The St. Louis Blues are an obvious Stanley Cup contender with an obvious problem: between the pipes, there are questions. Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have been good for the Blues, but they haven’t been great, and given their status as pending UFAs, Blues GM Doug Armstrong isn’t tied to either one moving forward. With the playoffs less than two months away and the Blues a top contender for a championship, Armstrong would not be wrong to at least test the goalie market and explore an upgrade in goal.
Can the Blues win the Cup with Halak or Elliott? Sure, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility. In recent years several of the league’s second class goaltending citizens have hoisted Lord Stanley, including Marc Andre Fleury in 2009, Antti Niemi in 2010, and Corey Crawford in 2013. However, those guys won as members of highly skilled offensive teams that were pumping goals. The Blues are more similarly built in the mould of recent defensive oriented Cup winners from 2011 and 2012: the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings, respectively. And defensive minded teams are better suited to have a true ace between the pipes; a netminder who can keep a game 1-0. Halak may not be that guy.
Who is that guy then? Well, there is only one goaltender on the trade market who is a clear upgrade on Halak or Elliott and his name is Ryan Miller. Also a UFA this summer, it’s thought that several teams covet Miller which could turn his availability into a bidding war. The Minnesota Wild and Washington Capitals have been rumoured destinations the former Vezina winner may end up. And most with an opinion also feel that the Blues should be interested in Miller’s services, as well, if a sensible deal can be made.
Prior to the Olympic break it was reported that newly appointed Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray was discussing Miller’s availability with other NHL teams. One can speculate that those talks continued to some degree throughout the 2014 Winter Olympics roster freeze – a two week period that prohibited trade, but allowed discussion among GMs.
Sabres GM Tim Murray says he's ready to deal, just needs a trade partner. Also noted that he's talked with several teams re: Ryan Miller.
— Dale Lamontagne (@Dale_Lamontagne) February 5, 2014
Last night, former NHL general manager Brian Lawton tweeted that the Buffalo Sabres may decide to re-sign Miller and keep him around, rather than trade him to the highest bidder.
I am hearing that it is not likely that Ryan Miller will be traded by the Deadline and Sabres are turning attention towards re signing him.
— Brian Lawton (@brianlawton9) February 25, 2014
The Sabres are rebuilding, that is no secret. And sometimes a good ol’ fashoined rebuild can take several years to come to fruition. By trading Ryan Miller, the Sabres almost certainly extend the length of time it will take to become a competitive perennial playoff team again. However, by keeping the 33-year-old goaltender around, things could turn from bust to best more quickly for Buffalo. Miller is having a Vezina type season despite playing on an inexperienced team that is not ready to win. Furthermore, although Miller is getting on in age, he has shown no signs that a decline in play is on the horizon. Great goalies can maintain a high level of excellence well into their late thirties; see Dominik Hask, Martin Brodeur and Ed Belfour.
What this means for the Blues: Miller may not be available. Without Miller on the table, there aren’t many clear-cut goaltending upgrades on the market. Tim Thomas of the Florida Panthers and Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils – should either be traded – have won the Cup(s) before, but neither is in his prime any longer. Acquiring Thomas or Brodeur may not be much of an upgrade for the Blues. And GMs aren’t fond of trading assets for marginal improvements, or at least, you’d hope they aren’t.
The Blues are good enough to win the Stanley Cup this season even with Halak and Elliott as puck stoppers, however, should they bow out of the post-season without a championship because their pending UFAs let them down, not making a move now will feel like a blown opportunity.