Although mismanaged and unfair to the point that the situation makes Mike Keenan look like a goaltending savant, the Brian Elliott situation at long last has come to loggerheads. Lou Korac recently tweeted his impression that Brian Elliott wants out. Despite logic, coaching was influenced into playing Jake Allen for the playoffs, tough sledding for a young guy with enormous team expectations in tow. Even more humorously, GM Doug Armstrong envisions an Allen/Elliott tandem, which at the outset is problematic. The team must anoint and stick with a true starter and backup, not continue to play mind games with their goalies.
You know, like most Cup winning teams do.
Provided Elliott makes the logical decision to improve his professional outlook and abandon the St. Louis goaltending circus, the question then becomes who the team targets in the offseason. We’ll explore options not only for potential starters, but promising backups/mentors to push young Allen to newer heights.
By far the biggest name out there is Antti Neimi, but the recent lack of enthusiasm displayed by San Jose fans mirrors that of Elliott. Looking at the numbers, Elliott (albeit playing on a superior team) has put up better numbers than Niemi, and he’s cheaper to boot. Assuming however that Elliott demands out and once Vladimir Tarasenko is signed, Armstrong may look at Niemi as a stopgap replacement, although it’s unclear whether he’s superior than Allen. What is established is Niemi can win in the playoffs, earning a Cup in Chicago a few years back. Ironically, Devan Dubnyk is also UFA this summer, although it’s highly unlikely Minnesota lets that genie back in the bottle — especially to a division rival. Most intriguing is Cam Talbot, a guy that nearly made Henrik Lundqvist look expendable mid-season. Talbot made about $560k last season, so anything around $3M is a massive raise, about what Elliott makes now and is fair given his small body of work. Talbot could be either a diamond in the rough for the Blues, or yet another backup-cum-graduate that falls flat in the Note.
Potential Trade Targets
Unfortunately, many goaltenders dangled as potential trade bait happen to be guys that other teams don’t know what to do with — or are unsure of their potential. Of those, perhaps none are more prominent than Bruins prospect Malcom Subban, a high-profile name primarily due to his brother rather than any real hockey achievement. Ottawa has a few too many goalies as well, and seem to be comfortable staying with proven Craig Anderson and 2015 hero Andrew Hammond, jettisoning former “next one” Robin Lehner. The latter seems to be the most valuable to Ottawa and enticing to the Blues, at one point threatening to overtake Anderson as the starter a couple years ago. However, his slipping play and reliability of Anderson and Hammond might make Lehner the odd man out. That lack of reliability however is precisely what the Blues seek to avoid. Veteran Cam Ward is another option, a proven Cup winner that can play the majority of games and won’t lose many on his own. He’s been down the playoff road before, and although in the later stages of his career would not allow the goals Jake Allen allowed due to nerves and uncertainty. Although a significant cap hit at around $6M (which Armstrong would not absorb all of), he would not necessarily be a long-term option, wouldn’t need to play a ton during the regular season and has the experience to get it done with this Blues team. The highest-profile name is Jonathan Bernier from Toronto, only on this list because Toronto has no idea where to begin with their rebuild and, like Blues fans, blames their goaltending for most of their problems. He would not come cheap, but would stop the conversation outside of the GTA of a perceived weakness in goal for St. Louis. Once the heir apparent in Los Angeles, Bernier has the pedigree, posting solid save percentages behind weak Toronto team defense.
It’s unfortunate that this conversation even needs to take place. Another premature exit, more blame aimed at goaltending and a potentially disgruntled Elliott all add up to this. It’s known that the Blues must shore up their scoring, either through adding a more creative coaching staff or moving in new players. However, the Elliott situation may be forcing itself into the forefront, despite the fact that goaltending isn’t the weakness armchair GMs declare it to be.