The St. Louis Blues made a clear and distinct choice, regardless of whether you agree with it, in their free agency deals. They chose the future over the star.
St. Louis Blues fans, like people in general, like things to be black and white with no room for gray. That’s not how things work in sports or life.
For example, you find two groups in Blues fandom the day after Alex Pietrangelo decided to sign with the Vegas Golden Knights. One side says the Blues were cheap and let a franchise player walk away. The other side says Pietrangelo was greedy and the team is better off without him.
That makes for good sports radio, as was the case for Brandon Kiley making a hot take that the Blues were wrong in not caving to every single demand Pietrangelo had. That’s nonsense.
On the flip side, the idea that the Blues are better off without an All-Star caliber, Norris Trophy candidate is just as insane. Neither side is completely right and neither is completely wrong.
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What the Blues did do, which makes sense to some and not others, is they chose the group over the individual. Apparently, according to Jeremy Rutherford’s reporting on a feeling from around the league, this makes the Blues unloyal to their players.
I feel it is the opposite. The Blues are showing loyalty to the group that won the Stanley Cup instead of just rewarding a player who had a certain letter on his chest.
That is not to take away anything Pietrangelo accomplished or his leadership abilities. I just grow tired of this constant statement about him being the first and only Blues captain to hoist the Stanley Cup. If the Blues won the Stanley Cup the year before David Backes was allowed to walk, the fact he walked would not have been less correct for the franchise just because he would have won.
The Blues were going to have to make sacrifices in this scenario, no matter how you sliced it. The path they chose allowed them to keep more pieces, even if those pieces are not as talented individually as the one that left.
For example, as pointed out by St. Louis Game Time, the Blues have a lot of free agent issues coming in the very near future. While many of their most talented players are locked up for a good while, there are many supplementary players coming up for new deals.
After the 2020-21 season, Jaden Schwartz and Tyler Bozak are both unrestricted free agents. That’s assuming either or both of them are still on the team when the next round of free agency rolls around.
Then, there is the Jordan Binnington issue. He is also an unrestricted free agent. The team will have to decide whether he is the goalie to put the team on his back or to move on, because he is likely to want an upgrade from his previous salary of $4.4 million.
Carl Gunnrsson is also a free agent. That’s a 50/50 proposition as many fans would not mind if he left, but he’s the kind of player the Blues do tend to extend.
Needless to say, the Blues had to think about their future beyond the summer of 2020. It sucks they lost a player who might have had a statue at the end of his career, but you were going to lose players no matter what.
Fans, and maybe even media, might have applauded Doug Armstrong had he kept Pietrangelo. In two years time, he might have been public enemy number one if the Pietrangelo deal left no money for Thomas to get a raise or force Parayko off the team or any other number of losses.
What about whichever player would have gotten the axe like Nate Schmidt did for Vegas? Yes, Pietrangelo is an upgrade, but all over social media you still see posts about fans wishing the Blues still had Ryan Reaves or Pat Maroon. Any loss of talent from a Stanley Cup team was going to affect team chemistry.
The Blues are still up against the salary cap and Armstrong will need some financial wizardry if the team ever gets all their players healthy. Even so, I’ll take the value of a player like Torey Krug at $2.3 million less per season if it means the Blues can keep more players, or even add, down the road.
We’ll never know how strapped against the cap they might have been if Petro stayed because we’ll never know what player would have been traded to make the room. Yet, the way the Blues play, the group is more important than the individual.
Fans were more than willing to dump Pietrangelo or Vladimir Tarasenko or Jay Bouwmeester prior to 2019. Those guys played large roles in winning the championship, but so did other players like Barbashev or Oskar Sundqvist or Parayko.
The Blues won because they had talent at the top like Pietrangelo, but also because they could roll out four lines of offense, three lines of good defense and had a goaltender standing on his head. There’s a likelihood they lose several pieces over the next while if they only valued the individual.
So, a lot of perception shows what you value. Those that think the Blues’ window is closing without Pietrangelo value the star power and individual talent alone, which is not how the Blues really won.
Those that think Armstrong made the right decision value the group a little more. Time will tell who is right, but I will take my chances with a talented group over the individual more times than not.