In one fell swoop today, St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong clarified the team’s goaltending picture for next season, cleared much-needed salary cap space for the team’s offseason objectives, and made the pathway to re-signing team captain Alex Pietrangelo clearer. And yet, in St. Louis, many fans’ response to the news was bittersweet, because in doing so, Armstrong traded a goaltender whose legacy in St. Louis dates back over a decade.
The Blues traded backup goaltender Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens for a third-round pick and an improved position in the seventh round (as the teams swapped seventh-round selections). In so doing, they cleared his $4.35 million salary cap hit for the 2020-21 season and opened a space for youngster Ville Husso to play at the NHL level. But the fact that this deal makes sense for the Blues will not make the reality of a future without Allen an easier pill for many fans to swallow. For some, his presence in net is all they have ever known.
The Goalie of the Future of the Past
When the Blues spent a high second-round draft pick on Allen in 2008, they were drafting a goalie with a ton of athleticism and even more promise. Allen had an off-and-on season in the QMJHL with the St. John’s Fog Devils, but he broke through with Canada’s U-18 team. In seven World Junior Championship (WJC) games, he had a 1.43 goals-against average (GAA) and a .948 save percentage (SV%), leading Canada to gold and being named tournament MVP in the process, joining a list of impressive names.
Allen got more and more impressive in the QMJHL, relocating with St. John to Montreal, where he will now play again. Eventually, the Montreal Juniors traded him to the Drummondville Voltigeurs immediately after Allen participated in the U-20 WJC, this time helping Canada take silver. In that season, the Canadian Hockey League named Allen its goaltender of the year. He would move onto the American Hockey League (AHL) and excel there with the Peoria Rivermen and Chicago Wolves. He would eventually be named that league’s best goaltender in 2013-14.
Through it all, Allen became the clear frontrunner to be the Blues’ longterm goaltender of the future, and he likely would have arrived much sooner had the franchise not also had Ben Bishop in development and found a winning lottery ticket with Brian Elliott.
Allen finally got his first regular NHL work in the 2014-15 season, splitting time with Elliott and even legendary goalkeeper Martin Brodeur for a brief period. He played in 37 games, won 22 of them, and had a .913 SV% and a 2.28 GAA with four shutouts. He looked to be every bit the young star that was promised, and from there, it was off to the races for his career.
Allen’s Place in the Record Books
Over the ensuing five seasons, Allen served in different roles in multiple tandems. At times he was the standalone starter, at others a clear backup. He seemed to thrive best as part of a strong tandem, where neither goalie was considered the full-time starter. But as much as can and has been said about Allen’s struggles with the Blues, there’s no disputing his place in team history.
All told, Allen played 289 games with the Blues, starting 271 of those. He went 148-94-26 in those opportunities with 21 shutouts, and finished his St. Louis career with a .913 SV% and a 2.50 GAA. He added an additional 23 playoff starts, in which he was 11-12, but with an impressive .924 SV% and a 2.06 GAA.
With the Blues, who have always had difficulty finding a longterm goaltending solution, that puts Allen second all-time in games played, behind Mike Liut (347). He finished second in wins, just three behind Liut’s 151. He also finished second in shutouts, four behind Elliott’s 25. Only Brent Johnson, among goalies who played more than 10 playoff games with the Blues, surpassed Allen in postseason GAA or SV%. With one more solid season, Allen would likely have been the most statistically significant goalie in team history. So why did this trade happen now?
Pietrangelo and Husso in 2020-21
There are two clear reasons that the Blues made this move now. The biggest is team captain Pietrangelo, who is fast approaching unrestricted free agency in just over a month. The Blues were pressed up against the salary cap ceiling, and quite simply needed the $4.35 million in space that trading Allen affords them. It hardly makes the Pietrangelo extension a done deal. They’ll need to clear more space and resolve term and compensation disagreements. But this was an inevitable step in that process.
The other benefit of this deal is that AHL goaltender Ville Husso, who in some ways assumed Allen’s place as the goaltender of the future for the Blues, will now have an opportunity to play NHL minutes. The Finnish netminder was surpassed unexpectedly by journeyman Jordan Binnington during the 2018-19 season, but the Blues need to see what Husso has now, or they will never know what might have been. Husso signed a two-year, one-way contract earlier this year.
Some might wonder how the deal makes sense for the Canadiens, who already had the highest goaltending payroll in the league with the salary of Carey Price alone. Now, they owe a whopping $15.6 million, almost 20 percent of the salary cap, to these two goalies. But Allen is the perfect fit in Montreal, where he returns to his QMJHL roots. The Canadiens have needed a backup who can prevent Price from playing 60 games for years. Now they have one who could be a longterm fit with their franchise at the right price.
A Fond Farewell
Despite the controversy that at times plagued Allen in St. Louis, no one is eager to see him go. He is a top goalie in franchise history, a Stanley Cup champion, and a quality teammate who quickly adapted to a backup role last season in the Blues’ road to the Cup. But this deal made sense for all parties involved. It’s a fresh start for Allen in Quebec, and a fresh opportunity to prove just how valuable a goaltender he is with free agency approach after the 2020-21 season.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.