In the end Ryan Miller was a rental. One incredibly expensive rental. By signing Brian Elliott to a three-year deal, the Blues also announced that they would be allowing Miller to hit free agency. The Blues waved the white flag, ending the rather brief Miller time in St. Louis.
The team’s decision on Miller really shouldn’t catch fans by surprise. Though Miller wasn’t at his best during the playoffs, that’s not the lone reason the Blues decided to go with Elliott and Allen. In the end it came down to several key factors – money, the development of Allen, draft picks, Miller’s age and yes, his inability to rise to the challenge in the playoffs.
Let’s talk money. Miller was expensive to acquire and was going to be even more expensive to keep. The Blues are believed to have discussed terms with Miller, but they obviously never reached a deal. Unconfirmed reports mention that Miller’s side countered with a figure which the Blues thought was much too high. Instead, the Blues will have $3.3 million ($2.5 million for Elliott, $800,000 for Allen) tied up in two goaltenders next season. This should free up money for the club to address more pressing issues such as their offense.
Armstrong’s comments all but come out and say that he made a mistake and things didn’t work out. He says he’d make the trade over again, but he admits it didn’t go as they had hoped.
Here’s Armstrong on the Miller trade, via the Post-Dispatch:
“I think this job is about second guessing. That’s the industry that I’ve chosen to be in, and that’s the job responsibility that I have. You talk internally to your group and you move forward. If they work, you’re hailed as a genius and if they don’t work, you’re a dummy.
We took a swing, we looked at all the information and we gave up a lot to get Ryan Miller, and at the end of the day, we didn’t accomplish as an organization what we needed to.”
That’s as close as you will get to a GM saying that a trade was a failure.
The Miller trade would have been even more expensive than it already was had the Blues signed the goaltender. Signing Miller would mean the Blues would give the Buffao Sabres their first round pick in exchange for Buffalo’s second and third-round selections during the 2014 NHL Draft. That would be on top of the Chris Stewart, Jaroslav Halak, William Carrier, first-round 2015 pick, third-round 2016 pick price the team already paid.
It’s safe to assume that on top of money, Miller would have wanted a long-term contract. At 33 (he turns 34 in July), that would both place the organization in an awkward position as he grows older and it would mostly shut the door on Allen’s route to the NHL. While Elliott would be comfortable splitting time, a goalie like Miller will receive 70%-80% of the starts.
Letting Miller walk was the right decision. I wasn’t an advocate of the trade in the first place and I’m glad the book is being closed before it increased in price. The Blues never needed to address their goaltending. The real issues, which were later exposed in the playoffs, were an inability to score the big goal, an inability to find that special teams magic and a lack of size and strength on defense. Goaltending was one of the more reliable spots on the roster, but the Blues felt the need to fix what wasn’t broken.
I always preach that you need to give a trade a few years, if not longer, before evaluating it. I’ll make an exception here. The Miller trade was a costly failure. It’s the first major blemish on GM Doug Armstrong since arriving in St. Louis. By signing Elliott, bringing up Allen and letting Miller walk, the Blues are cutting their losses. The damage has been done, but it could have been worse had the Blues met Miller’s large demand.
It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. Allen is mostly unproven and will have to bring his AHL award-winning ways to the NHL level in a hurry. Elliott has had rocky patches, but has been mostly reliable. He’ll need to be a goalie the Blues can count on should Allen stumble.
Miller may go on and win a Cup, but it won’t be for the Blues. In the end, Miller was a pricey rental the Blues should have avoided.