By Lou Korac
The Blues have begun the initial process of clearing cap space for perhaps signing captain Alex Pietrangelo by trading goalie Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens along with a seventh-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft for a third-round pick and seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft.
The Blues have made it known that they’d like to re-sign Pietrangelo, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this off-season after playing out the last of a seven-year, $45.5 million contract this year.
The goaltending position was an area the Blues were going to have to explore to shed salary if they were going to gain space in getting a new contract for Pietrangelo, and with Jordan Binnington, Allen and Ville Husso, who signed a two-year, $1.5 million one-way contract on Jan. 30, all locked into one-way contracts for next season, someone had to go.
“Obviously with the flat cap next year ($81.5 million) and probably moving forward, we wanted to create some space for this summer,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Jointly with that is trying to incorporate younger players into our group. Ville Husso is a player we’ve had high hopes for and believe has earned his right to compete for an NHL job and to do that, you have to create opportunity.
“… We need to create space for younger players. I think Craig (Berube’s) done a great job of implementing (Sammy) Blais and (Robert) Thomas, (Zach) Sanford, relatively young. We have young defensemen we need to get in here and a young goalie. To do that, you have to give them the opportunity and to create the space for them.”
Allen, 30, has one year remaining on a four-year, $17.4 million contract he signed July 1, 2016, and with the trade, the Blues save $4.35 million in cap space moving forward.
“I sort of had an idea I was going to get traded,” Allen said. “I sort of prepped myself a little bit, but no question, (St. Louis) was a big part of my life. My kids were born there, I won a Stanley Cup, I have a lot of great years, a lot of great friends off the ice that I’ve created relationships with. St. Louis was great to me and I’m very thankful for that it brought. Now I have a new opportunity in front of me. There’s definitely going to be a lot of things I’ll miss. There’s a lot of things that changed my life personally on and off the ice, but now I get a new chance in front of me back in Canada to be able to play for the Canadiens is pretty special.
“… I understand the business side very well. I knew coming into this off-season after we were eliminated that there was a chance I would get traded. I didn’t really have an idea on where or when. For me, I was just going up to my house and I saw I had a phone call and found out the news right then. It sort of came out of the blue for me. Obviously there’s a lot of goalies on the market this year. I think with the cap and the era that we’re in with the pandemic, there’s going to be a lot of changes. I definitely knew that I was potentially going to be dealt. I had no idea where, for me. All the other teams in the league were options, the way I saw it. Now I’m a Montreal Canadien.”
The goalie market is going to be flooded this season for more reasons than expected, with Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry potentially up for grabs, and Washington’s Braden Holtby becoming a UFA, among the headliners. Armstrong tried to pique the interest of potential suitors for Allen and was comfortable with what the Canadiens offered in the end.
“You’re sort of as good as your last game and Jake had a very good year. The timing was difficult,” Armstrong said. “There were a number of teams that had reached out to that I thought might have interest in Jake. Part of a manager’s job if to try to read what other teams are trying to accomplish and make those phone calls. Some of the teams that I saw as a good fit for Jake didn’t feel the same way. I think part of it is that their perception is it’s going to be a flooded goalie market this summer with either teams trying to create salary cap space or create space for young goaltenders or a combination of both and unrestricted free agency. Some of the teams that I talked to liked Jake as a goaltender but didn’t want to give any assets at this time for that. For us, one in a hand was better than two in the bush.”
Allen had arguably one of his best seasons as a pro this past season; he was 12-6-3 with a career-best 2.15 goals-against average and .927 goals-against average with two shutouts in the regular season. He was 2-1-1 with a 1.89 GAA and .935 save percentage in five games this postseason for the Blues, who lost to the Vancouver Canucks in six games in the Western Conference First Round.
“My initial statement would have been to thank Jake and his family for their years of service here in St. Louis,” Armstrong said. “We obviously climbed the top of the mountain a year ago together and had a lot of great success. When you look back and Jake got drafted here and since he’s been in the league, I think we’ve been one of the top one, two or three teams in the NHL over that time frame and Jake was a big part of that success. He was able to partner with different players over that time and be a very good component for our group.”
