As the dust settles following Friday’s blockbuster between the St. Louis Blues and Buffalo Sabres, excitement can begin to give way to analysis. It’s tough to argue that St. Louis didn’t become a better hockey team by acquiring Ryan Miller. Jaroslav Halak was always solid, but the Blues didn’t want solid.
They wanted stellar. Acquiring the United State Olympian from the Sabres pushes them to the top of the Western Conference favorites. They were a popular Stanley Cup winner pick heading into the 2013-14 season, and adding Miller simply makes them better.
It’s his future with the team beyond this season that we’re going to examine here. While Miller is obviously the No. 1 guy in St. Louis now, what does the team plan to do after this year is over?
The Cap Situation Moving Forward
Unlike most teams in the NHL, St. Louis actually has a little bit of wiggle room in terms of cap space. The 2013 lockout pushed the cap ceiling down artificially this season, but the Blues still have a bit of breathing space. Especially after dealing Mark Mancari and his $600,000 cap hit.
Trade time: Blues deal forward Mark Mancari to Florida for forward Eric Selleck. #THNLive
— The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews) March 2, 2014
Barring an unforeseen and un-telegraphed trade between now and the March 5 deadline, St. Louis’ books aren’t going to change much between now and the summer. That being the case, the Blues have a whopping 10 players on some form of expiring contract after this campaign is completed.
CapGeek.com is projecting that the salary cap for next year will be a tad over $71 million. That would give the Blues $26,385,833 in space to work with for the 2014-15 NHL season. Or, put another way, they will have more than enough space to keep Miller on as more than a rental.
With Jaroslav Halak gone, that leaves St. Louis in a state of limbo regarding its goaltending. Or rather, the current goalies in the system might not have the roles that they thought they would in the near future.
The Curious Case of Brian Elliott
In the NHL these days, a strong backup goalie is an absolute must. Starters can’t remain fresh for a playoff run if they’re appearing in 70 regular-season games. That workload is too great and the demands of even your average contest are too extensive to allow a No. 1 guy to make that many appearances.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more capable backup than Brian Elliott. He’s been a solider for the Blues since arriving in time for the 2011-12 season. Despite the No. 2 label, he actually started more playoff games for St. Louis than Halak did, and was always steady for the Blues.
Whether injuries pushed him into action or Elliott was on a hot streak, head coach Ken Hitchcock always knew that he could count on his backup to win hockey games. His tw0-year, $3.6 million contract expires at the end of the year, and if the Blues plan on keeping Miller in town then Elliott is all but done in St. Louis.
He’d be just as capable of backing up Miller as Halak, but there’s one sticking point: Jake Allen’s contract.
Jake Allen’s Interesting Contract
One of the top goaltending prospects in all of hockey, Jake Allen has been plying his craft in the AHL for four seasons now. He was the team’s 34th-overall selection in 2008, and has been more than patient while waiting for his shot to play more games in the NHL.
St. Louis acknowledged that when signing him to his current two-year deal. Allen’s contract is structured in a unique way that signifies just how highly the Blues think of him. The 2013-14 year of the deal has the netminder playing on a two-way contract. Next season however, Allen will be on a one-way deal that will require him to pass through waivers if the Blues want him in the AHL for another season.
There’s absolutely no way Allen would go unclaimed if he hit the wire. Since St. Louis had no interest in moving Allen as part of a deal for Miller (or any other goaltender) it seems that the team will be moving forward with Allen in the NHL in some capacity next season.
Will it be as Miller’s backup though? Or do the Blues like Allen enough to give him the starting gig outright for the 2014-15 NHL season? That seems unlikely, especially given that St. Louis will have the cap space to re-sign their newly acquired netminder.
Why St. Louis Will Keep Ryan Miller
When looking at all the moving pieces here, it seems remarkably unlikely that the Blues will keep Elliott beyond this campaign. That means that his $1.8 million cap hit comes off the books. Miller is in line for a big raise since he’s currently only making $4.5 million, but it seems safe to assume that the Blues wouldn’t hesitate to simply offer Elliott’s money to Miller.
That’d put a $6.3 million offer on the table to retain Miller’s services.
Maybe he wants more money though. Not a whole lot more, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see the man ask for a $7 million paycheck. Fine. St. Louis can swing that too. Unless you think they’ll be re-upping Derek Roy for another $4 million. In this scenario, we’ve got Roy and Elliott being allowed to leave, with a portion of that cash going to Miller to stay in St. Louis.
If Miller took a $7 million deal, that’d leave just under $20 million to retain Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz. All three are restricted free agents, and are in line for raises—albeit not massive ones. Veterans like Steve Ott, Brendan Morrow and Roy may or may not be retained, depending on how everything shakes out.
As 33-years-old, Miller could safely be signed for three or four seasons, especially with Allen continuing to grow and mature in the NHL. By the time Miller is 35 or 36, the Blues could be utilizing the two in an even 50/50 split with great success. Again, this is all hypothetical and who knows what Doug Armstrong has up his sleeve.
Still, when you look at the cap situation and the expiring deals, it seems that Miller was brought in to be the new No. 1 guy for the next few years. Odds are he’s not just a rental and that Allen will be backing him up at the start of next season.
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