Should the St. Louis Blues Be Comfortable with Brian Elliott in Net?

Dan Robaczewski@DanRobaczewskiContributor IIIJuly 9, 2014

Bailey, mascot for the Los Angeles Kings, hold signs as St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott drinks water during the third period in Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series in Los Angeles, Saturday, May 4, 2013. The Kings won 1-0. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

If there are any reservations anymore about the approximate talent of the St. Louis Blues, it all lies with their goaltending.

It did last year, when Blues’ general manager Doug Armstrong boldly traded for Ryan Miller near the trade deadline. With Miller in their system, the Blues’ weaknesses seemed absent. But as every gambler knows, great risk does not always translate into great reward.

The Blues faltered in the playoffs, losing in the first round to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. Ryan Miller’s goals-against average was a paltry 2.70, with a save percentage south of .900.

Miller’s tenure with the St. Louis Blues was tragically average, and the blockbuster trade that sent him to St. Louis will likely pan out historically as a dud. Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow is the fact that the Blues are now back to square one.

Neither Brian Elliott nor Jake Allen are accepted as NHL-caliber starting goaltenders. Brian Elliott has had great success as an alternate starter with Jaroslav Halak for the last three seasons, but he’s always settled behind Halak on the Blues’ depth chart and many feel that he has not yet proven with certainty that he can be the undisputed No. 1 guy in the crease.

Jake Allen had the best season of his professional career last season with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. He had a career-high 33 wins in 52 starts and his 2.03 GAA led the entire American Hockey League. He’s also had reasonable success at the NHL level, and it seems like the Blues have him pegged to be their future in net.

But despite Allen’s emergence, Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has stated that the No. 1 job now exclusively belongs to Brian Elliott. And anyone who has watched Elliott and the Blues come to form in the last few seasons knows that no one in the organization has earned the opportunity for a bigger role more than Brian Elliott.

Elliott signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues in 2011 with no guarantee of a roster spot. After outdueling Ben Bishop for a spot at the end of the bench, Elliott went on to win 11 of his first 12 starts, allowing two goals or fewer in all of them—a feat that had not been accomplished in the league for 70 years.

Elliott ended the 2011-12 NHL season with a league-leading 1.56 GAA, a .940 SV percentage, 9 shutouts and an All-Star nod. He and Halak tied a modern-day NHL record by recording a combined 15 shutouts during the regular season, and—as a result of having the lowest goals-against average in the entire league—also shared the William M. Jennings Trophy.

That’s quite the recompense for a signing that was meant to be—at its base—a low-risk insurance policy.

Elliott’s heaviest critics will point to the fact that he has had little playoff success, and they’re right. In 18 playoff games with the Ottawa Senators and the Blues, Elliott has a 6-10 record and sports a 2.55 GAA along with a .898 SV percentage. And those of us with long memories still recall the Slava Voynov overtime goal that put the Kings up 3-2 in the 2013 NHL playoffs and the Dustin Penner buzzer beater that won the series for the Kings that same year.

But Elliott’s playoff sample size is small, and his numbers have gradually improved. Just as Ryan Miller was this past postseason, Elliott has been almost-but-not-quite good enough to get the Blues over the hump. 

Elliott has composed a wonderful 55-24-7 in 93 games for the Blues. His patches of inconsistency are no more glaring than that of the everyday NHL starter, and as he continues to gather more experience at the NHL level, he could be the dark horse that leads the St. Louis Blues to that ever-elusive Stanley Cup.

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