Home HockeySt. Louis Blues Revisiting the infamous Ryan Miller trade by the St. Louis Blues

Revisiting the infamous Ryan Miller trade by the St. Louis Blues

by Jeremy Bowen

The words “blockbuster trade” and “St. Louis Blues” typically do not find their way around each other near the NHL Trade Deadline every February. However in February 2014, the Blues found themselves making one of those critically acclaimed blockbuster trades, acquiring goaltender Ryan Miller and veteran forward Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, a 2015 first-round draft pick and a 2016 third-round pick. The trade truly shocked the NHL world as the Blues were already considered a Stanley Cup contending team as they were atop the Central Division standings at the time the trade was made, and a playoff spot seemed imminent.

It is not uncommon for Stanley Cup contending teams to add a solid piece to their roster at the trade deadline of a given year; it is common practice amongst NHL teams. Top teams will usually sacrifice and in many instances overpay in high draft picks/prospects for veteran skilled players who management thinks can increase their team’s odds of making a Cup run. In the spring of 2014, the Blues were neck and neck in the Central Division standings with the Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche. On February 28, 2014, the Blues sat at 84 points, tied with the Blackhawks but St. Louis had the edge for the top of the division due to having two more ROW’s (regulation/overtime wins) with the Avalanche also close behind with 81 points. The Blues were looked at as a well-rounded team as the team did not have a true superstar, rather a solid group of players as they had five players eventually finish the season with 50+ points. Top analysts thought the Blues may be active at the 2014 Trade Deadline as they would look to get an edge up on the Hawks and Avs for the playoffs, but the trade the Blues would make at the deadline then shocked most if not all people surrounding hockey.

Up until the trade, the Blues were highly touted for their dominant goaltending tandem. Jaroslav Halak was in his third season as the Blues starting netminder and during the 2013-14 season had made 38 starts where he would go 24-9-4 with a .917 SV% and 2.23 GAA. Meanwhile backup Brian Elliott was also in his third season in St. Louis where he was revitalizing a career where he had previously struggled in stints with the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche across three seasons and had lost 69 games across 129 starts with a GAA of 2.32 and SV% of .897. During the 2013-14 season, Elliott went 18-6-2 and led the team with a SV% of .922 and a GAA of 1.96. Goaltending was a strong suit of the 2013-14 Blues team and that goaltending tandem was easily going to be competing for the William Jennings Trophy (fewest total goals allowed by a team) had they not been broken up.

Due to the outstanding goalie play, it was truly mind boggling that Blues GM Doug Armstrong decided to pull the trigger on adding a goalie at the deadline. On paper, Ryan Miller had a phenomenal career up to the point when he was traded to the Blues. He was a three-time all-star, won a Vezina Trophy, had received votes for the Hart Trophy in four different seasons, and won a silver medal for Team USA as their starting goaltender in 2010. But entering the 2013-14 season, Miller had just turned 33 years old and it was clear he was slowly starting to exit his prime as an elite goaltender. He was coming off a season in 2012-13 where he posted career lows in wins (minimum 30 starts) and a then career worst 2.81 GAA. The first half of the 2013-14 season in Buffalo did not bode much better for Miller either, as he went 15-22-3 with a .918 SV% and 2.64 GAA; similar stats to the previous season. To his credit, Miller was not exactly surrounded by an abundance of talent in Buffalo but nonetheless his play was dropping off significantly.

There were certainly mixed reactions from the Blues fanbase when the trade was announced. There was angst as their impeccable goaltending tandem was now split up but there was also the hope that Miller could potentially return to his Vezina Trophy form and help lead the Blues to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time. For the first few weeks following the trade, it had seemed the uncanny trade decision was for the better, as Miller went 7-0-1 in his first eight starts for the Blues with an outstanding .931 SV% and 1.61 GAA. However, the honeymoon stage after the phenomenal start would slowly come to an end, as Miller would then lose three of six. Hope remained among the Blues for Miller, but the last 10 days of the regular season would signal the incoming catastrophe. Miller would make five starts over the last 10 days of the regular season, going 0-5-0 with an abysmal .831 SV% and 3.93 GAA, a complete 180 from the player we had seen just weeks ago. In total during the 2013-14 season, Miller made 19 starts for the Blues going 10-8-1 with a .903 SV% and 2.47 GAA. Of the three different starting goaltenders the Blues had during the 2013-14 season, Miller’s marks for SV% and GAA were both worst of all three.

