Monday, May 19, 2014

Blues bring back Elliott, say goodbye to Miller

Along with Jake Allen, goaltending tandem set for next season; 
deadline deal for Buffalo goalie ends with a steep price paid

ST. LOUIS -- Blues paid a hefty price when they made a bold trade to acquire goalie Ryan Miller near the NHL Trade Deadline this past season.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong stepped to the plate trying to hit a home run.

But after an unsuccessful run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that ended in a disappointing loss in the Western Conference First Round to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues are moving away from Miller and again turning to a familiar face.

And it's a guy that somehow seems to find his way back in the Blues' plans even when it seems like he'll be cast aside for the umpteenth time.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott resigned with the Blues on Monday and will team with
Jake Allen as the team's goaltending duo for the 2014-15 season. 

The Blues announced on Monday that they resigned goalie Brian Elliott to a three-year, $7.5 million extension ($2.3 million next season, $2.5 million in 2015-16 and $2.7 million in 2016-17) and will team Elliott with incumbent Jake Allen for the 2014-15 season, meaning Miller will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

The Blues acquired Miller and forward Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres for goalie Jaroslav Halak, right wing Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in 2015 and a third-round pick in 2016 that would have turned into a first rounder in 2014 had the Blues chosen to resign the 34-year-old or made it to the Western Conference Final. The 2014 first-round pick would have triggered the Sabres' 2014 second- and third-round picks coming back to the Blues.

However, the following provisions still remain:

If St. Louis trades Miller prior to the June 27 NHL Draft, the deal becomes the following: Miller, Ott, a 2014 second-round pick originally belonging to Minnesota and a 2014 third-rounder to St. Louis for Stewart, Halak, Carrier, the 2015 first-rounder, the 2016 third-round selection plus a 2014 first-round pick.

If St. Louis trades Miller after it makes its first-round pick and before the start of free agency July 1, the trade finalizes as Miller and Ott to the Blues for Stewart, Halak, Carrier, the 2015 first-round pick and a 2016 second-round selection.

But after Miller went 10-8-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .903 save percentage in the regular season and followed it up with a 2-4 record and 2.70 GAA and .897 save percentage against the Blackhawks, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong chose to move on with the tandem of Elliott and Allen, the American Hockey League goalie of the year this past season after playing for the Chicago Wolves.

But after going 7-0-1 in his first eight games with the Blues, Miller won five of his final 17 regular-season and playoff games.

"We took a calculated gamble of bringing in Ryan and we didn't have the success that we needed as an organization," Armstrong said in a conference call. "Certainly it was not all reflected on Ryan. It's a team game and as an organization, we're all responsible, but it was additional payments necessary to Buffalo if we signed Ryan that would have basically meant moving back a full round in the draft from a first to a second round and adding a third-round pick. We just felt at this time it was better for us to go with Elliott and go with Jake Allen. They provide us with a good tandem as we move forward."

Miller was considered the missing piece for the Blues, who felt like they had the necessary tools in all other areas to make a deep postseason run, and perhaps win the franchise's first Stanley Cup with the addition of Miller. But after a great start to his stint as a Blue, it never materialized.

Armstrong said conversations between Miller and his camp, including agent MIke Liut, took place last week and although the Blues' GM would not discuss specifics, a source indicated that Miller's monetary asking price was too steep for the Blues to move forward with. 

"I had a meeting with Ryan at the end of the year," Armstrong said. "I told him I'd get in touch with him. I talked to him last week. We've gone in this direction and we're excited with the tandem we have.

"We certainly gave up quite a bit to get Ryan. ... That's why the trade was made. It didn't work out that way obviously. This job is about second-guessing. That's the industry that I've chosen to be in. You make calculated decisions. You move forward, If they work, you're hailed as a genius. If they don't work, you're a dummy. We took a swing and at the end of the day, we didn't accomplish what we needed to.

"... I don't know if it's perplexing. We brought in a goaltender with experience. We felt it was going to give us a better opportunity to play against the upper echelon teams. Probably one of the issues that we had, we thought we have to face the Chicago Blackhawks at some point. Our slide at the end of the year for a host of reasons made us face them in the first round and we didn't get by as an organization. It's certainly very painful and very disappointing."

