The St. Louis Blues have acquired coveted goalie Ryan Miller and center Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, a 1st round 2015 draft pick, a 3rd round 2016 draft pick and prospect, William Carrier.
This is the blockbuster trade that has been the force behind rumor mills in recent weeks. It is a trade that involves two Olympic goaltenders, two top power forwards, a team captain (in Ott), two draft picks, a highly touted prospect in Carrier, three UFA’s come July 1, $16.7 million in salary cap implications, and a whole lot of emotional flux in two major US cities.
While it’s hard to try to wrap your head around the franchise-shifting significance this deal will cause going forward, lets take a minute to break it all down so the cognitive dissonance starts to deplete a bit, and we can all get on with enjoying our Friday nights.
The catalyst in this trade was new St. Louis Blues net minder, Ryan Miller. Gosh, that feels so weird to type. Ever since the rumblings of Buffalo wanting to ‘blow it up’ this season, which started back in November, there has been a consistency in the rumbles of the Blues’ desire to have Miller as their starting goalie. And it appears that there was certainly a fire, like a five-alarm fire, where there was smoke.
Miller will bring his experience of over 540-career games played to a St. Louis team who has lacked consistent goaltending over the last decade. When the Blues traded for Jaroslav Halak from Montreal in 2010, they expected to get a guy who can put a team on his back and win critical games in the playoffs. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone according to plan with Halak, as he has spent the last few years in a goalie seesaw with Blues 1-a goalie in Brian Elliot.
Not to take away from Halak, he has played some tremendous hockey and put up impressive numbers in St Louis, even in a controversial year like this, going 24-9-4 with 2.23 goals against average and .917 save percentage. But he has shown an inconsistency in his focus and compete level recently, not to mention a nightmarish Olympic tournament, that forced Blues GM, Doug Armstrong, to make a major shift in the status of his club, and give up a heck of a lot of future promise to get his guy in Miller.
Miller has been beyond mediocre this season, like the Sabres themselves, going 15-22-3 with a 2.72 goals against average and .923 save percentage. But there is no doubting that Miller is a top-10 goaltender in the world and can steal a game for his team by completely shutting down the opposition. While the numbers aren’t equitable between Halak and Miller this season, there is a track record and substantive proof that Miller can be a number one goalie. And he’ll have a chance to prove it as St. Louis sits atop the Central division and looks to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
While Miller is the headliner of this show, don’t down play the significance of Steve Ott. Ott is an 11-year veteran who spent a decade in Dallas grinding the gears of all the top center man in the Western conference. For a guy who is 6-foot, 190-pounds, he plays a physically dominating game that resembles a style played by former under-sized Blues captain, Dallas Drake. Ott is a guy who has no problem dropping the gloves and defending his teammates, which is what led to his captaincy in Buffalo and reputation of being a great ‘locker room guy’.
Ott is 31-years old, and just like Miller, who’s 33, both will be performing the next few months as an audition for a new contract, as the two new Blues will be unrestricted free agents in the summer. Ott has had a respectable season playing for the worst team in the league, scoring 9 goals, 11 assists and earning 55 penalty-minutes through the first 59 games of the season. His best season, in 2010, Ott scored 22 goals while racking up 153 penalty minutes for the Stars. But scoring goals is not why the Blues acquired the services of Mr. Ott; it’s the work ethic, physicality, leadership and hard nose style that Ott brings to a room and on the ice.
Blues leadership of Armstrong, Brett Hull and Ken Hitchcock know the natural intensity this guy exudes night-in and night-out, as they managed, coached and played with him in Dallas.
And yes, the loss of Chris Stewart will certainly be felt on the wing in St Louis, but Ott is more than capable of filling his shoes and then some. Blues fans should feel comfortable that there was an improvement made on the offensive side in this deal.
So when you look at the report card of this trade, it seems that there was a definite upgrade in goal (B+ to A-) and a slight upgrade up front (B- to B), it makes me feel a bit less terrified about shaking up the locker room with a bonafide Cup contender that is 39-13-6 this season.
The 1st and 3rd round picks sent to Buffalo, along with Quebec Major Junior League scorer, Blues former 2nd round draft pick William Carrier, are completely expendable and are just icing on the cake for the Sabres. Figuring that the Blues will continue to have success, that 1st round pick next year will likely be between the 20th-30th pick overall, so nothing game changing. And with so much youth on the Blues current roster, they are able to take the risk of giving up a small piece of the future in order to obtain a couple of veterans that they think will play large roles in their quest for a Stanley Cup this Spring.
As new Blues forward, Steve Ott, referenced in his press conference a few hours ago, via TSN.CA:
I’m really excited to have this opportunity with St. Louis,” said Ott. “My dream and my biggest goal is to have a chance at a Stanley Cup.
This is the type of role player that the Blues were looking for in former acquisitions, like Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, but Ott has the drive, the will and the legs left to make it happen.
And if you’ve read any of my Miller material in the past, you know I’m not a Milliever. But I’m aware of the fact that Miller has the core competencies and skill set to lead a team to a Stanley Cup appearance. He’s lacked big-game ability in his career, but I can confidently say that he has never had a team like the 2014 St. Louis Blues in front of him, playing a defensive team system that has proven to be stifling for even the league’s top offensive threats.
This could be the perfect fit for Miller, who has spent his entire career in underwhelming Buffalo. He will have the chance to be the back bone of this Blues club that hasn’t seen a resume like this in net since Curtis Joseph or Grant Fuhr.
This is the first night in the newest chapter of Blues hockey, and a chapter that hopefully concludes with a parade downtown in June.
We need your help Bleedin’ Blue readers! Comment, Tweet, FB Message, electronic mail us suggestions for a new nickname for our new starting goalie! Because Miller Time has officially expired.