is right, but different horses for different courses. We think he's a big man, he's a former top pick, he's played, he's got experience. He's still a young man in the sense that this isn't his swan song. This isn't like the Wade Redden in a situation where he was older and just coming in as a mentor. He wants to come in and be an impact moving forward. We now as of today provide an opportunity for that."

Pietrangelo's absence gives Kevin Shattenkirk, who signed a four-year, $17-million contract extension over the summer after becoming a restricted free agent, a shot at the top role, perhaps opposite Jay Bouwmeester, who is propected the be Pietrangelo's defensive partner on the top unit.

(Getty Images)
Alex Pietrangelo is a restricted free agent and was
the fourth overall pick of the 2008 NHL Draft.
"It's a great opportunity for someone like Kevin Shattenkirk," Armstrong said. "He's a young player that statistically when you look at he and Petro's first three years in the league, their stats are very, very similar. He's going to get a chance to play with the big dog on the left side now and we'll see how he does.

"We're a better team when Alex is here, but it's like an injury and when Nick Lidstrom retired from the Red Wings, they didn't actually fold. They found another guy and they moved on. No one person, from the general manager to the owner to any player or coach is bigger than the institution and the franchise. This franchise will keep moving forward."

It doesn't mean the sides cannot re-engage in talks as soon as possible. It only means both sides will step back and hit the refresh button.

"I haven't done this for well over a decade so there's no playbook that I'm using," Armstrong said. "I'm hoping that I have the greatest idea and I call him in 20 minutes and he's back in here or he has the idea that end all ideas and he calls me and I say, 'You know what, I wish we would have thought of that yesterday.' If that happens today, great. If that happens a week from now, great. If it happens two months from now, so be it. We can't control it and I can't get hung up on it because if I was to externally focus all my attention on this, it would drag the team down. That's why today is the last day that we have to talk about this because it's not fair to the coach or the team or to the fans.

"I understand the coaches want him back. I understand the fans want him back. I understand his teammates want him back. He understands that I want him back. It's just a business decision. I'm a big believer and I like to read and one of my favorite quotes was from (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones when he was asked about a player holding out and he said, 'My money has no emotion.' This is just a business."

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