When team captain Alex Pietrangelo left the Blues for a stratospheric free-agent deal with the Vegas Golden Knights, I didn’t participate in the blame game.

My feelings could be summed up in four parts.

1. Petro was a fantastic all-purpose, indefatigable defenseman over his 10 full seasons in St. Louis. He was one the most important players in the Blues’ extensive run of success. And more than anything, he’s still the only team captain in franchise history to hoist the Stanley Cup. Seeing that the Blues have been competing in the NHL since 1967, that’s a rare and massively important achievement.

2. Just as we learned when Albert Pujols signed a huge free-agent contract with the Angels after the 2011 season, sports are fun and games – but we should never forget that most of all sports are a business. The Blues made a generous offer but Pietrangelo went for a more extravagant cash-in with Vegas that included a $35 million signing bonus. Pietrangelo wanted a no-trade clause, and the Blues were unwilling to do that. Pietrangelo made a business decision. The Blues made a business decision.

3. In St. Louis there was plenty of frustration and sadness when Pietrangelo made his choice to join the Golden Knights. And fans took sides, blasting either Petro and his representatives or Blues VP of hockey operations Doug Armstrong. That’s normal in these situations. But in my mind there were no villains.

This is the entire point of free agency. Players work hard for a long time to establish their value and credibility and before gaining the freedom to explore the open market. And that’s when a player has the right to do what he believes is best for himself and his family. The people who run the hockey operation have to look ahead and make difficult decisions on how to handle the payroll. But these breakups inevitably lead to hard feelings – at least for a while. It was like that when Pujols bolted from the Cardinals, but in 2022 the beautiful relationship was mended. And then some.

4. I wondered: would the Blues come to regret their decision? Would Pietrangelo regret leaving St. Louis? This is where he grew up as a hockey player. This is where he met his wife and started a family.

“No, it’s not easy,” Pietrangelo said in reference to leaving St. Louis, in an interview with The Athletic. “Especially when you’re somewhere for 12, 13 years. It’s a difficult decision, no doubt about it. The thing is, it’s a decision the family has to make, too. So it’s not easy. But you try to make the best decision you can professionally. I fit in well with the group here. It’s been a fun place to live for us.

“Do we miss St. Louis? Of course, no doubt about it. My wife’s from there. We go back in the summer. But professionally, this is probably the best organization in the NHL.”

Pietrangelo is happy – very happy, after winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in five seasons. There was the magical run to the Cup with the 2019 Blues, and Petro raised the Cup again on Tuesday night after Vegas walloped Florida 9-3 in the series-clinching Game 5.

It took Pietrangelo 10 full seasons – and a part of two others – to win the Stanley Cup in St. Louis. This time, it required only three seasons with Vegas, the newbie NHL franchise that’s existed for six NHL seasons. Vegas won 16 of its 22 postseason games, and Pietrangelo was a valuable part of a wide cast of Golden Knights who excelled over four rounds of grueling playoff hockey.

In a wonderful post–game scene, Pietrangelo held his three-year-old daughter Evelyn, who survived a serious medical scare late in 2022. She was stricken by encephalitis, which stripped her of her motor skills.

“This is the most surreal moment of my life,” the Golden Knights defenseman said on the national broadcast as he hugged his daughter, and got emotional. “To have her here in my arms, celebrating Daddy’s Stanley Cup win, just to celebrate anything …

“You have to understand what it means for her to be here with me, with us, like this,” Pietrangelo said. “Six months ago, she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t talk, she couldn’t walk. Six months ago, I was ready to give up my career for her.

“I never envisioned a moment like this back then. And now, to win a Cup, to have her running around the ice to celebrate with us, I mean, dreams do come true. And this is a dream.”

If we want to be honest about this – from a pure hockey standpoint – the move has been great for Pietrangelo and not so hot for the Blues.

Side note: When Pujols went to the Angels, it was beneficial for the Cardinals because of the gigantic salary commitment and the predictable age-related decline. That became a reality in 2018, when Pujols was 38 and still had four years remaining on the contract. But even though the Pietrangelo exit was similar in some ways, I don’t think the Blues have benefited from his departure. And he won’t get to 38 years old during his current contract with Vegas.

In Pietrangelo’s 10 full seasons with St. Louis the Blues were fourth in the NHL in points, fourth in wins, third in fewest goals allowed, second-best at killing penalties, ranked fifth in goal differential and won the Stanley Cup.

In the three seasons without Pietrangelo, the Blues rank 16th in the NHL in points, 17th in wins, 20th in goals allowed, 20th in penalty killing and 17th in goal differential.

Pietrangelo had plenty of quality, high-impact teammates in St. Louis. The team’s success epitomized a group effort. But over the 10 seasons Pietrangelo was their best and most durable player. He took on the other team’s top line. He was excellent at killing penalties. He was effective on the power play. He was a skilled passer who navigated the Blues out of their own zone and into the attacking zone. He scored 10+ goals six times. He had eight goals and 43 assists for the Blues in 92 postseason games.

And Petro logged the heaviest volume of minutes in the team’s defense-first structure under coaches Ken Hitchock and Craig Berube, averaging just under 25 minutes of ice time per game over 10 full seasons. Former defensive-pairing partner Jay Bouwmeester recently referred to Pietrangleo as “an anchor.”

Losing Pietrangelo was a setback for the Blues, a development made worse by their attempts to replace him. Let’s just say that this has been a costly endeavor that has prompted a natural question: wouldn’t it have just been easier to pay Pietrangelo what he wanted? It doesn’t matter now. The successful player-team relationship came to an end after the 2019-2020 season.

The Blues have invested $172 million in total contract costs for five defensemen: Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, Nick Leddy and Marco Scandella. And there’s plenty of term left on their contracts.

Here’s a breakdown of the the total annual average value owed to the top four defensemen:

— Parayko $45.5 million over the next seven seasons.

— Faulk, $26 million over the next four seasons.

— Krug, $26 million over the next four seasons.

— Leddy, $12 million over three seasons.

I didn’t include Scandella, who can become an unrestricted free agent after next season. He has a $3.275 million cap hit for the 2023-2024 campaign.

The Blues had one of the NHL’s strongest group of defensemen for a long time, and it was paramount in their ability to suppress the opponent’s goals-scored total. But now the Blues’ defensemen are the weakest part of the roster; the team ranked 27th this past season with an average of 3.63 goals-against per game. Goal prevention could be a problem again next season – especially if Jordan Binnington shows cracks again – but young goaltender Joel Hofer has the potential to make a difference in a good way.

I was happy for Pietrangelo and former Blue Ivan Barbashev as they celebrated their second Stanley Cup as teammates.

And though the guys were wearing another team’s colors, the moment brought back memories of that glorious June night in Boston when when the Blues stunned the Bruins and their fans with a 4-1 victory in Game 7, with Pietrangelo scoring a key goal that gave the Blues a 2-0 lead with eight seconds left in the first period. It deflated the Bruins and their home crowd and arguably was the biggest goal in the game.

The Blues haven’t gotten anywhere close to the Cup since Pietrangelo moved on. The Note made the playoffs in two of the three seasons post-Petro, winning six of 16 games. And this past season the Blues failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017-2018 and only the second time since 2010-2011.

Pietrangelo, age 33, will be 37 in the final year of a contract that expires after the 2026-2027 season. No one knows how effective he will perform as aging becomes more of a factor. The contract could eventually become burdensome for the Golden Knights. But as Vegas goes wild in celebrating the Stanley Cup conquest, I don’t think anyone in the delirious desert town is worrying about Pietrangelo’s aging curve.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.

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