Assessing the St. Louis Blues' Goaltending Situation for the 2014-15 Season

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Assessing the St. Louis Blues' Goaltending Situation for the 2014-15 Season
ANDY CLAYTON-KING/Associated Press
St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott and Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise.

An out-of-his-prime Ryan Miller obviously wasn’t the answer in net for the St. Louis Blues, so they went with the next best thing: goaltending coach Jim Corsi, who developed Miller into a Vezina Trophy winner in Buffalo.

The Blues signed Corsi last week and, while he might be better known as the namesake for the advanced possession metric he developed to keep track of shot attempts on goaltenders, the most relevant facts about him revolve around other names.

Having previously worked with Sabres goaltenders for 16 years, according to NHL.com, those names include not just Miller, but Dominik Hasek—another (six-time!) Vezina Trophy winner—as well.

Gary Wiepert/Associated Press
Former Buffalo Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek.

Granted, one has to believe there’s little Corsi, or any other North American coach for that matter, could teach the Dominator based on his unconventional style (and lack of grasp on the English language). And, according to hockeydb.com, Corsi only officially became Buffalo’s goaltending coach in 2001-02, one season after Hasek won his last trophy.

There’s still little denying Corsi’s credentials.

The Blues are obviously hoping Corsi brings the 24-year-old Jake Allen along in the same manner he did Miller in Buffalo after Blues general manager Doug Armstrong made it clear Allen would play in the NHL next season, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Jeremy Rutherford.

Whether that’s just to complete the team’s goaltending tandem with Brian Elliott or compete against him is anyone’s guess. However, after Allen posted a .928 save percentage, 2.03 goals-against average and 33-16-3 record last season with the Chicago Wolves in the American Hockey League, it’s clear he’s ready for the big leagues.

After all, he did win the AldegeBaz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s best goalie last season, just like current NHL starters Jonathan Bernier, Cory Schneider and, yes, Ryan Miller before him. There’s not much room to go up after that, unless the “up” is the NHL.

Elliott is no slouch either.

He has a 1.86 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage as a Blue. That’s overall.

Conversely, former Blues starter Jaroslav Halak never managed a save percentage above .926 in any single season (2011-12). That’s not meant to say Halak is a bad goaltender, just that Elliott is a good one who’s only guilty of having one bad season in his career.

Sure, that 2010-11 season split between the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche was really bad (15-27-9, with a 3.34 GAA and .893 save percentage), but every goalie has an off year. That was his.

While it remains to be seen if Elliott will be able to keep up his stats over the course of an entire season as a No. 1, it should be noted his 55-24-7 record as a Blue totals 86 games, meaning all signs point to him being able to.

That’s assuming, of course, he wins the job over Allen. Despite his experience, it’s not exactly written in stone. Probably not even on an Etch A Sketch.

It seems no matter what Elliott does, he can’t get any respect. Even his new three-year contract, worth $7.5 million, which will end when he’s 32 years old and for all intents and purposes out of his prime like Miller is now, seems like a backhanded compliment. It points to the organization seeing him as nothing more than an above-average backup.

Of course, it’s also the most he’s ever made, so he’s likely not complaining all that much. Seeing as he could have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and instead chose to stick around, he likely knows his place in the organization: He's not the guy, but he is the guy until Allen is ready, even if it’s as soon as this season.

After trading eventual-Vezina Trophy-candidate Ben Bishop for a mere second-round pick, the Blues simply cannot afford to let Allen slip through the cracks either. He’s poised to become the first goaltender to be developed by St. Louis and then a legitimate No. 1 for the Blues since Curtis Joseph back in the early 1990s.

At least it’s clear St. Louis is giving him every opportunity to following the Corsi hiring. All things considered, one can make a good case that the Blues’ goaltending will take a slight step back next season, but a step back with a firm eye on the future.

That’s maybe not what fans of a team thought to be a Stanley Cup threat this past season want to hear, but it’s for the best.

The fact is St. Louis can do a lot worse in general. Look no further than this past season for proof. Armstrong opted to trade away Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, a first-round pick and a conditional third-round pick to get Miller (and Steve Ott).

All that, despite Halak being just 29 years old and having been to a conference final much more recently than Miller (2010 versus 2007). Almost predictably, Miller could not keep up with the Chicago Blackhawks’ speed in the first round and the Blues got eliminated prematurely largely due to the goalie’s .897 save percentage in six games.

So, the Blues clearly aren’t above making bad decisions and this one can just as easily come back to bite them too.

However, in not bringing back Miller, they’re not afraid of admitting those mistakes either. Said Armstrong, according to The Canadian Press via TSN.ca: “We gave up quite a bit. We took a swing. It certainly was a lot to give up for 20-some odd games and six playoff games.”

Which goalie will end up the No. 1 in St. Louis next season?

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Needless to say, these moves—re-signing Elliott, promoting Allen and hiring Corsi—are about getting a lot more in than six playoff games. Patience clearly isn’t the only virtue the Blues have in mind. Only time will tell if they end up winning a Stanley Cup as a result, though.

Chances are good they won’t next season. Of course, if they don’t, neither will have 28 other teams, so it won’t necessarily constitute a failure, or at least not much as this year when expectations were so high. At least now the Blues are tempering them to more realistic levels, so as not to feel pressured or be tempted to go after a Ryan Miller again.

That might just be the move that ends up paying the most dividends, especially if they end up flying under everyone’s radar as a result.

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