Grades for every big NHL free-agent signing: Pros, cons of Pietrangelo blockbuster

NHL free agency for 2020 is underway!

For each key signing, Emily Kaplan, Chris Peters and Greg Wyshynski will be assessing the player’s fit with his new team, weighing whether the terms of the contract make sense and serving up an overall grade.

We’ll be grading the most notable offseason signings below, so come back for updates as deals are completed throughout the fall.

Free agency: Tracker | Preview | Top 60

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Draft recap: Every pick | Grades | Takeaways

Terms: Seven years, $8.8 million in average annual value

Where does he fit? The Golden Knights have always coveted an elite, top-pairing defenseman. The first significant player the expansion franchise chased was Erik Karlsson, before the Ottawa Senators traded him to the San Jose Sharks. Now, as they enter their fourth season of existence, the Knights have landed an elite defender in Alex Pietrangelo.

Fourth in the Norris Trophy voting, the 30-year-old defenseman had 52 points in 70 games last season, the highest points-per-game rate (0.74) of his career. He has played 758 games over 12 seasons and 92 more in the playoffs, all with the St. Louis Blues. Per Evolving Hockey data, Pietrangelo is fifth among defensemen in goals scored above average (37.8) and wins above replacement (7) over the past three seasons.

His best play comes at 5-on-5. His expertise is offense, but he’s a solid and smart defender. He had an expected goals percentage of 52.4% last season; from 2017 to 2020, it was 52.1%. The Blues had an 8.62 shooting percentage and a 92.01 team save percentage while Pietrangelo was on the ice over the past three seasons. He drives play, controls possession, creates turnovers and helps his team suppress shots on goal. He’s a plus-5 in penalties drawn vs. taken at 5-on-5 during the past three seasons.

Pietrangelo plays in all situations, averaging 1:50 per game on the penalty kill and leading the Blues in power-play ice time at 3:06 per game this past season. He’s a solid second-tier, power-play quarterback in the NHL, averaging 4.6 points per 60 minutes of power-play time the past three seasons. But keep in mind that the 2019-20 season was one of the first in which he played significant top-unit numbers in recent years.

He’s a solid citizen and a captain who really grew into the role with St. Louis. The Knights are filled with great skaters who have never lifted the Stanley Cup. Pietrangelo was the first one to do it wearing a Blues jersey.

For Pietrangelo, the fit with Vegas seemed inevitable after the Blues decided they weren’t going to capitulate to his contract demands. St. Louis actually offered more money ($64 million) and term (eight years) than what Pietrangelo landed with Vegas, although the state tax differences and cost of living between the two markets is tangible. What the Blues wouldn’t offer was signing bonus money near the end of the deal, which would have been buyout-protected; nor would they offer a full no-movement clause, which the Knights handed him for the duration of the contract.

He plays the right side, which was an area where the Knights could use an upgrade. Of course, bringing a player in with an $8.8 million cap hit means moving a player, or players, out.

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