St. Louis Blues goaltending may require upgrade

Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues

Jaroslav Halak with Team Slovakia. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This is supposed to be the year for the St. Louis Blues. Missouri’s NHL club has never won a Stanley Cup since its establishment prior to the 1967-68 season, despite possessing a lengthy playoff streak of twenty-five seasons spanning 1980-2004. The Blues organization has never won a championship despite rostering the only defenceman to win a Hart trophy in the last fifty plus years, not named Bobby Orr. And even though they dominated under the guidance of head coach Joel Quenneville, earning a commanding Presidents’ trophy in the 1999-00 season, the St. Louis Blues have failed to hoist hockey’s holy grail. This is supposed to be the year, though. Can the St. Louis Blues goaltending get the job done?

The St. Louis Blues goaltending has not prevented regular season success. With more than half the 2013-14 campaign in the history books the playoffs are becoming a foregone conclusion in St. Louis. Head coach Ken Hitchcock has his club grasping the second playoff spot in the NHL’s Central Division with 67 points. The third place Colorado Avalanche are knocking close behind with 65 points, but after that, there is a ten point gap between the Blues and the Central’s fourth place team, the Minnesota Wild. In other words, in all likelihood, the Blackhawks, Blues, and Avalanche will finish top three in the Central this season. Playoffs.

The St. Louis Blues goaltending was not a problem the last time NHL teams played a full 82 game schedule. In 2011-12 the Blues current tandem between the pipes – Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott – combined to win the Jennings trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) who allow the least amount of goals against over the course of a full NHL season. Last year the Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford and Ray Emery claimed the Jennings. This season, the Blues look to be on the verge of once again leading the league in goals against, however, as pointed out by the Edmonton Journal, the numbers can be deceiving.

In a blog by the Edmonton Journal, author Jim Matheson, with some help from Dave Leucking of mountaincitysports.com, pointed out that Halak and Elliott have faired poorly against top opponents in the Western Conference. He wrote:

“Courtesy of the Dave Leucking from mountaincitysports.com, the St. Louis Blues are 1-7 against the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks as they try to win the Western Conference. Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have a combined .833 save percentage in those games, with Halak pulled twice and Elliott once. Halak has been pulled four times this season, overall. The Blues have a great team, but they need a true starting goalie.”

Quote courtesy of the Edmonton Journal. Read full blog here.

What is not mentioned in the article is that Halak has won both games he’s played against the Chicago Blackhawks this season, however, one out of four isn’t that great.

Rumours have circulated throughout the season suggesting that Buffalo Sabres pending UFA netminder, Team USA goaltender, and former Vezina winner Ryan Miller is potentially available via trade and that the St. Louis Blues may be looking to acquire him. It’s all hearsay at this point, but the pieces fit if Blues management are as worried about goaltending as Matheson’s blog suggests they may be.

Big time trades for NHL goaltenders are hardly common – most clubs don’t readily unload value at such a crucial position. Grantland’s Sean McIndoe, also known as Down Goes Brown wrote a brilliant piece called “Net Worth” earlier this season. In it, McIndoe provides a fairly detailed history of goalie trades in the NHL over the last several years. Read McIndoe’s goalie trade article here.

If the Blues are after a starting goaltender to upgrade over Halak and Elliott, Miller is the only available candidate that makes sense. Long shot option Tim Thomas is a name I’ll throw out there, based on no evidence at all, however even that seems illogical. Why give up assets to acquire a goaltender unless you can be absolutely sure that goaltender is an upgrade over what you’ve already got? Only Miller is a clear upgrade.

If the Blues don’t make a change between the pipes, they are still one of the league’s top Stanley Cup contenders. If they do bring in Ryan Miller, it’s logical to surmise that their status as Cup threats increases, as long as they aren’t forced to unload key components off the roster they currently employ – a roster that is extremely difficult to play against.