The Phoenix Coyotes eliminated the possibility of star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson signing an offer sheet with another team as a restricted free agent in the summer by signing the 21-year-old to a six-year contract extension worth a total of $33 million on Friday (per TSN's Darren Dreger).
Ekman-Larsson is one of the best young players in the NHL, but since he plays for the Coyotes, he's not a household name that causal hockey fans instantly recognize.
The young star from Sweden was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 NHL draft, and he's tallied 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 28 games for the Coyotes this season.
As the first notable RFA defenseman in the 2013 class to sign a new contract, Ekman-Larsson's new deal will have an impact on the contact term and the amount of money that other top stars will want at the conclusion of their entry-level contracts.
One player who could look at Ekman-Larsson's deal as a starting point in negotiations with his team is St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting last season.
Let's look at how Pietrangelo and Ekman-Larsson (OEL) compare in several important statistical categories from the last two seasons, starting with 2011-12.
|2012 Stats||GP||G||A||PTS||Powerplay Pts||+/-||Takeaways||Blocked Shots||Hits|
|OEL||82||13 ||19 ||32 ||8||0||30||92 ||140|
|Pietrangelo||81||12 ||39 ||51 ||24||16 ||47||133||90 |
|2013 Stats||GP||G||A||PTS||Powerplay Pts||+/-||Takeaways||Blocked Shots||Hits|
|OEL||28||3 ||14 ||17 ||4||8||11||29 ||38 |
|Pietrangelo||27||5 ||13 ||18 ||4||-2 ||15||64||16|
Both players have immense potential and project to be elite offensive defenseman as franchise cornerstone players. However, if you want to compare these players purely on statistics, then Pietrangelo has a small advantage.
Pietrangelo's agent could actually argue that his client is already a top offensive defenseman after just two full seasons in the NHL. He tallied 43 points during the 2010-11 season, then improved his scoring output to 51 points last year, which ranked fifth among all defenseman. Through 27 games of this season, Pietrangelo has a better point-per-game average than he did a year ago.
He will likely reach superstar status next season, at which point his value to St. Louis will be higher than any player on the team's roster.
Since he has been slightly more productive than Ekman-Larsson from both an offensive and defensive perspective, and has yet to reach the peak of his talent, Pietrangelo could demand a contract similar to what Drew Doughty signed before last season (eight years, $56 million) and not be asking for too much.
When Doughty signed his contract, he had just one good season at the NHL level and an impressive performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics with Team Canada on his resume. After tallying a career-high 59 points in 2009-10, Doughty's scoring output dropped to 40 points and then 36 points in the next two years, respectively.
Pietrangelo arguably has a better case to be paid $7 million per season than Doughty did in the fall of 2011 because he has been more consistent and productive in his first three seasons as a full-time NHL player.
With that said, it's hard to imagine the Blues offering Pietrangelo less than what Ekman-Larsson recently signed for with Phoenix ($5.5 million per season).
Anything below that figure would not be the best way to initiate negotiations with a very important player, one who impacts the team's success on and off the ice in a major way. Ekman-Larsson's contract will likely be a starting point for Pietrangelo's negotiations with the Blues in regard to dollars and term.
St. Louis could try to sign Pietrangelo to a short-term deal that is similar to what P.K. Subban signed with the Montreal Canadiens in January (two years, $5.75 million),which would allow them to see how he develops during the next two seasons and determine if he really deserves to be paid among the top defensemen in the league.
However, the chances of him accepting that seem very unlikely when his stats are better than Subban's and Pietrangelo's importance to his team is greater.
Regardless of whose contract Pietrengelo's new deal compares to more, he will definitely receive a much higher salary than the $787,000 base salary he's earning this season. If the two sides met in the middle of Ekman-Larsson and Doughty's contracts, something like $43.75 million over seven years (AAV of $6.25 million) would be a fair deal to each party.
The smartest decision that the Blues can make is to sign Pietrangelo as quickly as possible, because if he signs an offer sheet in the summer, keeping him could be a lot more expensive. This is often the case with RFAs, and it was proven in Ryan O'Reilly's situation with the Colorado Avalanche earlier in the season.
The Blues have been quite successful over the last two years with a low budget and not overpaying for players when re-signing them or making additions through free agency. St. Louis has drafted very well since the 2004-05 lockout, in addition to making some shrewd trades, and now it's time for a lot of these talented young players to earn their first major contracts.
It will be interesting to see how the club's new ownership handles this situation, and if it decides to spend much closer to the salary cap than the team is in 2013. The Blues currently have the most salary cap space of any team in the league at about $19.7 million below the cap ceiling, according to Capgeek.
There's no question that the Blues have the financial flexibility to re-sign Pietrangelo to an expensive, long-term contract extension, but doing that and keeping the club's other good young players who are eligible for RFA status could be difficult.
As TSN's Bob McKenzie points out, Pietrangelo isn't the Blues' only talented young defenseman who will need a new contract for the 2013-14 season.
Shattenkirk arrived in St. Louis as part of the Erik Johnson trade with the Colorado Avalanche in February of 2011, and has quickly emerged as a top-pairing defenseman who is capable of dominating offensively.
Here is a list of notable Blues free agents for the upcoming offseason:
|Player||Position||FA Status||2013 Salary Cap Hit|
|Chris Stewart||RFA||$3 million|
|Patrik Berglund||RFA||$2.25 million|
|Matt D'Agostini||RFA||$1.65 million|
|Kevin Shattenkirk||RFA||$1.3 million|
|Alex Pietrangelo||RFA||$3.166 million|
|Andy McDonald||UFA||$4.7 million|
Whether St. Louis decides to pay on performance, potential or a combination of both when negotiating new contracts with its best players, this will be an expensive summer if the team keeps the majority of its players who are eligible for free agency.
If the Blues are going to be one of the top contenders in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future, they cannot afford to lose Pietrangelo or fail to re-sign him to a long-term contract.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs. All salary information courtesy of Capgeek.