The St. Louis Blues provided an early answer to their goaltending question for next season Monday by signing goalie Brian Elliott to a new three-year deal worth $7.5 million.
Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong also said the team will not pursue veteran goalie Ryan Miller, keeping his word from earlier this month that top goaltending prospect Jake Allen would be with the NHL team next season.
That leaves Elliott and Allen, the American Hockey League Goalie of the Year, competing for the No. 1 job next season. Allen has one more season remaining on his contract at $850,000, while Elliott will make $2.3 million in the first year of his deal.
That gives the Blues two goalies taking up $3.15 million in payroll, something that should give them flexibility to pursue help in other areas.
"At the trading deadline we took a calculated gamble of bringing in Ryan and we didn't have the success we needed as an organization," Armstrong said, noting the first-round playoff loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. "It's certainly not all reflective on Ryan, it's a team game and we as an organization are responsible."
Acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 28, Miller was 10-8-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average, one shutout and a .903 save percentage during the regular-season with the Blues.
The 33-year-old Miller was also 2-4 in the first-round playoff loss to Chicago with a 2.70 goals-against average and .897 save percentage.
The Blues paid a somewhat heavy price for Miller and Steve Ott, sending goalie Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, forward prospect William Carrier, a 2015 first-round pick and a third-rounder in 2016 to the Sabres.
"Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time I felt comfortable with the deal," Armstrong said. "At the end of the day, we didn't get to where we wanted to go to as an organization....it was certainly a lot to give up for 20-some odd games and six playoff games."
Armstrong wasn't afraid to make the all-in move on Miller, hoping it would result in a long playoff run.
"I think this job is about second-guessing," Armstrong said. "That's the industry that I've chosen to be in and that's the job responsibility I have. You talk to internally to your group and you move forward.
"If (the moves) work, you're hailed as a genius and if they don't work, you're a dummy. We took a swing, we looked at all the information. We gave up a lot to get Ryan Miller and at the end of the day we didn't accomplish as an organization what we needed to."
Armstrong still feels the gamble on a veteran goalie was worth it.
"We gave up quite a bit to get Ryan and we felt as an organization that might be a piece that could push us deep, get us into the Stanley Cup (finals) and win us a Stanley Cup," Armstrong said. "That's why the trade was made. It didn't work out that way, obviously."
In seven NHL seasons, Elliott is 116-77-23 with a 2.48 goals-against average, 25 shutouts and a .910 save percentage.
"It's definitely good to feel wanted and to have that same want to be part of the group of guys here," Elliott said. "I do really believe in this team. My agent and my family and I prepared as though we'd go to free agency and see what else was out there.
"(The Blues) wanted me back and felt that I was a good part of the team and that the guys like playing in front of me."
Elliott originally joined the Blues in 2011, signing a one-year, $600,000 contract.
The 29-year-old former University of Wisconsin goalie was 18-6-2 last season with four shutouts and a 1.96 goals-against average. He began the season as Halak's backup, then remained patient after Miller arrived.
There was uncertainty which way the Blues might turn in net with Miller and Elliott both facing free agency.
"I'm glad to get it done now and not have to worry about it all summer," Elliott said. "This has been one of the closest group of guys that I've seen, everybody gets along and can really push each other. I want to be part of that leadership that can push us to the level we want to be on."
Elliott's best season was 2011-12, when he was 23-10-4 with a league-best 1.56 goals-against average, nine shutouts and .940 save percentage. The goals-against average, shutouts and save percentage were all Blues franchise records.
Halak and Elliott combined to win the NHL's Jennings Trophy that season for lowest goals-against average.
That helped lead to a new two-year, $3.6 million contract extension for Elliott taking him into the 2012-13 season.
Armstrong likes the comfort level between Elliott, the team and the coaching staff.
"They know him, he's been here a long time and he's played in big games for us," Armstrong said. "His teammates enjoy working with him because he's an ultimate competitor and works hard every day in practice and comes ready to start and ready to play.
"Brian wanted the chance to compete for the No. 1 job. He has that now."
Elliott is eager to help Allen make a full transition to the NHL.
"Jake has obviously earned his opportunity to try to be an NHL goalie," Elliott said. "I think I can help him with that, but I'm excited to play a lot of games and I'm excited to be a big part of this team. We can battle back and forth and I think it will make us both better."
Armstrong thinks both goalies are ready for the challenge, but he feels Allen has proved everything he needs to at the lower levels.
"His numbers are outstanding," Armstrong said. "We've had a chance to watch him and I think he's done everything he can do. He's an NHL goaltender now, he has to come in and grab the ball and run with it."