When St. Louis acquired Ryan Miller in a deal that involved Jaroslav Halak going back to Buffalo, the Blues didn’t envision a first round exit. They didn’t think the American Olympian would have an .897 post-season save percentage, they didn’t predict a 12-12-1 post-trade record and they certainly couldn’t have imagined the hometown fans giving the all-star netminder the Bronx Cheer in Round 1.
But that all happened – and now it’s hard to see the Blues moving forward with Ryan Miller as their goalie.
Miller started very hot and ended very cold in a Blues jersey, allowing three goals or more in 15 of his last 21 games. To give you an idea of how disastrous this trade turned out to be, Miller allowed three goals or more in 20 of his 40 games with the Sabres this season.
The implosion of the Blues, after taking a 2-0 series lead, isn’t completely on Miller, but he doesn’t escape blame. The 33-year-old was the second best goalie in a tightly contested series and didn’t make the difference he was supposed to. In fact, he had the opposite effect. Miller allowed too many softies and though this goal came on a breakaway, it was a weak back-breaker to allow in a four-goal third period that ended the Blues season on a flat note.
Would Jaroslav Halak have done better? Down the stretch with Washington (where he ended up after the Sabres traded him), Halak posted a save percentage 27 points higher and a GAA .16 lower than Miller did behind one of the best checking teams in the league. He’s also had a rather successful post-season past and, when you consider Chris Stewart was also sent away in the same trade, it’s hard to justify the move in hindsight.
But what this series – and this season – really showed is that the Blues lack the game-breaking goal scorer needed to upend a team with as much talent as Chicago. Vladimir Tarasenko looks like he will be that player once he grows up in the NHL a little longer, but by letting Miller walk this summer, the Blues would leave themselves room to get another goal scorer with more experience. In shedding Miller’s $5 million and Derek Roy’s $4 million, St. Louis would have a lot of cap room to chase after the asset they need most. With or without that player, St. Louis will still be a force in the West next regular season, so they can even bide their time and acquire him mid-way through 2014-15, or at next year’s deadline.
(The Blues could also trade Miller’s rights at the draft, but if they do, expect them to pull the trigger after they pick in the first round. As part of the deal with Buffalo, if St. Louis re-signs Miller or trades him before their first round pick, they have to surrender the selection to the Sabres.)
You can expect Miller’s cap hit on a new deal to be $6-$7 million, which won’t be worth it for the Blues because a) they’d have to give up their first round pick to Buffalo and b) even without Miller, St. Louis has the goaltending good enough to stand up behind its defense. Jake Allen was this season’s AHL goaltender of the year and deserves to graduate to the NHL, so the real decision the Blues need to make is whether or not to re-sign Brian Elliott to be Allen’s veteran backup. If it’s not Elliott, the Blues will need to find one this summer – but it won’t cut into their cap room much.
And if the Blues keep Miller, it wouldn’t do anything to invigorate a fan base that clearly wasn’t happy with the acquisition.
The Blues need to take advantage of the vast cap room they will have and save it for the roster upgrade they really need: a game-breaking goal scorer.