The impact of the NHL shutdown on the salary cap gives the pending unrestricted free agents something to ponder while they wait for what comes next – and the St. Louis Blues captain will be among those most affected if the pause causes cap constraints.
Alex Pietrangelo|Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Without hockey to occupy him, St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo feels a little like his life has been on a continuous loop for the past three weeks. With triplets under the age of two, life with Evelyn, Oliver and Theodore Pietrangelo and his wife, Jane, that continuous loop sounds exhausting.
“It’s the exact same thing,” Pietrangelo said on an NHL videoconference Tuesday afternoon. “We wake up, eat breakfast, have my morning coffee with my wife. Today we watched The Good Dinosaur, went upstairs, played a bit. I can hear them running upstairs right now, they’re screaming because they want to go outside. So they’re going to go outside, then take a nap. Do the same thing in the afternoon, wake up and do it all over again tomorrow.”
That’s probably for the best, particularly if Pietrangelo doesn’t have hockey to distract him these days. Of the 31 players the league and the NHL Players’ Association has made available for these events over the past four days, none of them faces a future as uncertain as Pietrangelo does. In fact, Pietrangelo probably hasn’t had much time to reflect on the fact that he may have played his last game in a St. Louis Blues’ uniform if the season ends up being cancelled, which is where things seem to be heading.
Right about now, Pietrangelo was supposed to be leading what was hoped to be another long playoff run for him and the Blues. When play was suspended March 12, the Blues were on some kind of roll, winners of 10 of their previous 13 games and in first place in both the Central Division and Western Conference, trailing only the Boston Bruins in the overall league standings. The 30-year-old Pietrangelo, meanwhile, was as good as ever and on pace for career highs in both goals (19) and points (60). He was setting himself up quite nicely for July 1, when he was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
We probably can’t mention enough that travails such as Pietrangelo’s pale in comparison to what a lot of other people are enduring, but it does put his hockey future in a state of flux. Even when the NHL announced in early March that next season’s salary cap was projected to rise to between $84 and $88.2 million, the Blues were in a tough spot when it came to re-signing their captain long-term. Part of the thinking there was that there was little doubt the cap would actually go up to the higher amount because that would mean the NHL Players’ Association would be triggering its five-percent inflator, which would have meant higher escrow payments.
But what if this season is cancelled and revenues take a massive hit? Even if the NHL returns, there will undoubtedly be a pent-up demand for hockey, but will people suddenly return en masse to arenas with thousands of other people to watch games? In either case, even if the league returns this season, the bottom line is going to be adversely affected. That could drive the cap even lower, which would most certainly put the Blues in a bigger squeeze in trying to come to terms with Pietrangelo.
The league could go a number of ways here. Perhaps it will simply leave the salary cap at an inflated number with the blessing of the NHLPA, but that would place a massive escrow on the players, who are open in their disdain for it in the first place. That would affect the highest earners next season, particularly ones with front-loaded deals such as Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Or it could adjust the salary cap downward, which would most adversely affect players such as Pietrangelo and Taylor Hall, two stars who are looking for new deals as UFAs.
The league, along with the NHLPA, is clearly going to have to come up with some creative solutions that spread the pain and wealth around to everyone equally. Will there be a full-scale salary rollback, the likes of which we saw when the league came out of the lockout in 2005? Perhaps. Will there be compliance buyouts to take the pressure off teams that are close to the cap? Maybe.
Things got pretty difficult on the Blues when Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators inked an eight-year deal worth just over $9 million per year that is set to kick in next season. And now, they’re about to get a lot more difficult. And much more uncertain.
“It’s a little wild over here,” Pietrangelo said. “Three kids, two dogs, a wife. I’ll tell you what, the kids can do some damage in the house in a two-week span if you keep them inside too long.”
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