Apr 9, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; St Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) handles the puck against the Nashville Predators during the first period at Bridgestone Arena. The Blues beat the Predators 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Pietrangelo, Travis Hamonic, and Erik Karlsson: A New Line of Defense


May 6 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) and Los Angeles Kings left wing Dustin Penner (25) battle for the puck in game four of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at Staples Center. The Kings defeated the Blues 4-3 to tie the series 2-2. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Three of the NHL’s most promising defensemen are now fully vested and secured with their respective teams for the next seven years. The final hold-out inked his deal this past Friday, in one Alex Pietrangelo.  

The signing still leaves the St. Louis Blues with some cap space, and Pietrangelo receiving 6.5M for the next seven seasons. GM Doug Armstrong has gone so far as to say that he foresees his newly-signed 23-year old defenseman winning the Norris trophy in the immediate future.

(Humorous it is, however, to ponder over the fact that Pietrangelo’s camp waited until Friday the 13th to agree–a potentially foreboding, and/or ironic occasion for both player and team, wouldn’t you say? Something for which only time will unveil as either truth, superstition, or a bit of both.)

The New York Islanders and Travis Hamonic agreed that their rebuild would need a dependable, gritty, and gifted backend player for the next seven years, as well. Hamonic will be the one defenseman newly-minted Islanders will turn to for cues, while veteran Lubomir Visnovsky will assist in Hamonic’s overall development.

In all, GM Garth Snow‘s offer showed initiative and foresight, and the 23-year old spent little time mulling it over. By August, the Islanders had Hamonic and most of their squad all but set–a good move for a young team gaining their bearings.

Ottawa and Erik Karlsson agreed to terms last season, and proved, prior to his devastating injury, to be a most essential asset to this seasoned club. Karlsson’s near-miraculous recovery and appearance in the postseason gives new meaning to the words “toughness” and “determination”–a characteristic that comes to define the entire squad, in all honesty.

But Karlsson’s contract is highlighted here for another reason, as well: his deal mirrors that of Pietrangelo’s to the penny–as if Doug Armstrong were saying to the young Blues player, “Here’s the bar. We’ll match it.”

The question now is whether or not Pietrangelo can ‘match’ Karlsson on the ice, or whether the Senator defenseman returns to form and prove his worth more than that of his Blues rival.

In either case, these three young men will soon come to elevate the defenseman’s position, and while Travis Hamonic is not as offensive-minded as the other two, is still a defenseman loaded with the profound potential yet to be fully realized; when it does, however, expect a Norris trophy in Brooklyn.

So, what do these three men and their contracts have in common, and which of the three teams got the better deal?

More importantly, will these three men be the stalwart stars to lead the NHL much like Scott Stevens, Raymond Bourque, and Paul Coffey did in their respective eras?

Could these men represent the dawning of a new day for defensemen?

Short Answers

  • All three men are 23 years of age
  • All three men are considered cornerstones of their backend core; their respective seven year contracts prove it
  • All three men have the opportunity to change the nature and dynamic of the position, much like the veterans mentioned above
  • All three men are members of young, talented teams who are in grave need of a defensive readjustment
  • All teams did well here– a wash? Maybe. But the Blues seem to have the edge, because they now have a legitimate blueline; also, Karlsson is coming off an injury, and Hamonic’s team is steadily emerging from a rebuild.

Team Payroll & Cap Space

 

               NEW YORK ISLANDERS
  • Payroll: 49M approx.
  • Cap Space: 15.6M approx.
               OTTAWA SENATORS
  • Payroll: 56M approx.
  • Cap Space: 8.2M approx.

St. LOUIS BLUES

Payroll:      64M approx.

Cap Space: 1.1M approx.

  • Team in most ‘trouble’*

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: Payroll: 69M approx. Cap Space: -2M   (*If one considers the age of some newly signed players, the lack of success these past few seasons, and nagging injuries.)

Deconstructing Defense Contracts

Apr 26, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic (3) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Sabres beat the Islanders 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

 

Travis Hamonic

  • Contract: 3.8M approx. throughout seven years 
  • Travis Hamonic is the guiding force leading the Islanders’ rebuild from the backend of things. The truncated schedule proved taxing on Hamonic, and early season difficulties kept his assist tallies the lowest they’ve been in his career. However, GM Snow and the Isles organization understand that without his grittiness, courage, and fortitude, there’s not much of a blueline to talk about. Also, there are few homegrown Isles defensemen that can fill the void left behind by Mark Streit; Hamonic’s physical play is needed to free up passing lanes and grinding it out against the boards. Lubomir Visnovsky will most assuredly run the PP, but only Travis Hamonic can be seen as the soul of the defensive core, with his linemate Andrew MacDonald not too far behind. With this tandem, the Islanders can go about solidifying their own blueline.
  • Scoring Stats Ice Time
    Season Age Tm Lg GP G A PTS GC +/- PIM S S% TOI ATOI
    2010-11 20 NYI NHL 62 5 21 26 8 4 103 118 4.2 1338 21:34
    2011-12 21 NYI NHL 73 2 22 24 7 6 73 124 1.6 1637 22:26
    2012-13 22 NYI NHL 48 3 7 10 3 -8 28 83 3.6 1095 22:48
    Career NHL 183 10 50 60 19 2 204 325 3.1 4069 22:14
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 9/15/2013.
_______________________________________________________

 