Allen was drafted by the Blues in the second round (34th overall) in the 2008 draft and has posted a 148-94-26 record, a 2.50 GAA, and a .913 save percentage in 289 regular-season games.
Allen ranks second all-time in franchise history in shutouts (21) behind Brian Elliott (25).
But Allen’s best hockey with the Blues, even though he had a tremendous playoff run and single-handedly eliminated the Minnesota Wild in the first round of 2017 with ridiculous numbers allowing just eight goals in five games on 182 shots, came the past couple seasons as Binnington’s backup.
It culminated with a Stanley Cup last season.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget,” Allen said. “It’s the highlight of my hockey career, no question. A special group of guys for me to really do it with. That group was a special group. I know every group’s never the same, but that group of boys to win it with was really special. To be able to have quite a bit of success in one team, one organization, a lot of highs, a lot of lows, I’m really proud of that and proud of the Blues. It’s definitely special to me no question, a lot of great memories on and off the ice. To be able to have success and hoist the Cup one way or another with an organization for that long, I’ll credit to the success.”
And to think, how many people were ready to run Allen out of town when the downs were really down, but the veteran managed to pull himself back up and become a fan favorite again.
“Everyone’s emotional, everyone’s attached to the game and that’s completely fine. That’s the way it is,” Allen said. “There’s ups and downs, no question, but I think the last couple years, I’ve played some really good hockey and really just tried to be a good teammate and good person. I’ve always tried to be a better person than hockey player. Those things I think really started to add up for me the last couple years and I really started to play some really good hockey for the Blues. Not that I didn’t before, but I think my last couple years were probably the best couple years I’ve played. I definitely won’t ever forget them and will take everything that the Blues gave me and the options that I had from them since I was drafted.”
As for Pietrangelo, Armstrong kept it, as usual, close to the vest when pressed on what it would take to get the 30-year-old four-year captain locked up.
“It’s 81.5 million divided by 23,” Armstrong said, referring to the roster limit. “… Obviously I don’t think we’ve made any secret that we’d love to get Alex signed, and I think Alex has made it know that he would like to sign here, so we’re going to have to work through that. At the end of the day, it’s a math equation.”
And at the end of the day, the Blues are comfortable going with Binnington, who is also in the final year of his contract, and they’re giving Husso his chance to be an every day NHL player. It also gives the Canadiens the 1-2 punch the Blues have had the luxury of having for years.
“I think that Montreal obviously would be counter to what the first part of the question is. As it situates today, they have a lot of money wrapped up into goaltending,” Armstrong said. “I think it’s a reflection of your salary cap space as a whole. A flat cap was going to make teams alter how they think. It was a combination for the St. Louis Blues of creating some potential cap space to either sign our own current players or get into the market at a different time, plus allowing young players to get their opportunity in the league. I think that’s a combination of every team on what they’re looking to do.
“Having two quality goaltenders like we did this year I thought was very important for us. It gave Jordan Binnington some comfort knowing that his partner had a lot of experience, and he had a good regular season and not the playoffs that he wanted. I think this does show that our faith is that we’re going to take Jordan Binnington’s NHL career going back to January of ’19 through today and say there was a lot more positives than negatives and we believe he could be the man.
“We think that (Husso) needs to get those 25-30 starts. We need to find out if our scouting information and our goalie coaches, they’ve given him a thumbs up. We had a conference call last night or text with all of them as this came to fruition late last night where we were getting near decisions time. We had a conference call again today. I talked to the minor league American Hockey League general manager, development coaches. Everyone feels that he’s ready for the opportunity, and we need this organization to provide opportunity for younger players. All these questions and I don’t say this trying to be a smart aleck (but) it’s really irrelevant what I think or what I hope. It’s going to be what he does. I’m hoping that he can get in there and do the job that we believe he can do.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports