The St. Louis Blues were in the middle of a playoff race when they traded Paul Stastny last season. Once again this year, they will be a team to watch at the trade deadline.

Their front office looks ready for a reset, and with a year-and-a-half left on Pietrangelo’s contract, he’s a prime candidate to be traded. Jeremy Rutherford of the Athletic — who is probably the best Blues insider on this planet — made it clear a few weeks ago that the team is open for business:

Pietrangelo will turn 29 on January 18th, so signing him to an extension could prove to be dangerous. He’s talented enough to demand a seven or eight-year contract, and while he’s certainly a phenomenal player, we can’t expect him to keep up this production into his mid-to-late thirties. Ultimately, the Blues have three options:

  1. Extend Pietrangelo, signing him to a contract that will probably end poorly.
  2. Let Pietrangelo walk after next season, and hope that he can help you contend next season, or perhaps even squeak into a playoff spot this season.
  3. Trade Pietrangelo for a haul of young talent.

Ultimately, it makes plenty of sense for the Blues to explore offers for Pietrangelo. While many are more interested in Colton Parayko, he’s younger, cheaper, and more controllable than Pietrangelo, so it’s tough to see the Blues moving him unless a team makes an incredible offer. Pietrangelo is the more likely trade target — by a wide margin.

A Limited Number of Suitors for Alex Pietrangelo

The Leafs are certainly in the market for a top-pairing right-shooting defenseman. You would think that just about every team would be in the same situation, but a surprising number of contenders are set at right defense:

Nashville: P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis.

San Jose: Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns.

Winnipeg: Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien.

Washington: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen.

Colorado: Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie.

Columbus: Seth Jones, David Savard. They could certainly stand to upgrade on Savard, but it’s tough to see Pietrangelo waiving his no-trade clause to go to a team that could be losing both Panarin and Bobrovsky.

Anaheim: Josh Manson, Brandon Montour. They probably aren’t good enough to justify an all-in move.

Montreal: Shea Weber, Jeff Petry. They probably aren’t good enough to justify an all-in move anyway.

Calgary: T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Rasmus Andersson. They have the pieces to make a trade work, but they just traded Dougie Hamilton to clear their log-jam at RD, so it would be a bit unusual.

Vegas: Nate Schmidt, Colin Miller. They’ve already made big deals for Max Pacioretty and Tomas Tatar, so it’s tough to tell if they want to make another all-in move. I see them as the third best suitor.

Tampa Bay: Anton Stralman. They already traded for Ryan McDonagh and extended him, plus they would have to get awfully creative to fit Pietrangelo in their cap-situation next season.

While just about every team could use Pietrangelo, there just aren’t too many desperate teams. The Penguins probably don’t have the cap space, or the young talent, to make a deal work. The Edmonton Oilers probably aren’t good enough to justify an all-in move, but they are certainly a suitor if Peter Chiarelli fears for his job security. The Sabres are in a similar situation, but they have three first round picks and could certainly use the help on the back end. Would Pietrangelo waive his no-trade clause to go to Edmonton or Buffalo? Probably not.

One team that does make plenty of sense is the Boston Bruins, as they could look to go all in while Patrice Bergeron is still relatively young. A top four of Chara-Pietrangelo and Krug-McAvoy would be lethal, but they could aim to acquire a high-end forward instead. If the Leafs don’t pony up for Pietrangelo, one of their biggest rivals just might.

Exploring a Pietrangelo to Toronto Trade 

If the Leafs acquire Pietrangelo, they would become an absolute powerhouse for two playoff runs. Rielly and Pietrangelo would form a high-end top pairing, and the Leafs have two impressive puck movers in Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott to carry their other pairings this year. Toronto’s defense quickly goes from a weakness to a strength, with the team already set in terms of forwards and goaltending.

Toronto’s window to contend could last over a decade, but their core opportunity to win is over the next four years while both Rielly and Kadri are on team-friendly deals. This lineup would be terrifying for opposing playoff teams:

LWCRWLDRDG
Andreas JohnssonJohn TavaresMitch MarnerMorgan RiellyAlex PietrangeloFrederik Andersen
Zach HymanAuston MatthewsWilliam NylanderJake GardinerNikita ZaitsevGarret Sparks
Patrick MarleauNazem KadriKasperi KapanenTravis DermottRon Hainsey

Pietrangelo averaged over 28 minutes per game during his team’s last two playoff runs. If you think the Leafs are good now, just imagine how good they would be if an all-star calibre defender was playing close to half the game for them. With the state of their current lineup, and where they are in their win curve, Pietrangelo should be more valuable to the Leafs than to any other team. I expect the Leafs to have plenty of interest in Pietrangelo, even if the cost to acquire him is quite painful.

The Cost of Acquiring Alex Pietrangelo

Ryan McDonagh was traded to Tampa Bay last year, and if we pretend that J.T. Miller and Vladislav Namestnikov essentially crossed each other out, the remaining package consists of Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, a first-round pick, and a conditional second-round pick. I consider Pietrangelo to be better than McDonagh, and he’s also right-handed, so this return is probably the absolute floor.

The Leafs would probably give up their 2019 first round pick in almost any Pietrangelo trade. While Travis Dermott is off-limits for a year-and-a-half rental, the Blues could surely command one of Timothy Liljegren or Rasmus Sandin for a player of Pietrangelo’s calibre. I currently have Sandin ahead on my prospect rankings, and Liljegren could eventually help to replace Pietrangelo on St. Louis’ right-side, so let’s assume that it’s Liljegren who is involved in this scenario.

