Analysis: Sabres trade Ryan Miller to Blues for Jaroslav Halak

by Feb 28, 9:00 PM

On Friday night, the St. Louis Blues loaded up for a run at the Stanley Cup by trading for Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott.

Though Miller and Ott are useful pieces, the cost of prying them out of Buffalo was steep and this blockbuster trade probably doesn't move the needle too much in the knife fight for Western Conference supremacy.

From the Sabres' perspective, this is a slam dunk, and freshly minted general manager Tim Murray netted a sizable haul for Miller and Ott from the Blues. Headed to Buffalo in exchange for two pending unrestricted free agents is veteran goaltender Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart and three futures (two draft picks, and a prospect).

The futures aren't insignificant here either, as they include a conditional first round pick in the 2015 NHL entry draft and Drummondville forward William Carrier - a 19-year-old winger who chipped in nearly a point per game in the QMJHL this season. Carrier was selected by the Blues in the second round at the 2013 NHL entry draft.

Murray and the Sabres could add to their haul even further too. In fact they're expected to try and short sell both Stewart and Halak before Wednesday's trade deadline. For a rebuilding team, this is a big win, and one that might keep on giving.

The Blues perspective on this deal is a bit more difficult to break down. At first blush, however, it certainly looks like Armstrong and the Blues paid a steep price to upgrade their roster only modestly. If that.

While Miller has proven far more durable than Halak has, both netminders posted a nearly identical career save percentage and Halak has generally been the better of the two at even strength. Miller has better pedigree and is valued more highly than Halak is in hockey circles, but when it comes to actually stopping an above average rate of pucks - there simply isn't much to distinguish Miller from Halak. 

Up front, the Blues replaced Chris Stewart with Steve Ott - which may improve the roster on the defensive side of the puck, but overall is a wash at best. Certainly Stewart is a far more competent and valuable offensive player. 

Over the past five seasons Stewart has scored .321 goals per game - a very healthy rate that would put him among the top-50 active NHL skaters. Ott has managed a pedestrian .188 goals per game, a rate comparable to that produced by players like Tyler Kennedy, Blake Comeau and Matt Cooke.

There is a convincing argument to be made that the loss of Stewart's offensive abilities doesn't mean much to a Blues team that was nearly impossible to score goals against, and now employs Ryan Miller. It's also probably worth noting that the Blues are second in the NHL in goals per game this season, so presumably Blues general manager Doug Armstrong could justify giving up some "pop" in the offensive end of the rink.

But the thing is, St. Louis' high-flying goal-scoring act so far this season might be something of a mirage. The Blues currently lead the NHL in even-strength shooting percentage (9.5%) and five-on-four shooting percentage (15.3%). They also generate shots at a below average rate both on the power-play and at five-a-side. 

Should the generous bounces dry up for this Blues team - and they very well could - can St. Louis score enough to beat the likes of San Jose, Chicago, Los Angeles or Anaheim in a playoff series? For a team that managed just 30 postseason goals in 15 playoff games over the past two seasons, that was a relevant question before they dealt Stewart. It's an even more relevant question on Friday, now that the Blues have traded a forward who scores at a first-line rate for Steve Ott - who doesn't.

The Sabres extracted a pound of flesh from St. Louis on Friday, while the Blues marginally improved their roster in an attempt to make a credible run for the Stanley Cup this summer. If the Blues are still playing hockey in June, the steep price they paid for Miller and Ott won't matter to anybody, but that's the bar they will have to clear.