ST. LOUIS — Training camp begins Thursday for the St. Louis Blues and for the first time in 15 years, Hall of Famer Brett Hull is back with the franchise.
But it's not all blue skies in Blues country as contract talks have broken off with restricted free agent Alex Pietrangelo. As a result, Pietrangelo is holding out and the Blues are minus their top defenseman.
Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong spoke with Pietrangelo's agent, Don Meehan of Newport Sports, again late Tuesday without reaching an agreement.
"We talked a lot of different options as far as number of years," Armstrong said. "Last night we gave it a last-ditch kick at the can ... it didn't hold."
Armstrong did not indicate whether the biggest difference is money or contract length, but various reports suggest the main stumbling block is financial.
How big is the gap?
"Big enough where he's not in camp," Armstrong said. "I was always a hopeful a deal would get done. We talked a while ago that a deal gets done when everyone's uncomfortable. I was very uncomfortable (Tuesday) and it didn't get done."
The 23-year-old Pietrangelo recently finished out his three-year entry level contract. He does not have arbitration rights, so he and his representatives have decided to hold out seeking a better offer.
And the Blues, who feel they have a legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup championship and were picked by The Hockey News to win the title, will open camp without their top defenseman.
"We've talked terms with Alex, different lengths," Armstrong said. "We've more focused on a lengthier term recently, but now both sides need to go back to the drawing board and find out how to get him in here the quickest."
Pietrangelo is one of several Newport Sports clients to hold out from their teams in recent years, most notably P.K. Subban last season and Drew Doughty of the Kings in 2011.
Doughty's holdout lasted until the end of September, when he signed an eight-year, $56 million deal.
"There's really three options," Armstrong said when asked what lies ahead for Pietrangelo. "He's going to sign with us, he signs an offer sheet or doesn't play this year. Those are the three things, there's no fourth thing."
The Blues had hoped to get the Pietrangelo deal done by the start of training camp, thus avoiding a major distraction. Armstrong understands the business side of hockey, as does Meehan.
"Alex has hired this group to negotiate for him, but ultimately Alex Pietrangelo makes decisions for Alex Pietrangelo," Armstrong said. "I don't make his decisions and Don Meehan doesn't make his decisions. He's a 23-year-old man and he makes his own decisions."
Armstrong still believes the deal will get done. He's also open to signing a short-term deal now, followed by a longer-term deal later.
"We've been very consistent that when he puts a jersey on again, it will be a Blues jersey," Armstrong said. "We've given ourselves to match any contract offer that's out there. If a team gets desperate enough that they feel they have to do that, we'll match it.
"If it costs us waiving a player currently on our roster, we'll do that to keep him. He's going to be a Blue."
If the Pietrangelo holdout continues, Armstrong hinted Wednesday that Kevin Shattenkirk would fill Pietrangelo's vacant spot on the top defense pairing with Jay Bouwmeester.
The club recently signed veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney to a pro tryout contract, leaving Whitney and former first-round pick Ian Cole to fight for what would be the final starting spot.
"Now we move forward with the players that we have and at some point we'll re-engage and see if there's a different option that wasn't there," Armstrong said of the Pietrangelo talks. "We were focused in on a deal that had a lot of terms, maybe that's not going to happen. We'll have to find out.
"We're going to be the duck above the water. We're going to look calm, but trust me we're going to paddle like hell trying to get this thing accomplished."
Armstrong said he did not feel that a holdout by Pietrangelo should instantly be cause for alarm.
"We'll continue to have dialogue when either side believes there's something that can be accomplished," Armstrong said. "There's no set timetables on these things. It's disappointing that he's not here, but it doesn't change my affection for Alex as a player and a person.
"I think that he's a quality young man and a quality player, but economically we couldn't come to common ground. From my perspective it doesn't make him a bad guy, and from his perspective I hope it doesn't make us a bad team."
Armstrong used to work with the Dallas Stars and on Wednesday recalled one of his favorite holdout type quotes from one of that city's most colorful sports characters, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
"He said 'My money has no emotion. This is just a business.'"