It’s not that the decision to re-sign Brian Elliott defies logic, it’s the circular and strange decision making that led to this point, and this decision. Let’s look at the Blues goaltending saga in its entirety, because after all, inconsistent play from the goalie position is something they have been dealing with since the Clinton Administration.
First, A Little Bit of History
As it stands, the St. Louis Blues are one of only 11 teams in the National Hockey League that have yet to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup. After having the pleasure of seeing the greatest coach in the game — Scotty Bowman — lead the Blues to three straight Stanley Cup Finals — although they lost all three — in the franchise’s first three years in existence, the Blues have a history eerily similar to that of the much maligned San Jose Sharks franchise.
Having made the playoffs in 35 of 43 seasons since Scotty Bowman, the Blues have yet to return to the Stanley Cup Finals, and have only reached the Conference Finals twice. The oft-picked-on Sharks have, in their 22-year team history, made the playoffs 17 times, reaching the Conference Finals three times, while having yet to reach a Stanley Cup Final. At the height of this problem for the Blues has been inconsistent and below average play from the goaltender position.
In our world we use two different distinctions, depending on your religious beliefs. There is BC – Before Christ and BCE – Before Common Era. For the Blues, they have a third one. BCJ – Before Curtis Joseph. And of course, their “AD” stands for “After Dealt”, when, in 1995 Curtis Joseph was traded with the rights to Mike Grier for two first round picks, in what was one of the biggest blockbusters — and worst trades — of the decade. The first of those two picks became Marty Reasoner, while the other became Matt Zultek, a pick that was used in a package deal to acquire Wayne Gretzky from the Los Angeles Kings.
The Goalie Position: A Historic Problem
Since save percentage tracking began in 1983, the St. Louis Blues goalie problems can be neatly organized side by side with the NHL average. Only once, before and after Curtis Joseph came to town, did the St. Louis Blues tally years where their goalies combined for a save percentage above league average in back-to-back years. Overall, the years in which their tandem save percentage (since tracking began) was better than league average: 1984, 1985, 1990-through-1993 — CuJo years –, 1999, and 2011.
Therefore, since we all know that save percentage is the most important goalie statistic, — and oh by the way the heading picture for that article is none other than Brian Elliott — why did the St. Louis brass decide that acquiring the emptiness that is Steve Ott, and renting Ryan Miller and his .915 career save percentage was worth trading Jaroslav Halak — and his .918 career save percentage, including .916 in four years with the Blues — two first round draft picks, Chris Stewart and prospect William Carrier for?
All this for what? To acquire a goaltender in Ryan Miller who has had by all accounts a much better year than Halak. Miller was
excellent in Sochi, and had posted a .923 save percentage to date over the 40 games he started before being acquired by St. Louis. Everything made sense, he posts a .923 save percentage for the Sabres — by all accounts an improved defensive team under Ted Nolan, but not to the level of the Blues — so it would stand to reason that he would post even better numbers with a St. Louis team that has one of the best defenses in all of hockey, right? Whereas Halak was struggling with a great defensive team in St. Louis, and surely he would only be worse in the defensive hell-hole that is the Washington Capitals… right? Wrong, Halak posted a .930 save percentage in 12 games with the Capitals, bringing his season mark up to .919, right in line with his career average.
So this brings us back to the problem, the Ryan Miller trade was an act of sheer desperation. They were praying that a veteran goaltender who has enjoyed success on the biggest stages, would not succumb to the pressure of the NHL playoffs. Oh crap, that’s another narrative too, because Halak has a career playoff save percentage of .923, whereas Miller’s is .915.
Blues Re-sign Brian Elliott: The Jake Allen Dilemma
All this analysis, and we still haven’t discussed the fact that the Blues were ignoring quite possibly their best option all along in Brian Elliott. Elliott has posted a .927 save percentage during his short three-year tenure with the Blues. Perhaps the Blues were worried about a small sample size, or the fact that Elliott has a career playoff save percentage of .898, all whilst completely ignoring the fact that most if not all of those bad numbers were accrued before he turned 26 years old.
Now the Jake Allen problem. The 23-year-old net-minder will turn 24 before the start of next season, and he deserves a promotion, and will be on only a one-way contract next season. My question is that why did the Blues take this risk on Ryan Miller in the first place? The math and the numbers said before-hand that it wouldn’t work out in the long run, based on Halak’s post-season success. Again, the Miller / Halak trade, was one of desperation, and one that sets this franchise back yet again as they continue to pursue the first cup in their franchise’s history. Why take this backwards, circular route to end up deciding that Brian Elliott was your guy all along? Halak was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and this route could’ve been the end result without losing the picks and Chris Stewart.