Call to the Hall: St. Louis Blues

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Welcome to LWOS Hockey’s summer series, Call to the Hall, where we take a look at the next great player from each NHL franchise to get called to the Hockey Hall of Fame. There are a few caveats, the player must be active, and must have played 300 games (or 150 for goaltenders) with the franchise.

CALL TO THE HALL: ST. LOUIS BLUES

The hockey franchise in St. Louis has continuously left the fanbase feeling “blue” since their expansion in 1967. Horrible puns aside, when you look at the history of the St. Louis Blues, it’s tough not to cringe at the lack of triumph. On the positive side, though, they’ve captured nine division championships (including a Central Division conquest last year), one President’s Trophy and qualified for the postseason 25 straight seasons from 1980-2004. But despite this vast regular season success, the Stanley Cup has failed to make its way down 1401 Clark Avenue, where the Scottrade Center (the Blues home arena) is located.

It’s surprising, baffling, and mystifying how the Blues have repeatedly failed to lift hockey’s greatest hardware over the heads with the amount of talent their rosters have consisted of over the years. 17 players who have graced the Blues sweater are in the Hockey Hall of Fame; Chris Pronger will increase that number to 18 when he is inducted on November 9th of this year. Behind the bench, another legendary lineup was assembled. Mike Keenan, Al Arbour, Scotty Bowman and Joel Quenneville all coached in St. Louis, but all fell short of winning the last game of the NHL postseason during their respective tenures.

While the current roster doesn’t exactly have the same historic firepower as the Blues of the early 1990’s, there are several core pieces that have the ability to break out into consistent stars. Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko have excelled in their first few seasons in the league, but don’t reach our requirement of 300 games played with the team. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, however, has had little trouble becoming a constant two-way threat in the rugged Western Conference with 386 games under his belt as a Blue.

ALEX PIETRANGELO

Pietrangelo was selected by the Blues with the 4th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft after a terrific stint in juniors with the Mississauga/Niagara IceDogs and the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. He amassed 163 points in 180 games, exemplifying a scoring touch combined with his 6’3″ frame that would later make him successful in the NHL.

After spending two brief campaigns with St. Louis shortly after he was drafted, the King City, Ontario native would dress in 79 games in 2010-2011. At 21 years old, Pietrangelo registered 11 goals and 32 assists for 43 points. He led ALL Blues defenseman in points, plus-minus (+18), and ranked third in ice-time (22:00).

The offensive production continued for Pietrangelo in 2011-2012 when he potted 12 goals and had 39 assists for 51 points in 81 games during his second full season with the Blues. Among NHL defenseman, he stood 5th in the league in that regard. He led his team in ice-time averaging 24:44/game that year while suiting up on the top units of the power play and the penalty kill in St. Louis.

With the man they call “Petro” leading the way, the Blues dominated the regular season with a record of 49-22-11. They returned to the playoffs after a brief two-year drought and were atop the Central Division standings for the first time in eleven years. In his first taste of playoff action, Pietrangelo had five points in eight games.

The career-high season was enough for the then-22-year-old blueliner to be recognized by the NHL as a Second Team All Star. His initial entry-level contract of three years was also up, leaving the Blues braintrust with an important decision to make. GM Doug Armstrong could either sign Pietrangelo to a short-term deal or make him one of the Blues highest-paid players with a long-term deal.

On September 13th, 2013, Pietrangelo signed a seven-year, $45 million contract to become one of the faces of the franchise in St. Louis. Armstrong’s decision would not be one of regret as Pietrangelo sustained his stellar play.

After the lockout-shortened season of 2013, Pietrangelo matched his stellar 2011-2012 numbers with 51 points in 2013-2014, this time doing it with 8 goals and 43 assists. He was 5th in the NHL among defenseman with assists and 8th in ice-time (25:22).

Last year in 2014-2015, the defenseman’s fifth season in St. Louis would again consist of 45+ points and less than 40 penalty minutes. His Shots Through Percentage was a career high with 53.4% of his 195 shots going on net, assisting the Blues in scoring the second-most goals in the Western Conference.

