Thursday, December 17, 2020

Golden Knights Preview: Alex Pietrangelo Jersey Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Two more caveats: at this point, the NHL has not even confirmed the division make-ups yet despite the season being set to start a month from now, and several impact players such as 25-to-30-goal scorer Mike Hoffman and 20-goal journeyman forward Anthony Duclair, among others, haven't found a team yet. And quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

One of those teams in cap cunnundrums is the Vegas Golden Knights.

I mentioned many times how I fear the Golden Knights' apparent thirst for quick success instead of methodical building makes for a clan of mercenaries more than a family or team, and how I am worried that their constant trading away of players on long-term deals for slight upgrades or to create cap space will eventually lead to free agents opting not to sign in the desert without full control of their destinies with no-movement clauses, but for the time being, the team remains a true contender, which is why they were able to sign the off-season's prized free agent, former St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, despite already having a younger version of him on the roster in Shea Theodore. It cost them their second-line centre and a second-pairing defender, but they feel it's worth the gamble (and probably like they can acquire another one at the trade deadline, because GM Kelly McCrimmon apparently thinks he's running a game of NHL21 instead of an actual NHL team).

What makes their odds look good:
Two #1 goalies in a season filled with back-to-backs, two #1 defensemen on the right side, a 30-goal scorer and four 20-goal scorers last season up front, building up a wealth of playoff experience in just three short seasons of existence.

Question marks:
Max Pacioretty had a knack for disappearing in the playoffs and lacking in leadership when he captained the Montréal Canadiens, and last season showed more of the same; for all the bombast about their top six forwards, it's important to note that not a single one of them was a point-per-game player last season or the year before; as a matter of fact, the only one who came close in 2018-19 is Paul Stastny, now with the Winnipeg Jets. You may also call me a Peter DeBoer detractor.

I'm disappointed that they're run on the "shiny new toy" model, but they're still stacked with proven talent that goes relatively deep and for two thirds of almost every game, the opposition's chances of scoring goals is close to zero with Robin Lehner and Marc-André Fleury playing behind Theodore, Pietrangelo, Brayden McNabb, Alec Martinez and Zac Whitecloud. That counts for something.

There are essentially three groups in the Pacific Division: the elite teams (Vegas and the Colorado Avalanche, deeper than the Golden Knights and with higher-end talent), the other contenders (the Blues and Dallas Stars), and the teams hovering near or below .500 (the Arizona Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks). It would normally take a perfect storm for Vegas to miss the postseason. Or DeBoer.

Second in the Pacific Division.

Pietrangelo is now 30 years old; he normally has two to four years of elite hockey left in him if you do not believe him to already be on a downward slope, and the fact that he finished fourth in Norris voting last season for the second time of his career seems to point in that direction, as was his rise back to the 50-point plateau after topping out at 41 the year before, but there are also signs that he's running out of breath.

Hockey Night In Canada analyst Kelly Hrudey and I seem to be the only ones who noticed how exhausted he looked for most of the Blues' Cup run in 2019, but take a look at his postseason ice time first, the largest of two columns I highlighted below:
Between the ages of 24 and 28, he would normally play over 28 minutes per game in the playoffs, even more than 30 in 2013-14; the year the Blues took home the Stanley Cup, his ice time had fallen to 25:45, and it dropped to 25:12 last year. To be contenders, they had to play him less.

Now have a look at the last column, the giveaways. He rarely made mistakes with the puck in the 2014, 2015 and 2017 playoffs, but made one nearly every game in the last two. His +/- stats are also scary: despite being on the ice for 6 points in 9 games in 2020, he was not a positive factor for his team; despite scoring three even-strength goals for his team and contributing to 19 total goals for the team that won four rounds of hockey, winning four games in each and never losing more than three in any, he was just a +5 in 2019. Worse still, he was in the minuses in 2017.

There are signs of a decline and we may not be looking at a Hall Of Famer, although he's had a terrific career with a Cup win, three top-five Norris finishes (never in the top-three however), two All-Star Games, three end-of-season Second All-Star Team selections, and gold medals at the World Juniors (2009), World Cup (2016) and Olympics (2014).

Here he is from a time where he was coming into his own on the Blues' blue line, wearig St. Louis' white (away) uniform on card #GJ-AP from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a blue game-worn jersey swatch from the arms or back. I got it from Ebay under $5 for this very piece.

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