ST LOUIS – With stellar play contributing to a rise to the top echelon level of NHL teams, the St. Louis Blues made another significant stride to put the team closer to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Late Friday night, St. Louis gave up two roster players in goaltender Jaroslav Halak and right wing Chris Stewart, a prospect in 19-year old left wing William Carrier and two draft picks, a 2015 first-round puck and a conditional 2016 third-round pick, in exchange for goaltender Ryan Miller and center Steve Ott. The two will join their new Blues teammates Sunday night on the road against Phoenix.
The 33-year old Miller won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie in 2010, the year he was MVP of the Olympic tournament in Vancouver. He is also Buffalo’s franchise leader with 284 victories and 540 games. This season, he has a record of 15-22-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Clearly in a rebuilding mode, new Sabres’ General Manager Tim Murray needed to get something for his soon-to-be free agent asset.
In being the key to the deal for St. Louis, Miller represents the stability the Blues have sought in net and with something to play for as Spring approaches, Miller will be anxious to provide his ability to take a team all the way, something Halak failed to do in being unable to make any playoff appearances due to injuries the last two seasons. Buffalo is picking up the difference between the higher-priced Miller’s salary and Halak’s salary. Both are in the final year of their contract and are unrestricted free agents after the current season.
The 26 year-old Ott has a well-earned reputation as an agitator and will provide additional sandpaper to an already gritty Blues squad. This season, Ott has appeared in 59 games netting 9 goals and adding 11 helpers for 20 points. He has 55 penalty minutes and a minus 26 rating. An original 1st round, 25th overall pick of the Dallas Stars in 2000, Ott was completing his second season in Buffalo. Like Miller, Ott is also an unrestricted free agent after the current campaign.
As for St. Louis’ contribution to the trade, Jaroslav Halak never showed he could propel a team to success in the playoffs after leading Montreal to the Eastern Conference Final in 2010/ In that season, he was a key factor in Montreal defeating President’s Trophy-winning Washington and defending champion Pittsburgh before falling to Philadelphia. Halak went to St. Louis for Lars Eller in an off-season trade after Montreal decided to keep Carey Price.
This season, Jaroslav Halak has appeared in 39 games (starting 37 games) with a 24-8-4 record allowing 82 goals and 2.26 goals against per game, a save percentage of 0.915 and 4 shutouts. But he struggled a little down the stretch and showed poorly for Slovakia in an Olympic collapse. His last game against Vancouver, a 1-0 loss, involved a shot he should have stopped, a hallmark of Halak’s recent woes in which the goaltending position was the most troubling in St. Louis.
The other roster player in the deal struggled to remain relevant in a highly talented line-up. Chris Stewart was slowly working his way out of the line-up with inconsistent play. The 6’2”, 231 lb. right winger has played in all 57 games tallying 15 goals and 11 assists for 26 points and a low +2 rating. He has just one assist in the last five games and two assists since January 10th. He last lit the lamp on January 9th and has just two goals since December 21st.
Last season in all 48 games, Stewart scored 18 goals and added 18 helpers for 36 points and had an even player rating for a team who had a solid positive goal differential. Essentially, the experiment with Stewart has not worked out. Others are stepping up on the team making his role less significant. I have heard from several sources how is presence in the locker room was a bit of an issue, not necessarily the type of player who fits well.
The trade for St. Louis signals to the rest of the Western Conference contenders that the Blues are playing to win right now. Questions about the future status of Miller and Ott beyond this season are being shelved in favor of finishing the regular season strong and embarking on a deep run into the playoffs. St. Louis has only advanced to the Conference Finals twice since 1970.
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