Despite the end of season struggles, the Blues finished the season with 111 points, good for second in the Central Division which meant a date with the third place Blackhawks was set for the first round of the playoffs. But Miller’s struggles still found him, as he allowed six total goals in the first two games of the series. Despite the lackluster goaltending, the Blues were able to notch 4-3 overtime wins in both Game’s 1 and 2 to take a 2-0 series lead. But it seemed these woes were going to continue to haunt Miller in Game 3, as he allowed a five-hole goal just over four minutes in on a wrist shot from the left circle, a shot that certainly should have been stopped. Despite a bad goal against early, Miller warmed to the task and would play well enough for a Blues win as he stopped 23/24 shots. However, the Blues failed to get anything passed Corey Crawford and the Blues would allow an empty net goal as they lost 2-0. Even though the Blues lost Game 3, it had seemed that Miller was starting to get his play back on track.

It had seemed Miller was back to his old self early into Game 4 as well. The game was deadlocked at zero as it reached near the 10-minute mark of the second period. But with 11:31 remaining in the period, Blues forward Maxim Lapierre took a tripping penalty to send Chicago on the power play. It would take all of 11 seconds into the power play for the Blackhawks to strike for the first goal of the game. Eight minutes later, Patrick Kane would beat Miller glove side on a one timer to put Chicago up 2-0 with just under four minutes to play in the second period. It seemed doom was setting in for the Blues. But miraculously, the Blues would strike twice in the final 1:10 of the period to even the score at two. The Blues would then later take a 3-2 lead with 7:33 remaining in the third, a truly incredible turn of events. But things were far from over, as Bryan Bickell tipped home a goal passed Miller with 3:52 remaining which forced the game into overtime. Miller would not get to be the benefactor yet again of a 4-3 overtime win, as he was beat short side by a Patrick Kane shot just over 11 minutes into overtime; series tied.

Through four games, Miller was at a nearly three goals allowed per game rate in the playoffs; a rate that is not sustainable for playoff success. Nonetheless, the series was tied at two and the Blues just needed to win two of out of three games, two of which could potentially be on home ice. But for the third game in a row in Game 5, the Blackhawks would score the game’s first goal as Ryan Miller failed to control a rebound and Marian Hossa was able to bury his own rebound. But Miller would hold down the fort after the fact, stopping 13/14 shots while keeping the game at 1-0 as we passed the midway point of Game 5. T.J. Oshie would then score the equalizer with just under nine minutes to go in the second. But Miller would be beat once again, this time by a Ben Smith rebound with 2:50 remaining in the second. But again, we were far from done as Alex Pietrangelo tied the game at two just 1:42 into the third. Both Miller and Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford were sharp the rest of the way and for the fourth time in five games, we were headed for overtime. Then seven and a half minutes into overtime, Jonathan Toews had just got off the bench and onto the ice for his shift. Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith then blindly cleared the puck after a David Backes shot and the puck would land on Toews’ stick at center ice where he was behind both Blues defensemen. Toews was in on a breakaway and faked the wrist shot and went backhand to beat Miller for the game winner. 3-2 Blackhawks series lead.

Heading into Game 6, the Blues had their backs up against the wall. They had lost three games in a row after owning a 2-0 series lead and each loss was essentially by one goal. The team needed a big game from their noteworthy netminder to force a Game 7 and early on, it seemed that was exactly what the Blues were getting as the game was tied 1-1 going into the third period. But it would take just 44 seconds into the third for Miller to be beat once again, this time on a Toews wrist shot on the power play. Then just 1:17 later, Chicago would strike again as Patrick Sharp was able to bury the puck in the net on a breakaway as Miller missed on a poke check attempt and the puck slipped under him to make it 3-1 Blackhawks. The bleeding was still not done, as five and a half minutes later Andrew Shaw would deflect home a Duncan Keith shot to make it 4-1 with 12:30 remaining. Time was ticking down, and it was clear the Blues were all but eliminated from the playoffs. To add insult to injury, Chicago would score once more with 2:55 remaining to put the finishing touches on the Blues in a 5-1 win to advance to the second round.

Ryan Miller’s final stats in the 2014 playoffs were a 2-4 record with a .897 SV% and 2.70 GAA. This brought his final stats with the Blues to be a 12-12-1 record with a .900 SV% and 2.59 GAA. After the season was over, both Ryan Miller and Brian Elliott’s contracts were both up with the Blues. The Blues decided to re-up Elliott’s contract for three more years while young goaltender Jake Allen was getting close to NHL ready. Meanwhile the Blues had no plans to renew Ryan Miller’s contract after the atrocious end to the 2013-14 season, making him a free agent where he later signed with the Vancouver Canucks.

