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Blues willing to pay big price to acquire Miller, Ott

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- General manager Doug Armstrong felt the opportunity was there to improve the makeup of the St. Louis Blues, particularly in goal, and was willing to pay the price.

It was a large price, but Armstrong pulled the trigger Friday on a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for goalie Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott. The cost was goalie Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, forward prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and a conditional pick that could turn into the Blues' first-rounder in June if St. Louis advances to the Western Conference Final or Miller re-signs with his new team.

"We're looking to improve our team any way we can," Armstrong said via conference call before the Blues' road game against the Anaheim Ducks. "The thought of getting the grit and determination of a Steve Ott, and Ryan Miller is a name that speaks for itself.

Chris Stewart
Right Wing - BUF
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 26
SOG: 107 | +/-: 2
"We just think this gives us a better opportunity to have success this year, and it also allows us to keep our prime assets. There's a few players that were discussed we wouldn't part with, some of our signed players that are currently with our team. We wanted to keep the guys like Jake Allen, Dmitrij Jaskin and maybe one or two other players. When we were able to keep those players, it seemed like a deal that made sense for us."

Among those prime assets Armstrong said teams haven't inquired about are 2010 first-round picks, forwards Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko.

"Quite honestly, no one asked for them because they know the answer going into it," the GM said. "The goal going into this was we weren't going to move any of the younger players, like a Tarasenko, like a Schwartz."

Miller, who represented the United States for the second time at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, comes to the Blues with a 15-22-3 record, a 2.72 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. He leaves Buffalo after 10-plus seasons. His name had been linked to the Blues since Sabres general manager Tim Murray publicly said Miller likely would be dealt at some point prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, which is March 5.


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Halak, who was acquired in 2010 from the Montreal Canadiens in a trade for forward Lars Eller and prospect Ian Schultz, is in the final year of a four-year, $15 million contract and was 24-9-4 with a 2.23 GAA and .917 save percentage. He never got the opportunity to backstop the Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Halak was injured in 2012 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks and was injured most of last season.

"It was more of what I've seen of Miller in the past than what we didn't see here in St. Louis," Armstrong said. "I look at our team and I look at all what Jaro has accomplished in his time here. I think he's leaving as the franchise leader in shutouts (20), won a Jennings Trophy [in 2011-12], we were third in goals-against in the League.

"This wasn't an area that was a concern or an area we were looking to improve on except for one player. I think Ryan Miller's career stats and his season this year made me feel it might only be a 5 or a 6 percent upgrade, but it's an upgrade, and I believe that's how you get better is getting better in small increments. We believe that this makes us a little better. If it wasn't Ryan Miller, I was very content with the goaltending tandem that we had going into the playoffs."

Talks between Armstrong and Murray picked up once the Olympics were finished.

"There have been talks at different times and not just about these two players but about trades in general," Armstrong said. "Lots of different things were discussed prior to the Olympics. ... Tim had done an outstanding job in what direction he wanted to go. When he called me and we discussed the potential, it didn't take very long because he had done his homework and we had done ours. It happened very quickly post-Olympics."

Jaroslav Halak
Goalie - BUF
RECORD: 24-9-4
GAA: 2.23 | SVP: 0.917
Miller is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and had a no-trade clause with a $6.25 million salary-cap charge. Armstrong said an extension with Miller or Ott, also a pending unrestricted free agent, is possible but not an immediate concern.

"It's something that we'll certainly discuss at the appropriate time, but we really believe that Jake Allen is the goalie of the future for the Blues," Armstrong said. "We think he's done everything he can. When you look at his numbers this year in the American [Hockey] League, they're second to none. If we can talk to Ryan and Steve at some point about extensions, we can do that. But this deal was made on the here and now. We'll worry about the future after the season."

The Blues have been eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings in each of the previous two Stanley Cup Playoffs. L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick, who started ahead of Miller for the United States in Sochi, has been a big culprit in eliminating the Blues.

"We ran into the best goaltender in the game in the last two years in Quick," Armstrong said. "I saw that firsthand again at the Olympics for Team USA. I thought he was outstanding in the game against Canada (a 1-0 semifinal loss). He's an elite player, but we need to try to move past him, we need to try to move past the competition to get to him quite honestly. I just think this gives us a better opportunity to have better success in the playoffs and that's why I made the trade."

Ott has nine goals and 20 points in 59 games for the Sabres this season and, in essence, replaces Stewart, who had 15 goals and 26 points in 58 games.

"I think Steve gives [coach] Ken [Hitchcock] some versatility," Armstrong said. "He can play center, he can play on the left side, he's a player that's obviously playing over 19 minutes in Buffalo. I don't think he'll command that much ice time with our group right now because of the depth we have here, but he's an antagonistic player. He's a player that has that playoff pedigree in the sense that his style of play transfers quite nicely into the playoffs. He'll certainly be in our group of nine."

The NHL Trade Deadline is Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET, but Armstrong said the Blues likely are done unless something jumps off the charts.

"You never say never, but I like the way our group is," he said. "We made a couple of acquisitions over the summer and into the fall adding Brenden Morrow and Carlo Colaiacovo to our group. That gives us the necessary depth that we need. We have two players currently playing in the American Hockey League that were good players for us last year against L.A. in [Chris] Porter and [Adam] Cracknell. Having eight defensemen and the depth and Jake Allen as our third goalie, I don't see us needing to add any depth to our group right now.

"Will there be another roster player trade? I don't see one. I'm not discussing one right now, but you never say never because I might get a call from one of the other 29 [general] managers with an idea I haven't thought of."

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