Last season Jaroslav Halak was the St. Louis Blues' starting goalie on opening night. By the time their run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs ended with a six-game series defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks, it was NHL Trade Deadline acquisition Ryan Miller between the pipes for the Blues. Each of these big-name goaltenders is now out of St. Louis (Halak signed with the New York Islanders and Miller signed with the Vancouver Canucks).
As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. And that's exactly the case with the Blues.
One of the most intriguing goalie dilemmas heading into the 2014-15 NHL season lies in the Gateway City, where veteran backup Brian Elliott and up-and-comer Jake Allen will attempt to grab the No. 1 job for the Blues.
For fantasy owners, drafting a Blues goalie in years past has paid off immensely. While the names aren't as popular this season, there's always value in selecting any goalie that plays behind one of the League's best defenses. And this year should be no different with an upgrade on offense and a very similar set of defensemen. Last season the Blues allowed 26.4 shots against per game, third fewest in the NHL. They also finished tied for sixth in the League in goals per game (2.92) and had the second-best penalty-killing percentage (85.7). The Blues are an elite team, especially defensively, and that is always a major positive in terms of fantasy goalie value.
The real question we're looking at though is which Blues goalie should you invest in, Elliott or Allen?
Let's start with Elliott. In 235 NHL games with the Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche and Blues, the 29-year-old has a 116-77-23 record with a 2.48 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and 23 shutouts. More important are his numbers during the past three years with St. Louis, where he has primarily served as a backup. In 93 games Elliott has posted a 55-24-7 record to go along with an outstanding 1.86 GAA, .927 save percentage and 16 shutouts.
Let's break down these numbers even further. Elliott's 1.86 GAA in the past three years is tops in the NHL among goalies with at least 25 games. Let's say that again: Brian Elliott has the best GAA in the NHL over the past three years. While he has less starts than that of a true No. 1 goalie, Elliott's 93 games rank 33rd in the League during that time and are second among regular backup goalies only to the New Jersey Devils' Cory Schneider. His .927 save percentage trails only the Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask and Schneider, proving when Elliott is in net, he's been a dominant puck stopper.
Even more impressive are Elliott's 16 shutouts, which rank second in the NHL in the past three years behind only the 17 of Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, despite Elliott appearing in 62 fewer games. Of NHL goalies with at least 10 shutouts in the past three years, none of them have fewer games than Elliott's 93.
The bottom line is when Elliott has been in goal for the Blues, he has put up numbers at an elite level. The real questions are whether the Blues let Elliott run with the No. 1 job and whether he'll be able to handle the increase in workload if given that No. 1 job. Elliott has had some cold streaks over the years, but based on his overall results during his St. Louis tenure it seems like he's deserving of the opportunity.
2012-13 NHL STATS
GAMES: 15 | RECORD: 9-4-0
GAA: 2.46 | SV%: .905 | SO: 1
As for Allen, he's made 15 total starts at the NHL level, all coming with the Blues during the 2012-13 season. He went 9-4-0 and recorded a 2.46 GAA, .905 save percentage and one shutout.
However, when the Blues selected Allen with the 34th pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, they had hopes of him turning into a dominant No. 1 goaltender, and at some point that hope may turn into a reality. Allen, 24, had a phenomenal season for the Chicago Wolves in the American Hockey League last season with a 33-16-3 record, 2.03 GAA, .928 save percentage and seven shutouts. It was easily the best season of his four-year AHL career, proving he's ready to once again take his game to the NHL level. Fortunately for him, the Blues are also ready for Allen.
Elliott likely has the leg up to be the Blues' opening-night starter, but any hiccup could open the door for the young and talented Allen, making him draft-worthy. As we noticed last season, backup goalies carry plenty of fantasy value, so scooping up Allen late in your draft isn't a bad idea.
One of the smartest options whenever you're analyzing a goalie tandem is to try and handcuff yourself by grabbing two from the same team. The fact the Blues are one of the best defensive teams in the NHL makes this duo a fantastic choice. When all is said and done, Elliott is the guy you want on your fantasy team, but adding Allen to your roster is a great move as well.
Heading into the season, you should expect Elliott to get anywhere from 50-60 starts and Allen to get the rest. Elliott comes in as a fringe top-15 fantasy goalie worth selecting in the first nine rounds of your draft with even more upside if he can hold onto the No. 1 job, while Allen should be targeted late in your draft and selected as one of the top backup goalies.