On the defensive side of things, Pietrangelo struggled for the first time in his career on a consistent basis. Longtime partner of the Blues top pairing on the back-end Jay Bouwmeester was surprisingly in and out of lineup with injuries during the year, which didn’t help either. His Corsi numbers were the lowest of his career at 48.9% in all situations (even-strength, power play and penalty kill) combined.

The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs were a chance for Pietrangelo to stabilize his play with Bouwmeester at full strength on his pairing. Number 27 in blue was perhaps the best overall player for St. Louis in their six-game series against the Minnesota Wild. Both his Corsi and Fenwick were above 60%, signaling that the 25-year-old had gone back to his responsible puck possession ways while playing over 25 minutes in all six playoff games.

From an international hockey standpoint, Alex Pietrangelo has had the luxury of playing for some incredible teams by representing the nation of Canada. His career medal count from the World Junior Championships consists of a 2009 gold medal and a 2010 silver medal (he was also deemed the top defenseman of the tournament in 2010).

In the 2014 Winter Olympics, Pietrangelo was paired with fellow Canadian Bouwmeester on the second pairing. Team Canada’s defense only allowed one goal in the final three games of their tournament, awarding Pietrangelo with an olympic gold medal.

Now that we’ve broken down and analyzed Alex Pietrangelo’s NHL and international career, is he the one to fit our criteria as the one who has the best chance of being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame for St. Louis?

David Backes, the Blues captain since the 2011-2012 season, has surely made his case in this discussion. In 648 games with St. Louis, Backes has 415 points (185 G, 230 A). He ranks seventh all-time in Blues franchise history for regular season goals, ninth in assists, and eighth in points. Backes’ total points/game in his NHL career is 0.64 while Pietrangelo’s is 0.56, so there’s not too much of a difference there despite the two playing different positions.

Backes has one silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and failed to medal with the United States in 2014. There’s no doubt that he is a talented power forward in the NHL, but Backes wouldn’t be considered a superstar talent by any standards. He utilizes his size and strength to create offense, but he has failed to continue those skills when it matters most.

For the last three years, the Blues have been ousted in the opening round of the postseason with Backes as captain. He’s scored twice. His leadership as a whole was questioned, which then opened the floodgates for trade rumors during this year’s offseason.

Albeit Pietrangelo’s notable postseason goals are not monumental, they’ve given his team a chance to take control of a series. In 2013, his goal with 44.1 seconds tied up Game 5 against the Los Angeles Kings in the WCQF. In 2014 against the Chicago Blackhawks, he tied up the game in Game 5 in the third period.

Call it choking or what you want to call it, Backes has simply not been able to get it done in the playoffs while Pietrangelo has elevated his play at the same time. Backes is a -5 while Pietrangelo is a +3 in their playoff careers, to put it into even more perspective.

As far as individual awards go, neither of them have nabbed any. Backes has failed to win the Frank J. Selke Trophy, but has been in the top 5 in the voting for the past four years. Pietrangelo has been in-and-out the top 5 in the Norris Trophy voting over the same period of time.

You could argue that T.J. Oshie, given his media acclaim for defeating the Russians with four shootout goals in six attempts in the preliminary round in Sochi, should be given a chance as well. However, he fails to do so because of the identical reasons Backes does. Zero playoff success, zero individual awards, and zero gold medals at the Olympics doesn’t get you considered for the Hall.

Pietrangelo has a gold medal, and in turn, the best shot to make the Hockey Hall of Fame out of those three. He has the capability to put up multiple 50+ point seasons and make a run at the Norris each and every year. Keep in mind, he’s only 25 and has an enormous amount of space to grow with the talent he possesses. Also keep in mind that Duncan Keith won his first Norris at 27, so the window is indeed still open for Alex Pietrangelo to improve on his elite status in the National Hockey League.

 

Now if only he could get his hands (and name) on a Stanley Cup…