Before diving into the discussion that is the goaltending situation in St. Louis, let's stop and think back to Fall of 2012. During those few months we were focusing all of our anger and hatred towards the NHL lockout and those responsible for putting our favorite sport on hold. We all just wanted to see the St. Louis Blues play, especially considering they would enter the year with large expectations.
If you were to ask a fan of the Blues what the team's strength was, they probably would have mentioned the team's goaltending. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott combined to post the best GAA in the NHL in 2011-12 and appeared ready to back the Blues to big things in 2012-13.
It's amazing how much can change after just one abbreviated season. Halak was bit by the injury bug. Elliott was bit by the "I forgot how to play goalie" bug before redeeming himself later in the year. Jake Allen made his NHL debut and for the most part played well, placing plenty of pressure on the two men in front of him.
Once the playoffs wrapped, we learned of a verbal altercation between Halak and coach Ken Hitchcock, indicating the angry body language we saw from Halak in the playoffs represented some very real resentment and unhappiness.
Heading into 2013-14, what should be made of the situation in the St. Louis crease?
Time for some discussion now that the scene has been painted.
Three men are currently in the St. Louis goaltending picture. All three have their positives, but unfortunately they all also have plenty of negatives.
Elliott is the man we know the most about due to the fact he was the team's starter for the playoffs. For the most part he played well at the end of the year. It's impossible to forget the Slava Voynov goal he allowed in OT, but overall he played pretty well. His play in the playoffs followed a ridiculously strong April (11-2-0, 1.28 GAA) where he was arguably the best goaltender in the NHL. Elliott's April was even more remarkable considering how dreadful he was in March (0-1-0, 4.18 GAA) and February (0-4-1, 4.67 GAA).
Halak's situation is more difficult to analyze. His play really wasn't too bad. His record (6-5-1) isn't a fair indicator of his play considering he maintained a tidy 2.14 GAA. However, Halak often struggled to make that one big save when the team needed it most. His save percentage (.899) partially reflects that and marks his worst save percentage of his career since he debuted in the NHL back in 2006. With Halak, most of the questions surround his body, both mentally and physically. Injuries are a concern after Halak was forced to miss time and his attitude is questioned given his end of the year spat with Hitchcock.
Allen is the wildcard. He only has 13 NHL starts under his belt which makes it incredibly difficult to project what he might be capable of with an expanded role. Last year he went 9-4-0 with a 2.46 GAA. He was strong when the Blues needed him, but he cooled as his time in the NHL wore on. Eventually, Elliott recaptured his #1 job and Halak bumped Allen off of the bench and into the healthy scratch territory once he returned from injury.
Change is likely coming to the St. Louis crease. It doesn't take an analyst to tell you that the Blues could deal one of their goaltenders in an attempt to improve their offense. Elliott and Halak will be in the final year of their contract in 2013-14 while Allen is a restricted free agent this summer. Simply, all three men are tied to contracts that are extremely flexible and movable. There aren't any Roberto Luongo contracts here.
In my opinion, the Blues will deal at least one of these three men. Barring a surprising trade that would bring in a legitimate number one, the Blues will probably be forced to keep two men that we saw in 2013. The problem is that no matter how you slice it, there isn't really a scenario that will make fans breath easy. Halak is the obvious name brought up when a trade is mentioned mainly because of his injuries and comments toward the team and its management. However, barring a trade addressing the position, that'd leave Elliott and Allen in net. Sounds kind of risky, doesn't it?
Realistically, if the Blues were to deal Halak they'd probably sign a veteran goaltender over the summer and let him compete with Allen for the #2 job. The team would need some insurance in case Elliott stumbles again or in case Allen proves he's not ready for the NHL quite yet. It's worth noting that the last time the Blues signed a cheap goaltender for insurance they ended up with Elliott.
Some outlets believe the Blues might be interested in Ryan Miller. If the Blues were to shock everyone and bring in the type of goaltender that you expect to play each and every night, two of the current three options would be expendable.
How will the Blues handle this complicated goaltending situation? We can only guess at this point. Even GM Doug Armstrong admits the picture is a "cloudy" one. There are a ton of ways that this thing could pan out. However, it seems pretty unlikely that the Blues will use a Elliott-Halak-Allen trio in 2013-14.