Based solely on the total cap hit of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, the St. Louis Blues shouldn’t be getting such good goaltending. But here they are after 13 games, nine of them wins, with a combined save percentage of .929, a mark that ranks right up there with the top tandems in the NHL.
“They’ve been giving us a chance to win every night,” coach Ken Hitchcock said recently, his team currently riding a seven-game winning streak in which just 13 goals have been allowed.
Elliott and Allen’s total cap hit is a mere $3.3 million. Only the Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals are using less cap space on their netminders. But after losing a sizable gamble last season on big-money goalie Ryan Miller, it was a risk that GM Doug Armstrong was willing to take.
“We gave up quite a bit to get Ryan and we felt as an organization that might be a piece that could push us deep and get us into the Stanley Cup and win us a Stanley Cup,” Armstrong said over the summer. “That’s why the trade was made. It didn’t work out that way, obviously.”
The decision to move on from Miller and go without a big-money goalie took a certain amount of courage, but it also allowed Armstrong the financial freedom to sign free-agent center Paul Stastny to a four-year, $28 million deal. The Blues are now right up against the salary-cap ceiling.
Armstrong’s decision was, of course, made easier by having a talented, NHL-ready youngster like Allen in the system. (The Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, don’t have an Allen-type prospect, which no doubt influenced their decision to sign Marc-Andre Fleury to a four-year, $23 million extension.)
Still, Armstrong has left himself open to significant criticism should the Blues fail once again to make a deep playoff run. After all, his tandem includes one goalie, Elliott, who’s spent most of his NHL life as a back-up, and another, Allen, who entered the season with just 13 NHL starts to his name.
Then again, rare is the NHL GM who hasn’t left himself open to criticism when it comes to his goaltenders. It’s funny: goaltending is the most important position in hockey, yet in the NHL, you can win the Stanley Cup with one that makes a relatively low wage. In contrast, try winning the Cup by signing a $2.5 million No. 1 center.
In May, Armstrong was able to get Elliott under contract for three more years, at $2.5 million per.
“We just felt at this time it was better for us to go with Elliott and go with Jake Allen,” Armstrong said. “They provide us with a good tandem as we move forward.”
So far, so good.