After their disheartening elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs on Sunday, the St. Louis Blues are going to be forced to start fielding questions about the team’s immediate future. While the shakeup for next year could be as insignificant as letting a few free agents walk all the way up to replacing head coach Ken Hitchcock, the issue that is most pressing for many fans is what the team plans to do with goaltender Ryan Miller.
Seeing as Miller failed to increase the team’s success in the playoffs, it’s safe to say that he was not worth what the Blues gave up for him and therefore would need to sign a new contract with the team to ever justify the trade. While it may not have seemed to be that big of a deal at the time, the Blues did give up one of their top forward prospects (William Carrier), a proven sharp shooter who theoretically could have contributed to the team’s disastrous offensive efforts in the playoffs (Chris Stewart), and a goalie who ended up being no worse than Miller (Jaroslav Halak). That doesn’t even include the two draft picks that the Blues threw in as part of the deal.
Miller has now ended a five-year contract that paid him $6.25 million yearly. Despite the lack of success that he had in the playoffs, it’s fair to assume that Miller will be able to garner a similar yearly salary on the free agent market. With the Blues rather tight up against the cap and needing financial flexibility to lock down emerging young stars like Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, a deal like that for Miller wouldn’t really be sensible. That’s not even factoring in the negative reputation that Miller has developed among fans who associate him most prominently with the team’s collapse. There’s no way to really know what the Blues administration is thinking, but it would seem to be really illogical for them to bring back Miller unless he comes on the cheap, and even then it might be a stretch.
After all, the team has two attractive options right at their disposal. Brian Elliott, who is a fan favorite and has entrenched his name in the franchise record books following three successful seasons with Blues, would be a very logical candidate to return as the backup. He’s made less than $2 million yearly over the past two years, and the Blues could probably bring him back on a similar deal. With that said, the Blues have never seemed to trust him in crucial situations, so it is difficult to tell what they really think of.
In terms of Miller’s replacement, the organization should look no further than Jake Allen, the 23-year-old who saw success when forced to play in the NHL due to injury in 2013 and who won the AHL Goalie of the Year award this season. He has the potential to be a very good starter, but if for some reason he should fail, Elliott is a former All-Star who could step in and replace him if necessary. Allen’s contract will switch to being a one-way deal next season, which means the Blues must pay him a flat rate whether he’s in the NHL or AHL. Unless the Blues trade him this offseason, it’s a fair bet to assume that Allen will be on the NHL roster in some capacity for 2014-15.
Especially with Allen now being NHL-ready, it does not really make sense for the Blues to bring in a highly established goaltender off the free agent market. With that said, it might be smart for them to bring in a goalie with NHL experience who will accept a two-way contract and go to the Blues’ Chicago AHL affiliate to serve as the third goaltender, similarly to how the Blues initially brought Elliott in a few years back. Organizational issues could complicate this, however; the Blues need to find places for goalie prospects Jordan Binnington and Niklas Lundstrom to play, and if Chicago, which is not owned or operated by the Blues, wants to have an independent goalie on their roster again, as they do this year, there may not be enough playing time to go around.
The Blues have tried relentlessly to find a goalie capable of winning a Cup, with Miller and players like Halak, Patrick Lalime, and Chris Osgood before him. With as often as these situations have not worked out, maybe the most logical choice is for the Blues to go with Allen, their own internal option, and see what happens.