Now it could be easy to say the Sabres won this trade overall, but not so fast. Let us quickly examine how the other pieces in that trade turned out. The other piece the Blues received in the deal was Steve Ott, a veteran forward of almost 700 NHL games and Sabres captain at the time of the trade. He would go on to play 143 total games for the Blues, scoring three goals and adding 17 assists. Ott would then play in short stints for the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens before retiring where he would then become an assistant coach for the Blues where he would win a Stanley Cup in 2019. So theoretically speaking, the trade from February 2014 is still paying dividends for the Blues to this day because without the trade, Ott may never have stepped foot in St. Louis except as an opposing player.

Buffalo received five total items in exchange for Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. First was goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who never even played in a game for the Sabres as he was almost immediately traded to the Washington Capitals along with a third-round pick for goaltender Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla. Klesla decided not to report to the Sabres to instead pursue playing professionally in Europe while Neuvirth would go 6-19-3 in 29 appearances for the Sabres before being traded by Buffalo to the New York Islanders for goaltender Chad Johnson and a third round pick which Buffalo had to surrender to Pittsburgh since they hired Dan Bylsma as their head coach.

Another piece that went to Buffalo in the Ryan Miller trade was forward Chris Stewart. Stewart would score only 11 goals and total 25 points in 66 games across parts of two seasons with Buffalo before being traded to the Minnesota Wild for a second-round pick in 2017. That pick turned into Finnish goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen who is currently playing in the ECHL for the Cincinnati Cyclones. The other player dealt from the Blues organization was forward prospect William Carrier, a former 57th overall pick by the Blues in 2013. Carrier would play in 41 games for Buffalo during the 2016-17 season, scoring five goals and adding three assists. He was eventually left exposed by the Sabres during the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft in which the Vegas Golden Knights selected Carrier to where he has been playing since.

The final two pieces the Blues sent to the Sabres in that trade from 2014 were two draft picks. The first was a first-round pick. Buffalo later traded that first rounder in a blockbuster deal that sent the pick, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, and Brendan Lemieux to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Jason Kasdorf. Kane had a decent showing in Buffalo, totaling 118 points (68 G, 50 A) in 196 games with the Sabres. But Kane was known for being a disruptor in terms of a locker room culture and was later traded to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a first and fourth round pick along with AHLer Daniel O’Regan. That first rounder was later traded to Anaheim in exchange for Brandon Montour while the 4th round pick is in the 2020 Draft and O’Regan is still playing at the AHL level. Bogosian was a solid player for Buffalo as well, as the defenseman played in 243 games for the Sabres across six seasons, scoring 13 goals and adding 54 assists. But the final piece in that deal was goaltender Jason Kasdorf, who appeared in just one career game with the Sabres. Finally, the third round pick the Blues sent in the trade was eventually traded by Buffalo to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Dmitri Kulikov, who eventually left for Winnipeg in free agency.

The previous few paragraphs detailing the domino effect of trades after the Ryan Miller trade may have been confusing, but below is the full trade tree to detail what pieces went where after the fact. Essentially, with the pieces the St. Louis traded to Buffalo, the only piece still relevant to that trade today is the fact that the first round pick the Blues sent the Sabres was eventually flipped for Evander Kane, who was eventually flipped to a first round pick which was then traded to acquire defenseman Brandon Montour who is still currently with the Sabres. As for the Blues, they got almost two full seasons from Steve Ott as a player and then are reaping current day benefits as Ott has served as the team’s assistant coach for the past three seasons which included being part of the Stanley Cup winning coaching staff in the 2018-19 season.

There is no doubt that the trade to acquire Ryan Miller was one of the biggest trade gaffe’s in Doug Armstrong’s time as the GM of the St. Louis Blues. He traded for a goalie that was exiting his prime while disbanding arguably the best goaltending tandem in the league during the 2013-14 season. While Miller did not work out in his short stint in St. Louis, a true blessing came of the trade in Steve Ott. While Ott was on the tail end of his career when he was acquired by St. Louis, he served as a valuable presence in the locker room and was a voice that everyone in the room would listen to because Ott commanded respect. This of course ended up in the Blues adding Ott to the coaching staff upon the announcement of his retirement from playing. This decision would of course benefit the Blues in the long run as Ott served as Craig Berube’s right hand man during the Blues’ Stanley Cup run in 2019. While on paper it is easy to say the Blues lost this trade, Buffalo did almost absolutely nothing with 4/5 of the pieces sent their way, with the only player currently benefiting their team that was acquired with a part the Blues sent them is Brandon Montour. Just give it four years from 2014, Doug Armstrong would make another trade with Buffalo and I promise you this time we will not have to argue who won that trade.

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