To Toronto: RD Alex Pietrangelo (2 x $6.5M)

To St.Louis: RD Timothy Liljegren, 2019 First Round Pick, Additional Assets

Before we get into debating what the “additional assets” should be, let’s start by evaluating the main framework of this deal. The Leafs are getting two playoff runs out of a Team Canada-calibre defenceman who fits their roster perfectly and can play 25+ minutes per night come playoff time. Their roster is already quite good, but Pietrangelo is certainly valuable enough to be a potential difference maker against a team like Tampa Bay or Boston.

St. Louis is trading Pietrangelo a year early in order to receive a bigger haul. Liljegren could replace Pietrangelo on the right-side as early as next season, and the Blues are probably happy if he develops into an average second-pairing option. A first-round pick, with a couple of smaller assets attached, is typically the price for a good four-month rental, so the Blues get a much nicer haul by trading him a year in advance.

 Erik KarlssonRyan McDonagh
# of Playoff Runs22
Asset #11st Round Pick1st Round Pick
Asset #2Chris TierneyBrett Howden
Asset #3Josh NorrisLibor Hajek
Asset #42nd Round PickConditional 2nd
Asset #5Rudolph Balcers
Asset #6Dylan DeMelo

I don’t think that Pietrangelo demands as big of a return as Karlsson, even though the Senators didn’t exactly get a big haul for their star defender. Going from a 40-point center in Chris Tierney to a middle-six winger would make this a bit more plausible, but I expect that the Blues can acquire a first-round calibre prospect like Josh Norris in addition to a first round pick in 2019.

If The Leafs Don’t Pony Up For Pietrangelo, the Bruins Just Might

The Bruins have plenty to offer in a Pietrangelo trade, and their front office could quickly create a dominant backend. They have a pick in each round for each of the next three drafts, so trading picks should not be an issue. They have plenty of NHL-ready forwards in Jake DeBrusk, Jakob Forbacka Karlsson, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen,  and Anders Bjork, as well as prospects such as Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, and Zach Senyshyn. There’s also Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk from their NHL blueline, or prospects such as Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, or Jeremy Lauzon.

Here’s the deal I suggested for Toronto on Twitter:

To Toronto: RD Alex Pietrangelo (2 x $6.5M).

To St. Louis: 2019 First Round Pick, RD Timothy Liljegren, G Ian Scott, LW Zach Hyman (3 x $2.25M). 

While most of my followers thought this was too much to pay for Toronto, I have to imagine that the Bruins are willing to give up this type of package. If you’re willing to give up a big package for a few months of Rick Nash, you’re probably willing to give up a little bit more for a year-and-a-half of Pietrangelo.

Trading for Pietrangelo is probably going to be a little bit painful in terms of cost. You’re going to have to give something to get something, and while every Leafs fan and their grandmother hopes that the Blues are dumb enough to trade Parayko for a high-five, that’s probably not going to happen.

Many of you may think that Liljegren, Scott, Hyman, and a first is too much to pay for Pietrangelo. Now pretend that you’re ten minutes away from the trade deadline and the Blues say, “Final offer, take it or he’s going to Boston for a first round pick and a pile of prospects.” Does your answer change? Given the market, don’t be surprised if something similar happens to Kyle Dubas. You could change Zach Hyman to Connor Brown, Liljegren to Sandin, or Ian Scott to Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi, or Jeremy Bracco, but I expect that the cost to acquire Pietrangelo would be at least a little bit painful.

Final Thoughts and Considerations

The Leafs should be willing to pay more in terms of prospects if the Blues retain salary in a Pietrangelo deal. This type of arrangement could work out for both teams, as the Leafs will want all the additional cap space that they can get heading into next year’s cap crunch. Another key player to watch is Nikita Zaitsev, as the Leafs will probably need to move on from him after this season if they take on Pietrangelo’s contract, but it’s not clear if the Blues (or any other team) would value him.

While I think Parayko is unlikely to be moved, I have to imagine that he’s on the top of Toronto’s wish list. This type of deal would probably have to start with Kasperi Kapanen, and I think Liljegren and/or a first would be involved as well. It’s probably going to be incredibly difficult to get a controllable 24-year-old star defender, but they should certainly try.

The main alternative to Pietrangelo is Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild, who also has a year-and-a-half remaining on his deal. Since Matt Dumba is out long-term, he’s probably not available if Minnesota is in the playoff mix at the deadline. However, I think they’ll be out of the race by then, and even if the Wild don’t “shop” him, the Leafs should be able to tempt them with a big offer (while still giving up less than it would cost for Pietrangelo).

Spurgeon should cost less in terms of prospects and could sign an extension for a more reasonable price. Given the expected price, I think the Leafs would be wise to target Spurgeon over Pietrangelo. The Wild could certainly use young talent in the middle of a cap crunch, and I expect that he could be moved for many of the same reasons as Pietrangelo.

Other options include Justin Faulk (2 x $4.83M), Chris Tanev (2 x $4.45M), Trevor van Riemsdyk (2 x $2.3M), or a rental like Nick Jensen. While the team should consider all of its options, I expect them to explore deals for a true first-pairing defender before turning their attention elsewhere. Ultimately, this is bound to be an interesting trade deadline for Leafs fans.