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Top Shelf: Blues get proactive with Miller trade

March 4, 2014 at 3:37 PM   |   Comments

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Common sense would suggest an NHL club ranked in the top five in both goals scored and against would not be the team most likely to shake up their roster before the trade deadline.

St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong clearly disagrees with that line of thinking.

Rather than wonder a few months from now why his team suffered yet another disappointing playoff performance, Armstrong is attempting to think ahead of the curve by trading away his No. 1 goaltender in order to land a potentially better option between the pipes.

That's where Ryan Miller enters the equation. A pending unrestricted free agent, the longtime Buffalo Sabres goaltender was always a good candidate to move teams before this season's trade deadline, but the Blues were hardly mentioned among the teams that desperately needed help in the crease.

Clearly, this move is not meant to be a minor upgrade for St. Louis. Bringing in Miller is a gamble designed to help the Blues make the transition from a team with potential to one that could win it all. This is all about trying to catch the proverbial lightning in a bottle and finally getting St. Louis its first Stanley Cup title.

"It's exciting," Miller said. "It's a great opportunity to step in to a team that has confidence, feels good about itself and are playing great hockey."

At worst, Armstrong hopes the Miller deal can give the Blues a little more staying power come playoff time. The club has a 6-9 record over the past two postseasons and was ousted from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Kings both times.

Considering he gave up quite a bit to acquire Miller, it's fairly obvious Armstrong didn't feel comfortable heading into another postseason with Jaroslav Halak or No. 2 Brian Elliott as his main goaltending options. Neither goaltender had bad numbers over the last two postseasons, but Armstrong clearly saw something he didn't like if he was willing to part ways with three players and a pair of picks to acquire Miller physical forward Steve Ott

St. Louis parted ways with Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier and a pair of draft choices -- a first-rounder in 2015 and a conditional third-round selection in 2016 -- to land Miller and Ott.

That's quite a haul for Buffalo, which could have lost Miller over the summer when the goaltender expects to hit the free agent market. The rumor mill suggests the Sabres may get even more for the deal as the rebuilding club is shopping Halak ahead of the deadline on Wednesday afternoon.

At a glance, Halak was doing just fine in 2013-14 -- his fourth season with the Blues. The 28-year-old Slovakian was 24-9-4 with a 2.23 goals against average, .917 save percentage and four shutouts. In fact, along with Elliott, who is 15-5-2 with a 2.08 GAA this season, the Blues didn't seem to have to worry about the goaltending situation at all.

St. Louis is known as a defense-first team. That would make both Halak and Elliott "system" goaltenders, guys who are believed to benefit more from their club's stingy play than they contribute to it. In other words, Halak and Elliott are the exact opposite of Miller, who has carried the lowly Sabres on his back for much of the 2013-14 campaign.

Playing for a team that had spent almost the entire season at the bottom of the NHL standings, the 33-year-old Miller posted a 2.72 goals against average in 40 games with the Sabres, while his .923 save percentage was 10th-best among netminders at the time of the trade. In theory, with a stout defense in front of Miller in St. Louis, the former Vezina Trophy winner could regain his status as the best goalie in the world.

After his first start with the Blues -- a 4-2 win in Phoenix on Sunday -- Miller faced the St. Louis media and was asked many questions about the move from his longtime hockey home. Particularly interesting was his response to a question about the pressure he feels knowing the Blues gave up a boatload to land him for what may turn out to be a rental.

"I just have to try and live up to it," Miller said of the pressure to win now. "That's part of the game. There's always pressure really at every turn, I feel like it. If it's not one thing, it's another. So, just gonna try and deal with it the same way."

Unless the teams agree on a contract extension over the next few months, Miller could only be in St. Louis to help the club win it all this spring. The Blues are counting on the veteran backstop to be the piece that bridges the gap between the club's recent regular-season success and its dreams of postseason glory.

By no means does trading for Miller seem like a necessary move from the Blues' standpoint, but if it works, you have to give Armstrong credit for taking an aggressive approach to building a winner.

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