Even after winning the Stanley Cup, many expected that the St. Louis Blues would be active on the trade market this summer. The team seemingly lacked the salary cap space to re-sign a vast number of restricted free agents, including goaltender Jordan Binnington, defenseman Joel Edmundson, and forwards Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford, and Robby Fabbri. Somehow, GM Doug Armstrong did manage to get all of his young RFA’s back under contract, although it took time and left the Blues with very little cap flexibility heading into the new season. Unsurprisingly, that meant that trade rumors persisted throughout the off-season.
A quick look at the defending champs’ roster reveals that there is really only one obvious piece that St. Louis could be expected to try to move on from: starting goaltender turned overpriced backup Jake Allen. Allen’s name popped up throughout the summer and he tells Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was well aware of the rumors. However, he also informed Thomas that he knew better than to get caught up in the hype. Allen states that Armstrong and company assured him that he would not be traded this past summer:
I knew internally all along this summer that I wasn’t getting dealt. They had told me that. You know, people talk and things like that, but I knew that they don’t want to get rid of me, so it was good to be reassured that way. I knew that I was coming back. So just put my mind at ease and get really focused on being the best Blue I can. There was a lot of chatter obviously with the way the summer went and the run that Binner went on. But internally I knew I was coming back, so I wasn’t worried about it at all.
The language used by Allen paints a pretty clear picture of where his head is at entering the 2019-20 campaign. The 29-year-old is confident that the Blues want him in the mix and calls the play of 26-year-old rookie Binnington “a run”. In reality, Binnington greatly outperformed Allen in the second half of the year and earned the lion’s share of starts. He finished the season with a GAA nearly one whole goal better than Allen and save percentage more than 20 points better. It wasn’t close between the two and was actually the second poor season in a row for Allen. Yet, he still believes that this is an open competition and the contract figures may support his claim.
If the Blues did in fact promise not to trade Allen – albeit a handshake agreement as he has no trade protection in his contract – it does stand to reason that they see the next two years as an open competition to see which keeper, if either, is deserving of an extension. Even after his Calder Trophy finalist-caliber year, Binnington only received a two-year, $8.7MM contract. Both his and Allen’s contracts will expire following the 2020-21 season and in the meantime, Allen will still be making $50K more as the supposed backup. The scenario provides hope for the veteran netminder and that’s all he needs to get excited for the challenge of a new season: “There’s one net out there, and I’m gonna go after it. No question.”