Time to win is now for Blues, who go all-in on Miller

News-DemocratMarch 1, 2014 

Doug Armstrong isn't the type of NHL general manager that sits around and waits, hoping something might break his way.

Showing once again why is one of the most decisive GMs in the sport, Armstrong took a pile of roster poker chips and went all in on Friday's mega-trade that brought goaltender Ryan Miller and center Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres.

Both are expected to be in the lineup Sunday when the Blues play in Phoenix.

The Blues acquired the veterans without surrendering one of their top prospects, keeping Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin safely at home.

It still cost them some major pieces in veteran goalie Jaroslav Halak and winger Chris Stewart, plus a first-round and conditional third-round draft pick and another prospect. But by making this move, Armstrong must firmly believe Miller is the best choice in net for the Blues at the only time it really counts -- the playoffs.

Halak still has the memorable 2010 playoff run under his belt, when he backstopped the Canadiens to a pair of upsets and the Eastern Conference finals. But while he played extremely well at times in St. Louis, untimely goals and untimely injuries kept getting in the way.

He also was limited to only two playoff games since joining the Blues in 2010 because of injuries. And while Halak seemed to thrive on facing more shots, the Blues have allowed the second-fewest shots in the league this season and typically have ranked in the top five in that department.

Enter Miller, who has never won a Stanley Cup and has been playing for one of the NHL's bottom feeders in recent seasons.

However, his .923 save percentage ranks 10th in the NHL while facing 1,411 shots, the sixth-highest total in the league. Halak has a better career save percentage (.917 to .916) and career goals-against average (2.38 to Miller's 2.60).

But while Halak has had the benefit of one of the NHL's top defenses and the tight defensive system of Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, Miller has many times been left to fend for himself.

Over the last three seasons, he's faced the third-most shots of any goalie in the league.

He's also 33, at 6-foot-2 is taller than the 5-11 Halak, has been a two-time All-Star and was MVP of the 2010 Winter Olympics while playing for silver medalist Team USA.

In each of the last two seasons, the Blues were eliminated from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Kings. Both times, the difference-maker was Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, and Armstrong appears to have strengthened an area he felt was a weakness.

This move doesn't guarantee a Stanley Cup -- and does not come without risk.

Miller and Ott, the Sabres' captain and gritty center who should really help in the playoffs, can both become unrestricted free agents after this season.

The Blues had to give up a first-round pick, a prospect and a conditional third-round pick that could become a first-rounder. They wouldn't do that for a pair of rental players, so trying to sign Miller is an obvious move.

Blues fans typically overreact to moves like this. They were just as excited when Armstrong brought in Halak, the latest in a long line of goalies expected to end the franchise's Stanley Cup drought.

Halak set a franchise record with 20 shutouts, but won only one playoff game and played in two.

That Stanley Cup drought has continued, but Miller has plenty to prove himself. His last playoff game was in 2011 and the last time he led the Sabres out of the first round was in 2007.

But leaving the Sabres to join a Stanley Cup contender like the Blues should light a fire under Miller, who has the major opportunity to win he simply did not enjoy in Buffalo.

He will be surrounded by a strong defense unit that includes recent Olympic gold medal winners Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo, plus Olympian Kevin Shattenkirk and gutsy veterans Barret Jackman and Roman Polak.

This is a hungry young Blues team that has been pointing to this postseason after two straight seasons of bitter playoff disappointment.

Blues owner Tom Stillman has dug deep to supply Armstrong with enough cash for contract extensions and trades that have pushed the team to the upper reaches of the NHL salary cap.

Blues fans have grown tired of watching other teams make deep playoff runs. The Blackhawks have won a pair of Stanley Cups under former Blues coach Joel Quenneville.

The Blues' time is now.

And in St. Louis, it's Miller Time.

(Norm Sanders has covered the Blues for the News-Democrat since 1995. He can be reached at 239-2354, nsanders@bnd.com, or follow him on Twitter @NormSanders)

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