Rumors and Rumblings! Incoming Alex Pietrangelo offer sheet?

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Did it come as a surprise to anyone that the first rumor regarding the Philadelphia Flyers involves upgrading a defense that has struggled the majority of the season?  The Flyers defense was plagued with injuries and inconsistency throughout the year, resulting in just their second missed playoff appearance in 18 seasons.

According to Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com, another offer sheet could be in the Flyers’ offseason plans.  This year’s target could be Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues.  The 23-year-old defenseman is on the final year of his entry level contract and is due for a major raise.

Panaccio states, “Right now, it’s going to be tough for the Blues to afford re-signing both Alex Pietrangleo and Kevin Shattenkirk with JayBo around. Which makes you wonder whether Holmgren would try another RFA offer sheet — this time targeting Pietrangelo.”

Generally, offer sheets have a very poor success rate.  Since 2006, there have been eight offer sheets, with only one being accepted and the others matched.  The biggest offer sheet came last year at the hands of the Flyers, when they offered Shea Weber 110 million over 14 years.  Nashville matched the contract and the Flyers were still looking for their replacement for Chris Pronger.

If the Flyers do present Alex Pietrangelo with an offer sheet, it would be a strategically thought out move like the Shea Weber offer sheet last year.  Nashville and St. Louis are two similar franchises. They are both small market teams who rarely spend the permitted maximum amount to ice a team.   Now, let’s see if this offer sheet has any chance of actually working and what the Flyers acquiring Alex Pietrangelo would mean, by looking at it from both teams’ perspectives.

The St. Louis Blues’ priority this offseason will be extending their restricted free agents (RFA).   Patrick Berglund, Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Alex Pietrangelo are the key RFAs they have to re-sign heading into the 2013 offseason.  According to capgeek.com, the Blues have over 24.5 million dollars in cap space.  To the simple eye, it would seem like they have plenty of cap space to re-sign all of their RFAs and have enough remaining to make upgrades on their roster.

Going back to the 2009-2010 season, the Blues generally never spent anywhere near the maximum cap.  In the 09-10 season, they had the seventh lowest payroll, sitting right above 47 million.  In the 2010-2011 NHL season, the Blues spent just over 44.5 million on their cap.  However, last season there was a slight increase in their spending, in which the Blues spent 54.8 million.  In the current season, over 52 million was spent on their cap for their hockey team.  If you average out their cap spending in the last four years, it comes out to just over 49.5 million per year.

With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in place, the Blues will receive extra money through revenue sharing than they have in the past.  The Blues will also benefit from extra revenue as a result of making the playoffs the last two seasons.  Even with the added revenue, it is unlikely they will spend to the cap, assuming they don’t make a Stanley Cup finals appearance or deep playoff run.  Even if that were the case, there is no guaranteeing the Blues would spend to the cap.

Alex Pietrangelo’s contract demands could be compared to Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.  Drew Doughty signed an eight year, 56 million dollar contract in 2011, when the salary cap was at 64.3, which it will be at again next year.  They are comparable players in points and overall play.  The one problem with the Doughty contract is that it was signed before the new CBA, limiting new contracts to 8 years (of players who the team owns their rights).  Pietrangelo could possibly seek more than Doughty with the new limits on contract demands.  If Pietrangelo gets 7.5 million per year, or close to that number, it would mean the Blues have more than 17 million to spend on their other RFA’s.  With the influx of young prospects that are expected to make a push for the team, they will have the cap space to re-sign all of them comfortably.

From the Flyers’ perspective, it’s quite simple; they need the necessary cap space to make the offer sheet.  Right now, the Flyers currently have negative cap space heading into the 2013 season with 25 men on the roster. At the minimum, Chris Pronger will be placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), and Marc-Andre Bourdon is a possibility as well. However, LTIR does not exist during the offseason. The Flyers can correct their salary cap problem by using one or both of their compliance buyouts from the new CBA.  Daniel Briere has been long suspected to be one of the compliance buyout casualties.  In order to present an offer sheet to the Blues though, the Flyers would need to shed more salary.  Either trades or using the other compliance buyout on another high salary player would create the necessary cap space.  Although, this would consequently create more problems trying to replace the players lost due to the cap.

The much more realistic possibility would be handling the situation the same way the Flyers did with Weber.  The Flyers and Predators were in trade talks before they broke down and the Flyers sent the record breaking offer sheet.  The trade route would be suitable because the Blues would be able to offset the new cap hit of Pietrangelo with the players heading the other way in the trade.  I will not speculate the asking price for a player like Pietrangelo, but the demands are sure to be outrageous.  One would have to assume they would demand top-end elite talent coming back and another defenseman to replace Pietrangelo as best as they could.  On top of that, the Flyers’ first round draft pick (11th overall) would almost undoubtedly be in play as well.

One possibility could be the Flyers target the Blue’s other RFA, Kevin Shattenkirk.  Shattenkirk is another young puck moving defenseman looking for a big raise this offseason.  Shattenkirk is a point producer like Pietrangelo, but doesn’t have the same all-around game or upside.  Shattenkirk will also come cheaper than his counterpart, but still would cost a premium to acquire.

The Blues will do everything in their power to keep their number one defenseman, Alex Pietrangelo.  They would almost definitely match any offer sheet under eight million per year from any team.  The Flyers would have to make the offer sheet so outrageous that it would make the Blues think if it makes sense to sign a player to that price, or take the draft pick compensation.  The compensation for draft picks has not been released yet by the NHL, but it is safe to assume the compensation for that type of offer sheet would be four first round draft picks.

I personally can’t see the Flyers offering a contract too substantial for the Blues not to match, because of their own salary cap issues.  The Flyers could attempt to trade players in return for the first round picks in the manner they did with Tampa Bay Lightning for Chris Gratton.  The trade route would be better for both parties, but it’s hard to imagine the Blues letting go of Pietrangelo unless they have problems in contract negotiations, which seems unlikely at this point.

The Flyers’ best option might be to draft a defenseman at 11th overall this year and hope he develops into a player of Pietrangelo’s caliber.  That would take patience, which the Flyers’ front office has yet to display when drafting defensive prospects.  I don’t mind the Flyers’ aggressive pursuit of a number one defenseman, but at some point they will have to learn to develop these prospects like other teams.  Instead of trying to poach other teams’ young defenders, the Flyers need to take the required time and patience in drafting defenseman to let them develop.  This year’s draft might be the perfect time for the Flyers to display that patience, with a deep draft and top-end talented defenders being eligible in the first half of the draft.

Overall, the chance of Pietrangelo playing for the Flyers seems very slim.  It would be wiser for the Flyers to target Shattenkirk because the price wouldn’t be as steep and also he would be cheaper on the cap.  If the Blues do run into cap problems trying to re-sign these players because of an internal budget, then the Flyers are a team they should worry about.  Even if the Blues have problems, they should and probably will resort to trading a forward instead of losing a top four defender.  Top four offensive defenseman are tougher to come by than top six offensive forwards, so it would be in the Blue’s best interest to move a forward instead of a defenseman.  Blue’s management, in almost any case, will find the required cap space in order to keep their top young defenders.  This rumor seems like it is another pipe dream fueled by the Weber offer sheet last year.