Alex Pietrangelo is Vegas bound, and the Golden Knights are shuffling the deck to fit him in.
Pietrangelo signed a $61.6 million, seven-year deal with Vegas on Monday that carries an $8.8 million annual salary cap hit through 2027. It’s the fifth-biggest cap hit for a defenseman in the NHL.
Adding the top free agent available gives Vegas another big-money talent, but the team needed to make another move to shed salary just to add him. General manager Kelly McCrimmon said the front office knew that going in and committed to making it happen to sign Pietrangelo.
“When we looked at opportunities to improve our team, we had what we believed was an incredible rare opportunity to add a defenseman, an elite player, like Alex to our team,” McCrimmon said. “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?’ We believe quite strongly that it does.”
Before finalizing Pietrangelo’s contract, the Golden Knights traded defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2022 third-round pick, clearing his $5.95 million cap hit off the books. McCrimmon said this was the only scenario in which Vegas would have considered trading Schmidt, and Vancouver became the beneficiary.
“Nate has been one of the top defensemen in our division in recent years,” Canucks GM Jim Benning said. “He’s a dynamic player who competes hard all over the ice. I think he will be a really good fit in our group.”
After already sending center Paul Stastny to Winnipeg, the team likely needs to make some other trade to become cap compliant, which McCrimmon assured will be the case come opening day. That move will not be a trade of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, even after committing long term to Robin Lehner, who is expected to be ready for training camp after undergoing clean-up shoulder surgery this week.
“We see the goaltending position being incredibly important this year,” McCrimmon said. “Marc and Robin are going to be our goaltenders as we go into the offseason, into training camp and into the season.”
Goaltending wasn’t the Golden Knights’ issue in losing to Dallas in the Western Conference final. Scoring was, as they had just eight goals in five games.
Pietrangelo, 30, is coming off posting a career-high 16 goals despite the season being cut short at 70 games. He finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting and is one of the best right-shooting defensemen in the league, so adding him does make Vegas better, even at the expense of trading a popular teammate in Schmidt.
“He’s one of the top four or five defenseman in the game,” McCrimmon said of Pietrangelo. “He’s the first over the boards in every situation for his team.
Pietrangelo leaves the St. Louis Blues after serving as captain of their 2019 Stanley Cup championship team. He has 109 goals and 341 assists for 450 points in 758 regular-season NHL games and had a postseason-best 16 assists and averaged almost 26 minutes of ice time during the Blues’ Cup run.
“He has been a stalwart player for us, for this team for a number of years,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Friday night. “A huge part of a championship-caliber team. He’s going to go down so far as one of the best Blues ever.”
St. Louis moved on from Pietrangelo, a homegrown prospect who was the No. 4 pick in the 2008 draft, before he did. The Blues signed former Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug (Livonia/Michigan State) to a $45.5 million, seven-year contract Friday, essentially ruling them out of keeping Pietrangelo after more than a year’s worth of negotiations couldn’t amount to an agreement.
“We couldn’t find something that made everyone comfortable,” Armstrong said. “It’s not the first time, it won’t be the last time this happens in the NHL. You just wish it didn’t happen because of the respect and the desire we had to keep Alex here.”
Pietrangelo became the last of the top-tier free agents to find a landing spot, after Taylor Hall signed an $8 million, one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres on Monday. Krug was the other, and winger Mike Hoffman is the top player left on the market after a 29-goal, 59-point season with the Florida Panthers.
Hall took the opposite approach of Pietrangelo and Krug with the cap staying flat amid pandemic-ravaged revenues.
“We knew it was going to be a unique marketplace coming into free agency,” Hall said Tuesday. “Once free agency started, I think we were made aware pretty quickly at how much things had changed and how COVID had affected a lot of different things. So, it kind of changed our decision-making from there.”
Pietrangelo had wanted to stay with St. Louis, but the signing of Krug altered his decision-making. The Toronto area native flew to Las Vegas on Saturday to meet with the Golden Knights brass and owner Bill Foley, a visit that paved the way for this contract.
“It was clear to see how anxious he is to continue to win,” McCrimmon said. “He made the comment that winning a Stanley Cup has made him even hungrier to do it again, so the commitment to winning is certainly a really big factor in his choosing to come here for the next stage of his career.”
Blackhawks sign pair
The Chicago Blackhawks agreed to one-year contracts with Mattias Janmark and Lucas Wallmark, adding a pair of forwards to help make up for the loss of Brandon Saad.
Janmark’s contract carries a salary-cap hit of $2.25 million. Wallmark’s cap number is $950,000.
Saad was traded to Colorado on Saturday, and the 27-year-old Janmark could step into his role on Chicago’s penalty-killing unit.
The 25-year-old Wallmark played for Carolina and Florida last season. He had 11 goals and 12 assists in 60 games with the Hurricanes, and then had a goal and an assist in seven games with the Panthers.
Wallmark, a fourth-round selection by Carolina in 2014, has 23 goals and 33 assists in 167 NHL games. Wallmark, who is from Umea, Sweden, also has a career faceoff rate of 50.9%.
Goalie re-ups with Wild
The Minnesota Wild re-signed goalie Kaapo Kahkonen to a two-year contract to avoid salary arbitration.
Kahkonen went 25-6-3 with a 2.07 goals-against average, a .927 save percentage and seven shutouts in 34 games for Iowa in the AHL this season, winning the league’s award for the most outstanding goaltender. Kahkonen, a fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft, went 3-1-1 in five starts for the Wild.
The 24-year-old gets a two-way deal for the 2020-21 season ($700,000 in the NHL and $250,000 in the AHL) and a one-way contract for 2021-22 at $750,000.
Toffoli lands with Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens signed forward Tyler Toffoli to a four-year deal. The deal carries an average annual value of $4.25 million.
Toffoli played 10 regular-season games for the Vancouver Canucks this season after being acquired in a February trade from the Los Angeles Kings.
The 28-year-old from Toronto had six goals and four assists with the Canucks after putting up 18 goals and 16 assists through 58 games with Los Angeles. He added two goals and two assists in seven games of Vancouver’s playoff run.
Toffoli has 139 goals and 151 assists in eight seasons in the NHL. He was selected in the second round (47th overall) by the Kings in the 2010 draft.
Rangers sign top pick
The Rangers agreed to terms with the No. 1 draft pick Alexis Lafrenière on a three-year, entry-level contract that includes the lucrative bonuses typical for a player selected in that spot. Lafrenière, 19, had 35 goals and 77 assists for 112 points last season with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was the MVP of the world junior hockey championship after leading Canada to gold medal by getting 10 points in five games.