Blues make bold move, affect Western landscape
Over the last two seasons, the St. Louis Blues relied on a goaltending platoon of Jarsolav Halak and Brian Elliott that come playoff time leaned entirely on Elliott, who had appeared in as many as 45 NHL games only once in seven seasons.
The Blues were 6-9 in the playoffs over those two seasons. While the team allowed a respectable 2.33 goals per game, the goaltending wasn’t necessarily stealing any games as St. Louis’ postseason campaigns were derailed by Los Angeles in consecutive seasons.
A team that averages 3.26 goals per game while relying on a versatile defense, an excellent forecheck and 200-foot game, the Blues opened the NHL’s trading season by making a bold move to upgrade its goaltending. On Friday, the Blues acquired netminder Ryan Miller and gritty, character forward Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Halak, forward Chris Stewart, forward prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in 2015 and a third-round draft pick in 2016.
St. Louis was the most logical fit for Miller, a 33-year-old bound for unrestricted free agency. As for Ott, he’ll reinforce the Blues’ reputation as a team that’s difficult to play against.
Buffalo now has four first round picks over the next two drafts. It is likely the NHL’s last place team will continue to make moves in advance of the March 5 trading deadline.
I’m told there aren’t likely to be any more BUF moves tonite. I’d say BUF will try to flip Jaro Halak to MIN and Chris Stewart to OTT.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 1, 2014
There are significant ramifications for this deal, which shifts the West’s balance of power in their favor in advance of subsequent moves. As of now, this trade puts St. Louis, which leads the NHL with a plus-60 goal differential, at or near the top of the West’s hierarchy.
The Kings finished their season series against the Blues with a 2-1-0 record, so there are no immediate in-season ramifications. Still, even with Miller, St. Louis is seen as a preferred postseason opponent to Chicago, a team that knocked Los Angeles out of the playoffs last season and creates unfavorable match-ups. Because of postseason reform that pits second and third place teams within each division against each other, the chances of a third consecutive playoff meeting are slim, and at this point projecting hypothetical Kings series down the playoff road is a flighty and hysterical endeavor. But the Kings are 16-4-0 against the Blues over the last 20 regular season and playoff games, so anything that pushes the needle – even ever so slightly – towards an imaginary Los Angeles-St. Louis matchup and away from an imaginary Los Angeles-Chicago matchup should be seen as a subtly positive development.