As it always seems to be with the St. Louis Blues, goaltending is one of the biggest question marks for the team heading into the offseason. The Blues have a couple of choices to make, despite already confirming their decision on one-half of their tandem for next year.
General Manager Doug Armstrong, in a postseason meeting with the media on Tuesday, said what had already been suspected for most of the season. According to Armstrong, Jake Allen will be a full-timer with the Blues next season and for the foreseeable future.
“Jake Allen is going to be here next year,” Armstrong said. “He’s earned that right. He’s a top American League goalie. He’s got that team in the playoffs now and we are going to see how far he can take it. He will be one of two. Who his partner will be will be discussed at the appropriate time, which will be over the next few weeks.”
Two weeks ago, Allen was named the American Hockey League’s goaltender of the year. He led the entire AHL in wins (33), shutouts (6), goals against average (2.03), and save percentage (.928). He became the second AHL goaltender since 1984-85 to lead in all four of those categories. Now, Allen is leading the Chicago Wolves into postseason play, but his performance there will not change the Blues’ mind. Allen will be in the NHL next season.
“We are having Jake Allen come in here next year competing for starts,” said Armstrong. “Jake Allen’s partner is going to have to hold Jake Allen out. Jake Allen is going to have to compete with his partner for ice time.”
But the team is much less certain as to who Allen will be competing with. There are multiple options, and Armstrong will be discussing them with his staff over the next three weeks. By June, they will have decided what direction they want to head. However, they aren’t the only ones who will have a say in the process.
One of the options, and perhaps the one the Blues have the most interest in pursuing, is bringing back Ryan Miller, who the club traded for at the deadline. According to TSN, the Blues reached out to Miller’s agent, Mike Liut, a month ago expressing their interest in re-signing the goalie. But talks before the end of the regular-season were never serious.
Miller is expected to wait until July 1 to make a decision on his next destination, but a return to St. Louis is not out of the question.
“Yeah (I would be interested returning),” said Miller. “We’ll have to see where we are at. We will have to see how they feel about me. I definitely like St. Louis. I like the guys, like the team. But we will see what they feel about the playoffs.”
If Miller were to re-sign with the Blues, he would be the Blues’ No. 1 goaltender and Allen would back him up. Brian Elliott would not return to the team in that situation. However, this is a situation where the Blues would want Allen to be a starter in the next 2-3 years, so a contract with Miller is unlikely to exceed that time frame.
If the Blues choose to avoid paying Miller a hefty sum or the goaltender chooses to sign elsewhere, another option they have is to use an Allen/Elliott tandem, showing much more faith in the young Allen to lead the team. However, there is no guarantee that Elliott would be willing to return to St. Louis, as it has been suggested that he has proven himself enough over the past few seasons to earn a starting role with another team. In this case, the Blues would have to scour the market for another goalie.
But it is believed that the Blues would prefer the safer option, which is Miller. But they don’t know at this point if that is a reality.
“It’s a two-way street with Ryan at this time,” said Armstrong. “He has opportunities. I want to sit and talk with him, get feelings about our organization, how he felt about coming in. Where he thinks we are at and if he has any interest being in St. Louis.”
Armstrong is expected to sit down with Miller and talk about each side’s goals moving forward in the next couple of weeks, but nothing overly definitive is likely to come at that time, which could mean the Blues won’t know which direction they will be heading until early July.
The Blues received a lot of flak following their first-round elimination for trading for the 33-year old goalie at the deadline. Miller was brought in to steal games and win, which he didn’t do in the playoffs. But Armstrong blamed the loss on the team, not any one player and he stands by his decision to acquire Miller.
“As a management group, at the trade deadline, you want to assess your team and you don’t want to spend fool’s gold,” said Armstrong. “We believed that being neutral would be fine unless we could make one trade to get the goalie. I think that Ryan wasn’t the reason this series ended in six.
“As a team, we didn’t get the job done. He’s certainly part of that, but he’s not a scapegoat for this. It would be disingenuous to even go down that path. He gave us an opportunity.”
Either way, the team will have to choose who they want as Allen’s partner in the next few weeks, and hope that they get what they want. Otherwise, it will be another season of uncertainty in net.