(HockeyStL) - It was Jaroslav Halak or Ryan Miller. That’s all it ever came down to in the Blues’ eyes. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong had his preference, but leading up to the Olympic break, he wasn’t sure which route he would be going. But then things came together in a flash.
Armstrong and Buffalo general manager Tim Murray put the finishing touches on what is likely going to be the biggest trade of the year on Friday afternoon, as the Blues sent Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, and two draft picks to Buffalo in exchange for Miller and Buffalo captain Steve Ott. For a trade of this magnitude, it came together rather quickly.
The Blues have had their sights set on the 33-year old Miller for nearly a year. The Olympic goaltender has been on the trading block for some time, but recently Murray openly admitted that he would be moving the goalie. Armstrong and Murray had discussions leading up to the Olympic break, but a two-week hiatus was enforced by the League. Following the break, the two sides re-converged and put together the blockbuster deal.
“I would say (talks heated up) post-Olympics,” said Armstrong on Friday. “There had been talks at different times, not just about these two players, but about trades in general and I think everything was discussed prior to the Olympics. When we got back, Tim had done an excellent job of seeing what direction he wanted to go and when he called me we discussed the potential. It didn’t take very long because he had done his homework and we had done ours.”
The Blues had been doing their homework for quite a while. They had a scout sitting in on a large chunk of Buffalo’s games this season, but in reality, Miller’s history gave the Blues enough motivation to grab the goaltender.
“Obviously the resume of Ryan Miller speaks for itself,” said Armstrong. “We just think that this gives us a better opportunity to have success this year and keep our prime assets.”
In the days leading up to the Olympic break, the price for Miller started to become clearer. Buffalo wanted a roster player, a prospect and a first round pick. Due to insufficient cap space, that kind of deal would not work for the Blues, who were sitting close to the cap ceiling. That’s why the trade had to be bigger than just Miller.
The deal also had to accommodate the Blues in another regard. Armstrong made it clear to Murray who his club’s untouchables were. He also made it clear that certain young assets were off limits. That was non-negotiable, and when Murray complied, the deal became doable.
“There were a few players that were discussed that we wouldn’t part with,” said Armstrong. We were able to keep guys like Jake Allen, Dmitrij Jaskin and a few others. When we were able to keep those players it seemed like a deal that made sense for us.”
Murray said in an interview with Sportsnet this week that he did not require a goaltender in return for Miller, but it only made sense that if the Blues were going to acquire Miller they would be shipping Halak off.
But it wasn’t because the Blues didn’t have faith in Halak. He put up significant numbers in his four seasons with the Blues. He set a new franchise record for shutouts, he shared a Jennings Trophy with Brian Elliott, and was a significant factor in the team’s success the past few seasons. But the Blues couldn’t pass up the opportunity to grab the elite Miller.
“It was more of what I’ve seen from Miller in the past than what we didn’t see here in St. Louis,” said Armstrong. “I look at our team and what Jaro has accomplished in his time here (and it’s amazing). He is the franchise leader in shutouts, we won a Jennings Trophy, we are third in goals against in the League. This isn’t an area that I felt was a concern, or an area that we were looking to improve on except for one player.”
Miller comes to St. Louis after spending 11 seasons with the Sabres, who drafted him in 1999. The two-time Olympian has a .916 career save percentage, along with a 2.60 goals against average. Miller also has 284 wins in 540 career games. Aside from obvious edge in experience, Miller’s statistics in comparison with Halak’s don’t look all that different. But then again, there are a number of ways statistics can be skewed in this case.
Miller hasn’t played on the same caliber team as Halak over the past few years. He also is regarded around the league as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL, and perhaps the world. It’s an upgrade for the Blues. How much remains to be seen, but any upgrade is still an upgrade.
“I think Ryan Miller’s career stats and his stats this year made me feel that it might only be a five or six percent upgrade, but it is an upgrade and I believe that’s how you get better, in small increments,” Armstrong said.
Miller is in the final year of a five-year, $31.25 million contract, at the end of which he will become an unrestricted free agent. His free agency status is why the Sabres wanted to move him. Miller wants to continue to play for a contender, so it’s believed he would be open to negotiating an extension with the Blues. Armstrong is open to that idea as well, but a little further down the road.
“It’s something that we will certainly discuss at the appropriate time,” said Armstrong. “If we can talk to Ryan about extensions at some point we will certainly do that, but this deal was made on the here and now. We will worry about the future after the season.”
The Blues also have rookie goalie Jake Allen in the American Hockey League, ready for his chance with the parent club. Allen’s contract converts to a one-way deal next season and he will very likely be with the Blues.
“We really believe that Jake Allen is the goalie of the future,” Armstrong said. “When you look at his numbers this year in the American Hockey League they are second to none.”
That being said, the Blues did not give up such a significant load to Buffalo to simply let Miller walk to unrestricted free agency. They will, in all likelihood, be reaching out to Miller in due time to talk about an extension.
Armstrong indicated that he would reach out to Ott about an extension, as well.
Ott, 31, like Miller, is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Blues didn’t just acquire Ott for logistic purposes, but also because he fits their team model precisely.
“I think Steve gives Ken some versatility. He can play center, he can play the left side,” said Armstrong. He’s a player that is playing over19 minutes in Buffalo. I don’t think he will command that much time with our group right now with the depth we have there. But he’s a player that has that playoff pedigree. His style of play transfers nicely into the playoffs. I think he will certainly play in our group of nine.”
Miller and Ott will join the Blues in Phoenix on Saturday and are expected to play their first games with the team on Sunday.
Armstrong, once again bolstered his team at the deadline, but this time he has put the finishing touches on what he now considers a Stanley Cup contender.
“Making the playoffs is no longer the goal,” he said. “This gives us a better opportunity to have success in the playoffs and that is why we made the trade.”