Updated October 12, 2020 - 8:35 pm
The Golden Knights, in the spirit of their recent excursion to owner Bill Foley’s Montana ranch, went fishing for a catch fit for a mantel when NHL free agency began Friday.
Monday, they landed their prize. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, one of the league’s top two-way blue liners, signed a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with the Knights.
The 30-year-old is a two-time All-Star and was the St. Louis Blues’ captain when they won the Stanley Cup in 2019. He finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting last season after scoring 52 points in 70 games.
Adding Pietrangelo came with a cost. The Knights traded defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2022 third-round pick to free up enough cap space to sign their new acquisition.
“With Alex, we get a guy that’s in the discussion for the Norris Trophy each year,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “He’s one of the top four or five defensemen in the game. He’s the first over the boards in every situation for his team.”
Pietrangelo’s contract gives him the second-highest annual cap hit ($8.8 million) on the Knights, behind right wing Mark Stone ($9.5 million). It also makes him the fifth-highest paid defenseman in the NHL by average annual value, behind San Jose’s Erik Karlsson, Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty, Nashville’s Roman Josi and New Jersey’s P.K. Subban.
Pietrangelo received a full no-movement clause as well, meaning he can’t be traded without consent, placed on waivers or sent to the minor leagues. Stone is the only Knights player who previously has been given the clause.
The fact that Pietrangelo landed such a massive deal in an offseason where other free agents are getting squeezed, and that the team gave up a popular player in Schmidt to get him, speaks to how highly he’s thought of.
”We projected what a contract would be for Alex and then at the end of that process asked ourselves ‘Does this make us a better team? Does it improve our chances of winning?’” McCrimmon said. “We believe quite strongly that it does.”
The Knights will be Pietrangelo’s second NHL team after he spent the first 12 years of his career in St. Louis. The Blues selected him fourth overall in the 2008 draft.
He grew into one of the organization’s all-time great players, receiving Norris Trophy votes in seven different seasons and finishing in the top five three times. He has enough skill to be a weapon in the offensive zone and led the Blues in power-play time last season.
But his size and strength also allow him to push opponents around in the defensive zone and help on the penalty kill.
Alex Pietrangelo has reportedly agreed to a 7-year deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. Scoring, possessing the puck, blocking passes, winning battles – Pietrangelo does it all at an elite level. His 2019-20 numbers below. #VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/jZmJRqcmDz
— The Point (@ThePointHockey) October 12, 2020
Pietrangelo started shopping for a new home this offseason after he and St. Louis could not agree to an extension before free agency began. Their divorce became more inevitable when the Blues signed free agent defenseman Torey Krug to a seven-year, $45.5 million contract Friday.
Pietrangelo made Las Vegas his first free-agent visit Saturday and clearly liked what he saw. He and his wife, Jayne, were shown around City National Arena and Summerlin and met Foley and his wife.
“He was extremely well prepared,” McCrimmon said. “(It was) clear to see how anxious he is to continue to win. He made the comment that winning a Stanley Cup has made him even hungrier to do it again.”
The cost of adding Pietrangelo was Schmidt, the Knights’ gregarious alternate captain and players association representative. The St. Cloud, Minnesota, native blossomed from an expansion-draft selection to the franchise’s No. 1 defenseman in his three seasons in Las Vegas.
His $5.95 million annual cap hit, thanks to a six-year extension he signed in October 2018, ultimately led to his departure. Schmidt finished with 21 goals and 97 points in 196 games with the Knights.
“There is only one scenario, one situation where we would have considered a trade involving Nate Schmidt, and that was exactly the situation that presented (itself) with the opportunity to add Alex to our team,” McCrimmon said.
Schmidt is the latest departure for the Knights this offseason. Center Paul Stastny was traded to the Winnipeg Jets, restricted free-agent forward Nick Cousins was not given a qualifying offer, defenseman Jon Merrill left in free agency and McCrimmon said the team would not re-sign defenseman Deryk Engelland. That leaves10 players from the franchise’s inaugural season.
Another player could still be on the way out too, because the Knights are projected to be approximately $974,000 over the $81.5 million cap limit next season. McCrimmon said goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and his $7 million annual cap hit are staying, though.
Despite all those players leaving, the Knights now have a very significant player coming in. And they believe he’ll be worth all the maneuvering it took to earn his signature.
“We had what we believed was an incredibly rare opportunity to add a defenseman, an elite player like Alex to our team,” McCrimmon said. “We wouldn’t have gone to these lengths for anyone but a player that we think can do as much for our team for Alex can.”