Friday, February 28, 2014

Blues, Sabres swap goalies in multi-player trade

Blockbuster trade nets St. Louis Ryan Miller, Steve 
Ott for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, prospect, picks

ST. LOUIS -- General manager Doug Armstrong felt like the opportunity was there to improve the overall makeup of the Blues.

It was a large price to pay, but it was one worth it for Armstrong, who made the blockbuster trade with the Buffalo Sabres for goalie Ryan Miller and power forward Steve Ott. Going to the Sabres will be goalie Jaroslav Halak, power forward Chris Stewart as well as prospect William Carrier, a 2015 first-round pick as well as a 2016 third-round pick.

"We're looking to improve our team any way we can," Armstrong said via conference call prior to the Blues facing the Anaheim Ducks Friday night. "The thought of getting the grit and determination of a Steve Ott and Ryan Miller is a name that speaks for itself. 
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
The Blues acquired goalie Ryan Miller (30) on Friday night.

"We just think this gives us a better opportunity to have success this year and it also allows us to keep our prime assets. There's a few players that were discussed we wouldn't part with, some of our signed players that are currently with our team. We wanted to keep the guys like Jake Allen, Dmitrij Jaskin and maybe one or two other players. When we were able to keep those players, it seemed like a deal that made sense for us."

Among those prime assets Armstrong said teams haven't inquired about are 2010 first-round picks Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko because "quite honestly, no one asked for them because they know the answer going into it," Armstrong said. "The goal going into this was we weren't going to move any of the younger players, like a Tarasenko, like a Schwartz."

Miller, who represented the United States for the second time at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, comes to the Blues with a 15-22-3 record with a 2.72 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. His name had been linked to the Blues since Sabres general manager Tim Murray publicly said that Miller likely would be dealt at some point prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.

In 540 NHL games, all with Buffalo, Miller is 284-186-56 with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .916 save-percentage. The Sabres will pick up the difference between Miller and Halak's salary differences, which amounts to be $1.75 million. 

"I am very excited for an opportunity to have a new adventure, to have a new opportunity," an emotional Miller told reporters in Buffalo. "I have a strong sense that they have a very special team. They work hard. I got to know some of the guys on that team with the USA program and competing against some of those guys. You get to know them and they have a very strong, competitive spirit. I look forward to joining that group there."

Halak, who was acquired in 2010 from the Montreal Canadiens for Lars Eller and prospect Ian Schultz, is in the final year of a four-year, $15 million contract and was 24-9-4 with a 2.23 GAA and .917 save percentage. He never got the opportunity to backstop the Blues in the playoffs. Halak was injured in 2012 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks. He leaves the Blues with a mark of 83-47-19 in four seasons.

"It was more of what I've seen of Miller in the past than what we didn't see here in St. Louis," Armstrong said. "I look at our team and I look at all what Jaro has accomplished in his time here. I think he's leaving as the franchise leader in shutouts (20), won a Jennings Trophy [in 2011-12], we were third in goals against in the League. 

"This wasn't an area that was a concern or an area we were looking to improve on except for one player. I think Ryan Miller's career stats and his season this year made me feel it might only be a five- or a six-percent upgrade, but it's an upgrade and I believe that's how you get better is getting better in small increments. We believe that this makes us a little better. If it wasn't Ryan Miller, I was very content with the goaltending tandem that we had going into the playoffs."

Halak, 28, declined to speak at the team's hotel lobby Friday night -- he was scheduled to start against the Ducks -- but did leave a final thought, "You're getting a good goalie. Good luck in the playoffs."

Talks between Armstrong and Murray really picked up once the Sochi Olympics were finished.

"There have been talks at different times and not just about these two players but about trades in general," Armstrong said. "Lots of different things were discussed prior to the Olympics. ... Tim had done an outstanding job in what direction he wanted to go. When he called me and we discussed the potential, it didn't take very long because he had done his homework and we had done ours. It happened very quickly post-Olympics."

Miller is also an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and had a no-trade clause with a $6.25 million salary-cap charge. An extension at this time with Miller or Ott, also a pending unrestricted free agent, have been discussed.

"It's something that we'll certainly discuss at the appropriate time, but we really believe that Jake Allen is the goalie of the future for the Blues," Armstrong said. "We think he's done everything he can. When you look at his numbers this year in the American (Hockey) League, they're second to none. If we can talk to Ryan and Steve at some point about extensions, we can do that. But this deal was made on the here and now. We'll worry about the future after the season."

The Blues have been eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings in each of the previous two Stanley Cup Playoffs, and goalie Jonathan Quick, who coincidentally teamed up with Quick for USA at the Sochi Olympics, has been a big culprit in eliminating the Blues.

"We ran into the best goaltender in the game in the last two years in Quick," Armstrong said. "I saw that firsthand again at the Olympics for Team USA. I thought he was outstanding in the game against Canada. He's an elite player, but we need to try to move past him, we need to try to move past the competition to get to him quite honestly. I just think this gives us a better opportunity to have better success in the playoffs and that's why I made the trade."

Ott has nine goals and 20 points in 59 games for the Sabres this season and in essence, replaces Stewart, who has 15 goals and 26 points in 58 games.

"I think Steve gives Ken (Hitchcock) some versatility," Armstrong said. "He can play center, he can play on the left side, he's a player that's obviously playing over 19 minutes in Buffalo. I don't think he'll command that much ice time with our group right now because of the depth we have here, but he's an antagonistic player. He's a player that has that playoff pedigree in the sense that his style of play transfers quite nicely into the playoffs. He'll certainly be in our group of nine."

Ott, 29, was Buffalo's captain but has an abundance of connections with the Blues from his days with the Dallas Stars, including Hitchcock, Armstrong, Brett Hull and Brenden Morrow.
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Steve Ott (9) was also part of the trade Friday night that brought the
former Buffalo Sabres captain to the Blues.

"We've kind of been prepared for this," Ott told reporters in Buffalo. "... I'm really excited to have this opportunity with St. Louis. My dream and my biggest goal to be a hockey player is to have an opportunity to have the chance at the Stanley Cup. I feel they have a great team.

"... Now I'm off to a new adventure."

The NHL Trade Deadline is on March 5th, but the Blues likely are done unless something jumps off the charts.

"You never say never, but I like the way our group is," Armstrong said. "We made a couple acquisitions over the summer and into the fall adding Brenden Morrow and Carlo Colaiacovo to our group. That gives us the necessary depth that we need. We have two players currently playing in the American Hockey League that were good players for us last year against L.A. in (Chris) Porter and (Adam) Cracknell. Having eight defensemen and the depth and Jake Allen as our third goalie, I don't see us needing to add any depth to our group right now. 

"Will there be another roster player trade? I don't see one. I'm not discussing one right now, but you never say never because I might get a call from one of the other 29 (general) managers with an idea I haven't thought of."

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