Nobody will fault Flyers fans if they're feeling enamored with Alex Pietrangelo. They have all the reason to be, just like any NHL club would have all the reason to be interested in Pietrangelo's blue-line services.
There's not much to dislike and he is one of the top soon-to-be unrestricted free agents on the market. The Blues' captain is a two-time All-Star, a Stanley Cup champion and an all-situation defenseman with a track record of production.
In the past seven seasons, the righty-shot Pietrangelo has played 25:13 minutes per game and owns the fifth-most even-strength points among NHL defensemen with 220. In the last four seasons, Pietrangelo has 58 goals, 137 assists and a plus-24 rating. Over that span, only two defensemen (Brent Burns and Dougie Hamilton) have scored more goals than Pietrangelo.
He's a leader, winner and only 30 years old. Rightfully so, he will demand quite a package because he has put himself in high demand.
With the void left by Matt Niskanen's retirement, should the Flyers pursue Pietrangelo when free agency opens Friday at noon ET? The Flyers are coming off a second-round Game 7 loss to the Islanders and the addition of Pietrangelo would turn them into a Stanley Cup contender, no argument. They do have a connection, as well (even though in the world of hockey, there almost always seems to be a connection). Assistant coach Mike Yeo, who oversees the Flyers' penalty kill and blueliners, coached Pietrangelo from 2016 to 2018 in St. Louis.
But the chances of Pietrangelo wearing orange and black feel much more like a fantasy than realistic. It's not that the Flyers shouldn't look into Pietrangelo, but he is a major investment and does that investment fit in the Flyers' future plans?
There are various elements to the Pietrangelo picture.
According to a report last month by The Athletic's Jeremy Rutherford, Pietrangelo and the Blues had discussions of a deal in the $7.7 to $8 million range and looked at different term lengths, from five to eight years. Per the report, Pietrangelo's side could also be looking for a no-movement clause and/or a signing bonus in Year 7 or 8 of a long-term deal. Now, there's an impasse.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers' projected cap space this offseason heading into Friday is $8.685 million. With the NHL salary cap floor staying flat this offseason and potentially staying flat for seasons to follow, the Flyers and every other team have to be prudent in free-agent spending given its multi-year impact. Inevitably, locking up a player like Pietrangelo to any deal will present the Flyers a challenge with their other spending needs down the road — and they have them.
On Monday, TSN's Frank Seravalli reported that the Flyers do not appear to be interested in Pietrangelo. Last month, Chuck Fletcher said he didn't expect the Flyers to be a major player in free agency over the next couple of years.
Does Fletcher expect to be active in free agency come Friday?
"I’m not sure," the Flyers' general manager said Wednesday. "It’ll depend on the opportunities that are there, the prices. As I’ve mentioned before, we like our group. I think our forward group is stronger than what it was at the end of last year. We’ve lost Niskanen, but we still like our defensive core and we like our goaltending.
"If we can improve our team, we will, but we’re not going to spend money just to spend it. If there’s some ability to add a player on the right deal at the right cap price and the right term, we’ll do it. If not, we’ll certainly wait. I think there will be opportunities along the way to address whatever needs we feel we need to address."
Part of what made Niskanen such an attractive trade acquisition for the Flyers was that he was an accomplished veteran defenseman who could make them better now but not impede them down the road. When the Flyers acquired Niskanen from the Capitals in June 2019, he was under contract for only two more seasons, so the Flyers could have the flexibility of not blocking prospects or being handcuffed to a sizable cap hit.
The Flyers could have a more cost-effective, term-efficient blueliner on the market to go after to help patch up the hole left by Niskanen. That route is more likely. And it might make the most sense in the grand scheme.
As Fletcher said, they do like their defensemen. It was all about giving them the time to grow and then seize roles. Travis Sanheim has already put more on his plate. Philippe Myers will be in for more responsibility next season. Ivan Provorov is the guy at 23 years old and can get better. They have a vet in Justin Braun, Robert Hagg provides third-pair steadiness, Shayne Gostisbehere is a power-play blueliner with a 65-point season on his résumé and Fletcher said that "no player has improved more than Mark Friedman" since the GM came to the organization in December 2018. That's also not mentioning the prospects closing in on the Flyers.
Pietrangelo is a stud and, boy, would it be fun to see the Flyers land him. It just doesn't look like it's in the cards.