When the St. Louis Blues went into this offseason, they had a problem. Some may call it a good problem, but it was an issue all the same; what to do with the tandem of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen? The team had gone to the Conference Finals for the first time in 15 years, and did it on the back of two outstanding seasons from their pair of netminders. Allen had a .920 save percentage in 44 starts, while Elliott carried a .930 mark through his 38 starts and continued his dominance into the playoffs, essentially moving Allen to the bench.
But when the summer came, the team decided it was time to move on from one of them and traded Elliott to the Calgary Flames. With just a year left on each goalie’s deal, the Blues wanted to get ahead of the controversy and establish Allen as their true franchise netminder. They signed him to a four-year, $17.4MM extension on the first day of free agency, locking him in long-term as their starter. After all, he was coming off the best season of his career and was still just 25-years old.
That decision hasn’t turned out too well for the Blues, who last week sent Allen away from the team, not even bringing him on a road trip to Winnipeg. Allen is sporting a .897 save percentage through the first half of the season, easily a career low for him. While some of that is a much weaker team in front of him defensively, not all of the blame can removed from his shoulders. He simply hasn’t been good enough for the Blues, and now it comes time to wonder about the decision to extend him in the summer.
With a $4.35MM cap-hit going forward, it’s not like the Blues will be completely hamstrung by his deal. There is room to get a quality veteran to split the season with him like Florida is doing with Roberto Luongo and James Reimer, but it is far from ideal. A team that has pending unrestricted free agents in Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrik Berglund, along with big RFA deals with Robby Fabbri and Colton Parayko looming in the next couple of seasons, needs their cap space used in effective manners. A long-term extension for a struggling goalie is not that.
In Detroit, a similar goaltender situation played out last year when Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard split the duties and pushed a underwhelming team into the playoffs. While Howard struggled during parts of the season and in the playoffs, Mrazek looked like a lock as a starting goaltender and perhaps even all-star going forward. The Wings were locked into Howard for another three seasons, but looked like they wanted to give the number one job to Mrazek after his great stretch run.
The team likely shopped the veteran Howard around but found no takers, and eventually decided on just a two-year deal with Mrazek when it came to free agency. Had they been able to find a taker for Howard and his $5.3MM cap hit, they probably would have tried to work out a longer-term deal with the younger netminder. Perhaps their inability to move Howard was a blessing in disguise however, as Mrazek has imploded in the Wings’ net, posting an .894 save percentage behind a reeling team. Howard was actually off to a great start before suffering an injury, making the decision even harder this summer.
Howard is still likely on the move out of town as the Red Wings start a rebuild, but luckily they haven’t committed to Mrazek long-term. If they decide he’s not the goaltender they thought he was, and in a year choose to go in a different direction he’ll be a hefty trade chip on the market. If he rebounds and shows them that this was just a blip on what will be an otherwise excellent career, they can then lock him into a longer deal.
For St. Louis though, they have to hitch their horse to Allen and hope he can pull them out of it. With another four-years after this dedicated to the former second-round pick, they basically don’t have any other choice.