In the immortal words of The Joker, Ryan Miller coming to the St. Louis Blues tonight in a blockbuster trade with the Buffalo Sabres changes things. A team that had the best win percentage in the league and ranked in the top five in goals per game, goals allowed per game, penalty kill and power play efficiency still had a small leak. Their goaltenders produced a save percentage that ranked 17th in the NHL. Sure, Wednesday night, Jaro Halak made 34 saves in a 1-0 loss on the road in Vancouver. However, that doesn’t mean there was consistency there or an ability to take over a series of games in net. In short, the Blues had a need that wasn’t glaring but utterly apparent from a short distance, so general manager Doug Armstrong made a move and pushed this team into Stanley Cup contention.
Blues fans have been frustrated by a strong regular season team the past few seasons but one that couldn’t excel in the playoffs. The last two times the Blues made it into the playoffs, they ran into a goaltender in Kings’ stopper Jonathan Quick who was a lot better than their guy. With no hard smack to the likes of Brian Elliot or Halak, they will never be Quick and that was the mountain the team could not climb. Halak and Elliot were serviceable goaltenders alone and strong as a duo but in order to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, a team needs one man in net who can be spectacular at any given moment. With this trade, Armstrong is telling his team, “Here is your guy, so please go win one for this city now”. The expectations have officially gone through the roof now. As I noted earlier, things have changed for the St. Louis Blues. That is the nature of the business of pro sports. One night you call a man a teammate. The next he is shipped to another team for a player who hopefully makes you a better team.
The official deal looks like this. Miller and Steve Ott come to the Blues in exchange for Chris Stewart, Halak, prospect William Carrier, a first round pick in 2015 and a third round pick in 2016. It’s a very good deal. Stewart, except for a few games in December, has been a huge disappointment for the Blues this season. A guy wearing the jersey because he can score and provide tenacity has done very little this year in terms of mere production. Carrier doesn’t rank too high on the upcoming depth chart train and the two draft picks aren’t easily offered but stand as unknown quantities at this current juncture.
Ott is a solid grinder, a 31 year old former first round draft pick and center who served as Captain of the Sabres and will provide more punch to the Blues depth. He isn’t going to light up the lamp but that wasn’t the Blues particular need. Once again. The Blues can score goals. They have maintained a goals per game average that ranked at the top of the NHL and have a lot of young talent. Ott is a guy who will give it all every single night and is a player other teams and their fanbases love to hate. Just ask Blues fans before 6 p.m. this evening how they felt about him. He will help this team currently struggling with injuries to key players.
The heart and soul of this deal is Miller. People will tell you he hasn’t played in the playoffs since 2007, but that is hardly his fault. The Sabres have sort of fell off the deep end these past couple of years yet Ryan Miller has stayed strong in the individual accountability department. Throw out the wins-losses because a goaltender can only do so much. Miller has a .923 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.72. He was doing this without a defense and will more than be pleased with the Blues defensive attack. The Blues can have their defensive breakdowns but Miller will be the guy who can make an outstanding save when needed. He has the skill and potential to be that guy that is needed when the other team bares down on you.
Armstrong knows what this deal means. You get Miller, give up 5 players to do it, and you have to win something. A Stanley Cup sits on the table now and hopefully a contract extension with Miller. The 33 year old player is trying to secure that final contract that sets his career and legacy in order. The Blues didn’t acquire a man comfortable with where he is at. The Blues got a guy who wants to win a championship, get a big contract and shake the memories of Sidney Crosby stealing a gold medal away from his finger tips 4 years ago. That is where most casual NHL fans know Miller from. The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Miller finished 5-1 with a 1.35 goals against average and literally carried the United States to the final game where Crosby buried their dreams. Miller is hungry and that appetite should match the Blues desires and the city’s need for a Stanley Cup.
Armstrong made this deal without giving up prized possessions Jake Allen, Dmitri Yaskin or Ty Rattie. He gave up Carrier and two future picks who may or may not have panned out. The Blues GM is skilled in making blockbuster trades that come off as sharp, needed and legit. He doesn’t waste our time. He wants that moment as much as any fan or player. A general manager must be able to see what his team needs and what his team can handle without making a single misjudgment.
Halak leaves as an enigma who couldn’t overcome injury to return to the glory days of his 2009-2010 playoff run with Montreal. I feel like when Halak came to the Blues in a blockbuster trade that was followed by a 4 year contract, he was arriving with a boulder on his shoulders. A boulder full of memories from one single playoff performance. To Blues fans, he was the answer. He was Armstrong’s guy. He was the hottest commodity after his near upset of the Eastern Conference in 2010 and Armstrong waged his team’s future on the idea he was the real deal. After it was all said and done, Halak played in 2 playoff games for the Blues and couldn’t stay healthy or consistent enough to break out of those early heavy expectations.
I provided my analysis of this potential trade weeks ago, and my view hasn’t changed. If the Miller deal could happen without the Blues blowing up their young crop of players, I was for it. Ryan Miller provides the allure of a shutdown goaltender and one who could thrive on a very good team. Watching guys like Quick and Miller play, you see a goalie who can pick up his defense and carry them to a win on more than one occasion. That is something I never though Halak or Elliot could do. The ability to be dominant over a stretch of games and not just one. That could be something that is very refreshing to Blues fans.
Sure, all eyes are on Miller now and that is appropriate. The moment he has a bad game, people will detonate twitter with bombs calling the trade a bust. The real fans will hold tight, acknowledge what the team has in store and see a better opportunity in the playoffs. Stewart may go to the Sabres and realize Christmas is over and start scoring again. Halak may become that great goaltender in Buffalo. Who knows? I do know that the Blues and Doug Armstrong made a solid deal tonight and put this team in position to win big this spring. When it comes to trades, all you can do is place a bet on the table and hope for the best.
Ryan Miller is what the Blues needed to solidify themselves as Stanley Cup contenders and that means the stakes are through the roof for this team now.
Thanks for reading and have a good weekend. Come back on Sunday for my Oscar picks.