The 29-year-old Elliott, who would have become an unrestricted free agent July 1, has done nothing but win since joining the Blues prior to the 2011-12 season. His 23-10-4 record with a League-leading 1.56 GAA and .940 save percentage in 2011-12 was part of the tandem with Halak that helped the pair win the NHL's Jennings Trophy.

Elliott is 55-24-7 in three seasons with the Blues. He went 18-6-4 with a 1.96 GAA and .922 save percentage this past season but was on the bench during the Blues' postseason run.

"When I talked to him at the end of the season, his desire was to go to an organization where he could compete as a No. 1 goaltender and now we provide him with that," Armstrong said of Elliott. "He came here as an unknown and if you look at his save percentage and his goals-against average and his win-loss record, his numbers are very good. He's been through the maturation.

"When we got to the trade deadline, we didn't make a move because we didn't believe in (Elliott). We made a move because we thought Miller could make a difference and take us to the Stanley Cup. That hasn't happened and not we move forward as an organization. Brian Elliott has done everything asked of him."

For Elliott, it's a chance to begin a season as the true No. 1 after sharing the spotlight with Halak the past three seasons. Heading into the summer, that's all he was looking for.

"I think I've made a reputation throughout the league as a hard-working guy that can come in and win big games and do a lot for a team," Elliott said recently. "It's about trying to make that next step and try to be a No. 1. 

"Like I always say, if you don't prepare and go into a summer and an individual workout in that summer and say, 'This is to be a backup,' you're not doing yourself justice. You always want to try and push yourself and get to the next level. Whether it's attainable or not, you have to push it."

With Elliott, whose contract kicks in at a $2.5 million cap hit per season (a raise of $1.9 million salary from last season) and Allen, whose contract will pay him $850,000 ($800,000 cap hit), the Blues have $3.3 million in cap space tied up in their goaltending, which should free up monetary figures for the team to pursue necessary ingredients to help them offensively, which was a telling reason they've been eliminated the past two seasons.

"I would say that there's larger unknown in our goaltending than there has been over the last three years," Armstrong said. "Jaro Halak was a proven goaltender when he came in. He and Elliott obviously found a good rhythm together. But now we're bringing in Jake Allen, the American Hockey League goaltender of the year. His numbers are outstanding. We had a chance to watch him. He's an NHL goaltender now and he's got to come in and grab the ball and run with it. I just think that's a good tandem for us and it's going to be really good competition. I think our organization, we have our greatest success when we have competition internal.

"We're always trying to improve our team and if we can do that, you look at there's still six weeks before July 1st; you never know who's going to be there," Armstrong said. "... We have to make good, strong, calculated business decisions on July 1st and if we can improve our team on that date, we will. But it's going to have to be in the feeling that it's something that it improves us for the term of the contract."

Although Armstrong may have struck out with the Miller trade, there is no second-guessing. He'd do it all over again.

"Of course I would," he said. "... You get to the trade deadline, you look at your options and you assess what is that difference you can make in a positive or a negative way. Obviously you're looking to make a positive move. The consensus was that Ryan Miller would upgrade our team -- internal consensus -- and it was a decision that we felt we wanted to make to try and push for the Stanley Cup. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
After being acquired near the trade deadline, Ryan Miller (right) and the
Blues will part ways  after only 19 regular season and six playoff games.

"Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time, I felt comfortable with the deal, and at the end of the day we didn't get where we wanted to as an organization, so it certainly was a lot to give up for 20-some-odd games and six playoff games."

The Blues are still in search of a goalie coach after Corey Hirsch was not brought back. They have filled one assistant coaching position with the addition of former Carolina Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller, who replaced Gary Agnew, who also was chosen not to be resigned.

"No, we're in a process now, certainly like to have everything coaching-wise wrapped up by the draft," Armstrong said regarding a goalie coach. "But getting Muller signed was the No. 1 priority. There's not the rush for the goalie coach ... there doesn't seem to be that many teams that are in the same position as we are right now. We're working through it on a day to day basis, we're talking to people, we're interviewing people, but we're not in any rush to do something this week."

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