Blues facing a big decision in goal moving forward

News-DemocratMay 2, 2014 

General Manager Doug Armstrong answered an important part of the St. Louis Blues' goaltending equation Tuesday when he said top prospect Jake Allen would be with the team next season.

He deemed the 23-year-old 34th overall pick in the 2008 draft ready for the NHL after Allen was named the top goalie in the American Hockey League this season.

Allen was 33-16-3 this season with seven shutouts, a 2.03 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. He helped the Chicago Wolves qualify for the playoffs and they split their first two games.

But the other half of the Blues' goaltender equation figures to be one of the biggest topics during the offseason.

In obtaining veteran goalie Ryan Miller and veteran forward Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres, the Blues traded goalie Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, a 2015 first-round pick, a conditional third-round pick in 2016.

Miller, who made $6.25 million this season in the final year of a five-year, $31.25 deal signed with Buffalo, is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. So is current Blues backup goaltender Brian Elliott.

Among the Blues' options are trying to sign Miller, trying to sign Elliott or letting both go and picking up someone else to compete with Allen.

The package given up for Miller would seem to suggest they would at least make inquiries about a new deal.

"We'll let everything settle in and I'll address it in a few weeks," Armstrong said. "We'll try to have something done prior to free agency. I don't have to make those decisions now.

"I'll talk to our coaches and our hockey operations staff and put a plan together and move forward."

The Blues were 39-14-6 when Miller was acquired from the Sabres, then watched Miller win eight of his first nine starts. After the trade for Miller, the Blues were 15-13-1 overall counting the 2-4 record in the first-round playoff loss to Chicago.

Injuries to some of the team's top players should be factored in as well.

Miller's .897 save percentage in the playoffs ranks 11th among NHL playoff goaltenders and his 2.70 postseason goals-against average ranks seventh.

Miller is open to a potential return, but remained extremely disappointed in the playoff loss.

"Even the last game people look at the score, 5-1, it's 1-1 going into the third period," Miller said. "We played essentially what I feel were six one-goal games. We won two of them and didn't get the job done in the other ones.

"It was a good series against a tough opponent who went through their own bumps and bruises years ago to learn how to win."

Elliott turned in another strong regular season, going 18-6-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average, four shutouts and a .922 save percentage.

Halak has now been traded three times in the last three months after his rights were dealt to the New York Islanders on Thursday by the Washington Capitals for a fourth-round pick.

Halak (24-9-4, 2.23 goals-against, four shutouts, .917 save percentage) was replaced by Miller, whose regular-season numbers were 10-8-1, 2.47 goals-against, one shutout, and a .903 save percentage.

Miller was 2-4 in the playoffs, allowing 19 goals in six games. Four of the six games reached overtime, with the Blues winning the first two.

Miller said he enjoyed St. Louis and spoke about the team's loyal fans.

"Good people, very passionate ... and as (ticked) off as they probably are at me right now, it's good," Miller said. "It shows they're sports fans and they're committed to their team. They have passion, they have pride, it's the kind of people you want to play for.

"If it works out that management wants me back ... if it works out I'm back here, that's the kind of people you want to play for."

Elliott handled starting duties for the Blues numerous times in recent seasons because of Halak's injuries or inconsistency. He typically played well, even teaming up with Halak to win the Jennings Trophy two years ago for the league's lowest goals-against average.

In 2012 and 2013 Elliott handled the bulk of the playoff goaltending duties after Halak was injured, going a combined 5-8.

Elliott also knows the Blues acquired Miller to be the starter and realizes Allen is the goalie of the future.

"It's hard to watch at any time," Elliott said. "It's not fun, you want to be out there with the guys you work hard with. It's definitely hard, but I'm not naive and I understand why (they made the trade).

"I'm not sitting here saying I don't understand, it was a move that they made so they kind of had to go with it. I thought we definitely had a chance this year and came up short. There's a lot of situations that you wonder about, but it was definitely a tough one for sure to not be out there with the guys."

Elliott, 29, has been with the Blues since 2011, going 55-24-7. He believes Allen will be a solid NHL goaltender.

"From the first day I met Jake he's a great guy and up-and-comer," Elliott said. "He's obviously had a great year in the (AHL) this year and played well when he was up here, so has definitely earned an opportunity.

"Whoever is partnered up with him, I think it will be good. It will give him a chance to break into the league and hopefully have success."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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