Alex Pietrangelo

  • Contract: 6.5M throughout seven years
  • Alex Pietrangelo was the most lucrative player on the market this past summer who wasn’t really on the market. Coming off a decent season, he too had some issues adjusting his game accordingly at the onset. He remained healthy throughout, but his postseason performance was a bit more uneven, one which assuredly belied expectations for all interested parties. Nevertheless, Pietrangelo is an immense talent who is currently on one of the better teams in the West. Moreover, resigning Pietrangelo secures the Blues’ defensive core for quite some time, and if healthy, can come to represent the strongest blueline in the NHL. Also, at 6.5M Alex Pietrangelo comes at quite the ‘bargain’.
  • Scoring Stats Ice Time
    Season Age Tm Lg GP G A PTS GC +/- PIM S S% TOI ATOI
    2008-09 19 STL NHL 8 0 1 1 0 0 2 7 0.0 132 16:31
    2009-10 20 STL NHL 9 1 1 2 1 -9 6 7 14.3 149 16:34
    2010-11 21 STL NHL 79 11 32 43 15 18 19 161 6.8 1738 22:00
    2011-12 22 STL NHL 81 12 39 51 17 16 36 202 5.9 2003 24:44
    2012-13 23 STL NHL 47 5 19 24 8 0 10 93 5.4 1180 25:07
    Career NHL 224 29 92 121 41 25 73 470 6.2 5203 23:14
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 9/15/2013.
________________________________________________________

 

May 22, 2013; Ottawa, ON, CAN; Ottawa Senators defensman Erik Karlsson (65) controls the puck in the second period in game four of the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Scotiabank Place. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Erik Karlsson

  • Contract: 6.5M throughout seven years
  • This gifted Swedish-born defender suffered one of the most brutal injuries in recent years. If you recall, Matt Cooke‘s skate sliced through Karlsson’s Achilles tendon like a hot knife through butter, sidelining this young defenseman for a considerable amount of time. Recently, Karlsson spoke with Ottawa media and intimated that although game ready, he’d have to undergo some adjustments to his play. As he puts it,

There’s a number of things that are different [...] But I have to get used to that. I still feel I have all the strength that I need. It’s a little bit about connection down there, but it shouldn’t be an issue.

Youth is on his side, as well as a full training camp and some pre-season hockey. Enough time to test the strength and durability of his ankle. Somehow and in some way, this young man will be back at full strength, as the Ottawa Senators, as a whole, are the   toughest, grittiest beasts in the NHL.

  • (Full stats available here)

Afterthoughts

  • Before you say anything: yes, P.K. Subban and Kris Letang do exist and are legitimate phenoms. More on them as the season progresses, however. (Remiss and irresponsible it would be on anyone’s part to ignore that which they have done to redefine the defenseman’s role.) Letang signed for loads of money this off season because he’s as good as it gets (although needs to toughen up a bit), and Subban plays a modern version of Denis Potvin-like hockey: nasty and always with an eye on the net.
  • Again, of the three teams represented here, only the Blues front office can boast at having solidified their blueline, as Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk will help roundout things on the backend.
  • The Travis Hamonic signing may very well prove to be the best ‘bang for one’s buck’, leaving the Isles with an astounding 15M+ cap space.
  • Bryan Murray and coach Paul MacLean, Doug Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock, with Garth Snow and coach Jack Capuano are leading a silent charge with their respective hockey clubs. And by protecting core players and cultivating minor league talent, each organization shows the NHL and others some of that old school notion refashioned for the new age. (But in all honesty, I was a bit surprised to see Daniel Alfredsson leave.)
  • Look at the Flyers and Rangers. Study their UFA signings, trades, etc. and ask: Have their or will their fortunes change (and maintain) when compared against the talent soon emerging from former lottery teams, or teams on the verge of realizing their full potential? AKA some of those mentioned here? Homegrown youth will soon make its mark, and with ‘little’ stress on a club’s wallet.
  • Nothing is guaranteed for any club, and last postseason revealed major deficiencies in need of repair for all teams mentioned here. But money doesn’t solve everything.
  • One gets the feeling that neither the Isles, Blues, nor Senators were severely over-matched due to lack of heart in post-season play, but rather lacking in matured talent and/or plagued by health issues, enough of which prohibited each club to meet their respective challenge.
  • The teams mentioned here must continue avoiding trading prospects for aging and tenuous free agents as part of a quick-fix.
  • Hockey is at a turning point in New York City, for numerous reasons, but the Islanders are still playing catch up with the other two teams listed here, not to mention their cross-town rivals; these next two years will be preparation for the Isles in becoming a formidable hockey club. Patience is key, now more than ever. One playoff berth doesn’t translate into a Stanley Cup contender and GM Snow knows this fact, as does owner Charles Wang. Believe that a new stage will bring forth a new attitude. And believe that the Isles will ride the coattails of success straight into Barclays, rather than stumble into the GEICO Atrium like Keystone Cops.
  • Whenever documentary filmmaker Ken Burns gives hockey the Baseball treatment, turning his attention to the 21st century, Murray, Armstrong, and Snow will somehow have played a pivotal role in salvaging  the sport’s popularity and significance in North America.
  • These three teams are the future of hockey, when teams like the Kings, Rangers, Devils, and Flyers miss the post-season, and begin trading away their youth so as to stay relevant in this ever-changing game.

Consider it all.

–RD (@RDNHL)

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