The St. Louis Blues are trying to emulate the Chicago Blackhawks in terms of success. One of the ways to do that is to learn from their contracts.
It feels icky to mention the St. Louis Blues with the Chicago Blackhawks under normal circumstances. However, the Blues are trying to emulate the success their rival had in the previous decade.
The Blues have won their first Stanley Cup. They’re on a slightly different timeline than Chicago was.
The Blackhawks had to jettison some pretty important players the season following their first win out of three. St. Louis pretty much kept the entire team together except for Pat Maroon and later trading Joel Edmundson.
Going into the year following the season you do not win, the Blues are now in decision making mode. What pieces from the championship squad do you keep to build around and which ones have to be sacrificed for the raises of the others?
Clearly one of the team’s priorities is trying to keep their captain, Alex Pietrangelo. That is difficult on many levels.
Even if the salary cap went up as expected, the Blues were going to have to make moves to afford the kind of money Pietrangelo is rumored to want. With the salary cap staying stagnant for the next year or two (possibly as many as five or more years according to some), St. Louis will be missing several pieces of their Cup team in order to keep the captain.
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While it feels odd to say, the Blues can actually learn from the Blackhawks. They can learn in various ways too.
First off, they can learn what Chicago did well in terms of their contract. While the man might be one of the most hated members of the rival, Chicago did reasonably well with the dollars given to Duncan Keith.
Keith was just turning 27 when they signed his long-term deal. The Blackhawks gave him a 13-year contract, which was insane by any standards.
However, for a prominent defenseman within the league, they maneuvered the numbers pretty well. While the term was outlandish, they massaged the numbers down to just under a $5.6 million cap hit.
Most of that was due to front loading the contract. Chicago also added a lot of bonuses up front as well.
As far as Keith was concerned, he earned $8 million the first three years of his contract. The next three years gave him over $7 million and then it trickled down each year after that, when it will finish with Keith earning $1.5 in the final year of his deal, which will be 2022-23.
Keith will be 40 at the end of his contract. Pietrangelo might not be searching for a 10-year deal, but his ideal contract would likely carry him well into his late-30’s.
If the Blues want to keep Pietrangelo and keep the team competitive, they need to figure out something similar. They need to find a way to structure the contract to benefit the team while still paying Pietrangelo something close to what he would like.
Money is a lot, but it isn’t everything. There are almost surely teams that can outbid the Blues, but very few of those teams are in any position to compete right now or even within a year or two.
If Pietrangelo wants to win right now, he may have to sacrifice a few years off a deal or a few dollars. On the Blues side, it depends just as much on what the owners can spend as what the franchise can fit under the cap.
It’s all well and good for fans to say pay him whatever he wants, but these are all local businessmen that own the team. They’re not hurting for money, but they are not loaded with Scrooge McDuck amounts of gold either.
Ideally, if the Blues are to retain Pietrangelo, it needs to be under a contract like Keith’s. I would hope it would be for nothing more than eight years, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
As far as dollars, the bonuses are a great way to even things out. You set the bonuses at something that is very achievable and the base salary at something reasonable for the team.
That way, Pietrangelo can get his $8.5 million or more in actual salary without crippling the team as far as the cap. Ultimately Petro gets his money, just like Keith will have earned $72 million in one contract term alone, but the cap hit doesn’t handcuff the Blues as far as being competitive.
As far as length of term, the Blues need to learn from the Keith contract too. Petro is 30 now and Keith was 27 when he got his.
There’s no way in any universe Petro gets a 13-year deal, but he might want 10. The Blues have to stay away from that and Keith is a good example why.
Keith and Pietrangelo are different players with different styles, but Keith took a dive once he turned 31. He scored 61 points at age 30 and then 45 at 31.
In fairness, 45 was probably more normal for him, but it was not what Chicago needed or came to expect. Keith has jumped around since then, with seasons of 43, 53, 32, 40 and 27, all while playing essentially full seasons in those years.
Chicago has him under contract for three more seasons and is already seeing the decline in point production. His defensive point shares have been career lows the last three seasons too.
St. Louis would like a four-year contract and then see how things are. Pietrangelo is likely to want eight to 10 years.
For me, as a fan, if you can get the numbers right, six or seven would be fair and eight is the max. Pietrangelo might keep in great shape, but he’s never been the fastest out there.
Are you really going to be paying him one of the highest cap hits on the team when he is 38? If he has become a third pairing defender by 36, are you going to be kicking yourself?
To me, six is fair because you get four or five good years and roll the dice with the last one or two years. The more you tack on after that, the more risk you accrue and the more likely you end up like Chicago is now.
Now, if St. Louis could win one or two more Cups like the Blackhawks did, most fans would accept that tradeoff. But, this team is not built mostly on skill like Chicago was.
They can win with a plug-and-play mentality. They need to be smarter with the bigger contracts they give out.